Theo van Doesburg – Founder and Leader of De Stijl (1883-1931)


One of the key figures in the development of Dutch Neoplasticism
The Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931) was one of the founders of the modern art movement called De Stijl and the chief promoter of its ideas.

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Dutch painter, decorator, poet, and art theorist, was the primary founder of the De Stijl (Dutch for The Style) art movement in the Netherlands. Although Doesburg is often considered the founder of De Stijl, the movement was actually the collaboration of a number of artists of his day, including Piet Mondrian. Other primary innovators of De Stijl were Vilmos Huszár, Bart van der Leck, Gerrit Rietveld, and Robert van ‘t Hoff. The De Stijl movement was almost as much about architectural design as it was about paintings on the canvas.

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Press Card, 1917-1918, T. v. Doesburg
Press Card, 1917-1918, T. v. Doesburg

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In 1917 van Doesburg was instrumental in forming the De Stijl group of artists, and he also founded the avant-garde art review De Stijl (a publication that was continued until 1931).

He lectured at the Weimar Bauhaus from 1921 to 1923, and his De Stijl theories subsequently influenced the Modernist architects Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

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Composition décentralisée, 1924, T. v. Doesburg

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What is the purpose of the De Stijl?

The essential idea underlying De Stijl’s radical utopian program was the creation of a universal aesthetic language based in part on a rejection of the decorative excesses of Art Nouveau in favor of a simple, logical style that emphasized construction and function, one that would be appropriate for every aspect of modern life. They simplified visual compositions to the vertical and horizontal directions, and used only primary colors along with black and white.

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His new aesthetic had a significant impact on contemporary interior design and decorations. He was a prolific theorist on concepts such as Neoplasticism and Elementarism.

Despite his relatively small output of paintings, his influence was widespread and he is now regarded as one of the most important abstract painters of the early 20th century.

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 Counter-Composition XIII, 1925-1926, T. v. Doesburg
Counter-Composition XIII, 1925-1926, T. v. Doesburg

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De Stijl esthetic was based on geometric abstractions and applied not only to painting but to other arts, especially architecture. Unlike many art movements in the 20th century, De Stijl aimed at social and spiritual reforms rather than purely artistic concerns. The leaders believed that a purified geometric esthetic would exert a strong and calming influence on those who saw a de Stijl painting or lived in a de Stijl house.

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In 1931 van Doesburg was involved in the formation of the Abstraction-Création association, a group of artists who advocated pure abstraction.

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