De Stijl (1917 – 1931)

De Stijl was founded in the year 1917 by two of the greatest pioneers of abstract art, Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. De Stijl, literally meaning “style” in Dutch, was a movement which was focused on the simplification of abstract elements into basic geometric forms such as squares and triangles, often pigmented by primary colours. The use of these fundamental features of composition, disregarded design principles such as symmetry and instead was focused on the balanced relationship between surfaces and colour distribution. This movement like its many other predecessors, was a reaction to the ideas portrayed in the productions which came before it and in this case it was the decorative excess of Art Deco. It was also seen as a reaction to the traumatic events of World War I and was an attempt to remake society into a modern utopia.

Practitioners of De Stijl, applied their designs to a variety of media showing their innovations and their single vision to create the ideal blend between form and function. With this ethos in mind, De Stijl artists utilised not only the fine arts of painting and sculpture, but ventured into the uncharted waters of industrial design, typography, literature and even music. Its impact was seen most recognisably in architecture which gave birth to the International style of the early 20th-century. Although De Stijl was created as a means of producing a utopia or unleashing one’s spiritual potential, the later understanding that this idealised vision was simply a dream may have been what ultimately caused the group’s demise.

The simplified aesthetics of the De Stijl influenced many designers of the 20th-century such as the abstract expressionists, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman as well as the Minimalists Donald Judd and Dan Flavin. Although I have expressed on many an occasion that I am not a big fan of pure primary colours as to me they seem visually overpowering, I cannot help but be fascinated by the art of the De Stijl movement. The artists understood the relationship between primary colours, and the strain they can cause on the vision which was addressed as seen for instance in Piet Mondrian’s “Composition A”. Mondrian used all primary colours but incorporated neutral colours in such a subtle way that it gives the viewers a space which their eyes can rest which was clever to me.

De Stijl Artwork


Piet Mondrian (1935), Composition C


Theo Van Doesburg (1917), Composition VII

De Stijl Inspired Artwork


Donald Judd (1989), Untitled


Mark Rothko (1950), White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)



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