De Stijl

Initially, the term “De Stijl” (“duh-STAYL”) was the name of an artistic journal started by Dutch painter and architect Theo van Doesburg in 1917 to promote the philosophy and ideas of Abstract Expressionism, particularly as manifested in the work of Piet Mondrian. Mondrian contributed several educational articles to De Stijl — “The Style” — on Neo-Plasticism, the name he gave to his particular abstract style. His writings served to disperse knowledge of his artistic beliefs and convert other young painters to the freedom of expression afforded by this “new plastic” art.

By the early 1920s “De Stijl” also referred to an artistic movement that advocated severe abstractionism based on:

-Simple geometric shapes

-Horizontal and vertical lines

-The primary colors, in addition to black and white

-The inclusion of balance without symmetry

-The exclusion of any ornamentation and decoration

In addition to painters, De Stijl eventually came to include architects, designers and even writers who joined the movement in search of a new form and style more appropriate for the industrial transformation of Europe following the first World War. In its broader application, De Stijl emphasized functionalism, particularly in relation to architecture, building construction and furniture design. In its departure from prevailing standards of aesthetics, De Stijl was influenced somewhat by Dada. Another influence is believed to be architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s use of form.

Besides Mondrian and van Doesburg, De Stijl proponents included painters Bart van der Leck, Vilmos Huszar and Georges Vantongerloo; and architects and designers Gerrit Rietveld, Robert van ‘t Hoff and J.J.P. Oud.

De Stijl turned out to be more an assemblage of artists exchanging new ideas than the catalyst for prolific output. However, Gerrit Rietveld designed and built the stunning Rietveld Schroder house in Utrecht, Holland, which resembles a three-dimensional Mondrian painting and is the only structure ever built and furnished entirely on the principles of Neo-Plasticism. He is also widely recognized for his Red Blue Chair and Zig Zag Chair, both of which are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. And Piet Mondrian has, of course, an extensive body of work.

In spite of its scant output, the work of De Stijl has had a tremendous influence on the Bauhaus and the International Style. Even though the group had drifted apart by 1931, their principles lived on through the work of later architects and designers, including famed “Less is More” architect Mies van der Rohe.