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Modernism

De Stijl

The art of the perfectly straight line

De Stijl was nothing if not ambitious. Meaning ‘the style’ and developed by modernist powerhouses Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg, De Stijl art was intended to be the perfect fusion of form and function. A perfect style, reduced to only the simplest elements of shape and color, and applied to all media: painting, decor and architecture.

De Stijl art was the expression of the Mondrian’s theory of Neoplasticism. In the early 20th century, visual arts were commonly referred to as ‘plastic arts’ — a term simply meant to distinguish visual art from writing, music and theater. And so Mondrian’s concept of Neoplasticism, meant, in essence ‘the new art’.

So what was this new art? In his incredibly dense essay Neo-plasticism in Pictorial Art Mondrian described his vision:

"This new plastic idea will ignore the particulars of appearance, that is to say, natural form and colour. On the contrary, it should find its expression in the abstraction of form and colour, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary colour."

In practice, Mondrian’s ‘new art’ was a radical set of constraints, intended to create an incredibly simple yet endlessly repeatable visual toolbox using only primary colours, squares and rectangles, and vertical and horizontal straight lines.

Though De Stijl started small, just Mondrian and van Doesburg, it’s aesthetic and ideas soon spread. The Bauhaus, the influential German art school picked up De Stijl’s simplified geometry, and van Doesburg’s magazine, also titled ‘De Stijl’ drew artists from all over Europe into the budding movement. At it’s height in 1918, the group had more than 100 loosely connected ‘members’ dedicated to the vertical and horizontal line.

But trouble was brewing — in 1924, van Doesburg proposed his Theory of Elementarism, a radical manifesto that effectively called bullshit on Mondrian’s neoplastic rules and declared that the future belongs (gasp) to the diagonal line. Furious at the betrayal, Mondrian officially resigned from the De Stijl movement which, with it’s core rules removed, would evolve in style over the next decades.

In 1931, Theo van Doesburg died, and the formal De Stijl movement slowly disbanded. But its impact remains — the Constructivist movement borrowed its primary colors, architects like Charles and Ray Eames and Frank Lloyd Wright applied the dramatic crosshatch of horizontal and vertical lines, and the obsession with a reduction to minimalist perfection has infected art and design to this day.

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Piet Mondrian

There is no God — only Truth

1872-1944

Theo van Doesburg

Ending a friendship over diagonal lines

1883-1931

Charmion von Wiegand

Beyond the grid

1896-1983
Composition XIII

Composition XIII

Theo van Doesburg1918
Variation on Composition XIII

Variation on Composition XIII

Theo van Doesburg1918

There is an old and a new consciousness of time

De Stijl Manifesto

Theo van Doesburg1918
Composition in Gray (Rag-time)

Composition in Gray (Rag-time)

Theo van Doesburg1919
Composition in Black and Gray

Composition in Black and Gray

Piet Mondrian1919

Elementarism is the purest, and...the most direct means of expression of the human spirit

Elementarism (Fragment of a Manifesto)

Theo van Doesburg1927
Individual Worlds

Individual Worlds

Charmion von Wiegand1947
The Citadel

The Citadel

Charmion von Wiegand1949-1950
Untitled

Untitled

Charmion von Wiegand1950
Region of the Unstructured Sound

Region of the Unstructured Sound

Charmion von Wiegand1955-1961
Prismatic Lattice

Prismatic Lattice

Charmion von Wiegand1962
Table of Offerings

Table of Offerings

Charmion von Wiegand1965-1966
To The Adi Buddha

To The Adi Buddha

Charmion von Wiegand1968-1970