De Stijl, Dutch for "The Style", is an artistic movement founded in Leiden in the second half of the First World War. De Stijl was a minimalist movement, reducing art and architecture to the most essential of colours and shapes. The ideas of the movement were mostly propagated through a magazine of the same name, which was set up by artist Theo van Doesburg. Some of the other key figures in the movement are Piet Mondriaan, J.J.P. Oud and Gerrit Rietveld. Though the movement, which would go on to influence the European avant-garde in the 1930s, was oriented to the world, De Stijl is nowadays seen more as a typical Dutch artistic movement.
In the years before World War I, a growing number of Dutch artists was working with abstraction to some degree. They were influenced by the Cubist and Futurist movements, mostly by the Russian artist Kandinsky. The Netherlands stayed neutral in the war that would break loose several years later, allowing these Dutch artists to develop with little influences from Paris, which is where most the artistic influence in the Netherlands came from. The Netherlands became a refuge for mostly Belgian refugees, amongst which were artists, and for people like Mondriaan, who lived in Paris, but was in the Netherlands when the war started, making him unable to return home.
Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg felt a need in this situation to create an independent magazine to "propagate and defend a new artistic expression". Van Doesburg was, aside from a painter, also a writer, poet and art critic. He, however, saw more success in writing about art than making art himself. During his mobilisation in Tilburg, Van Doesburg had met Antony Kok, an experimental poet. Kok was the first to hear of Van Doesburg's ideas. Van Doesburg was moved to Utrecht in the fall of 1915, where he met expressionist-abstract painters Erich Wichmann and Janus de Winter, who he too talked to about his vision. In November of that year, Van Doesburg was ready to start his magazine, but due to a falling out with Wichmann, these efforts were halted. Due to the argument, Van Doesburg lost important backers, amongst which Rotterdamse merchant Anton Kröller. This loss of backers was compensated in late 1916, when Van Doesburg met Swiss art-lover Karl Friedrich Meyer-Fierz.
During this year, Van Doesburg's circle of friends changed significantly. He met Piet Mondriaan, Vilmos Huszár and Bart van der Leck, all of which were busy abstracting their works further and further, while Van Doesburg was still captivated by expressionists. Huszár's works were all over the place, while Mondriaan's and Van der Leck's works were much more looking for ways to make their paintings reach total harmony through a way of reasoning. They came to the conclusion that total harmony could only be achieved through using geometric shapes. Mondriaan had at that point forgotten about colours, while Van der Leck saw them as an essential part of painting, but ideal harmony could only be reached through primary colours, according to him.
The group of four was strongly involved in their own and each others works, and strongly influenced each other, passing ideas around in the mean time. Huszár, influenced by Van der Leck, started focusing on applied art, Van Doesburg brainstormed with Huszár for creating his first leaded light. Huszár wrote to Van Doesburg that he longed to unite the works of the quartet and others, which brought back Van Doesburg's vision for a magazine.
After receiving 600 guilders (around €6,500 in 2022) in advance from Meyer-Fierz in 1916, Van Doesburg founded the group "Bewust abstracten" in December of that year. Within half a year, he had a studio in Leiden from where he wrote for the magazine and recruited people to join the effort. He quickly got an approval from Mondriaan, Van der Leck and Kok. Due to a paper shortage in the Netherlands, though, the first issue of De Stijl wouldn't be released until November of 1917. Aside from these four, the initial group consisted of architects J.J.P. Oud and Jan Wils and Italian futurist Gino Sverini. Architect Robert van 't Hoff, Belgian sculptor Georges Vantongerloo and furniture-maker Gerrit Rietveld.
Even before the first issue was released, criticism already existed about De Stijl. Visual artist Dirk Roggeveen claimed that Van Doesburg was bribed by German and Austrian officials to promote the German culture at the cost of Dutch neutrality. Oud responded to this, saying that no foreign support had been requested, and that foreign artists were included to create an international character rather than to promote nationalist ideals.
Initially, the De Stijl magazine covered all sorts of art, with the only requirement being that it meets the style's ideals. This consisted mostly of abstract works that De Stijl would become well-known for, but the magazine also promoted figurative works by befriended artists, which was discussed at length by the magazine's editors in articles. Art critics were also a new thing that De Stijl brought to the Netherlands. Onlookers of works would discuss works that they had seen amongst each other, but proper art critics or "kunstenaars met de pen" (lit.: "Artists by pen") only became a thing in 1912. In response, the 'rival' magazine to De Stijl, Wendingen took a similar approach.
The De Stijl manifest, signed by all members except for Oud and Rietveld, was published exactly a year after the first instalment of the magazine. This would imply a like-mindedness amongst the members, but this was by no means the case. Most communication was done through letters, and the members only hosted two exhibits during the lifetime of De Stijl. Though the collective is nowadays better-known than the magazine, mostly due to Van Doesburg's writings, who would coordinate the magazine during its entire lifespan, De Stijl was by no means a collective. Two of the best known members of the collective, Mondrian and Rietveld never even met during their lifetime. Van Doesburg stuck with the magazine during the magazine's lifespan and was the sole person in charge of its propaganda to the outside world. Van Doesburg, mostly a writer and thinker himself, is to thank for the popularity of De Stijl.
The base of De Stijl and its mentality would be carved into stone during the first years, being from 1917 to 1922. The social-economic situation of the Netherlands was the main inspiration for the mentality and ideals. The modernising society was deemed inevitable and the modern art was believed to be the main symptom of that modernisation. During this time, the Netherlands were in a housing crisis, which forced architects to design houses cheaper and more efficiently. Above that all, their art had to be not only aesthetic, but had a social role to fulfil as well.
Due to these leftist ideals, many socialist artists joined the movement, amongst who were Rietveld and Van 't Hoff. The movement also aimed to combine 2D and 3D, by having architects and painters work together. J.J.P. Oud was the main example in this, often asking Van Doesburg for opinions and asking Rietveld to colour and furnish the buildings he designed. Mondrian was the only artist of the movement that was publicly outspoken against this cooperation.
The members of the movement had often very different thoughts as to how the ideals of De Stijl should be put into practise. This led to differences and irritations between members, meaning that some of them left, while more and more artists joined the movement. Van der Leck, for example, left the movement in 1918 after disagreeing with Van Doesburg about the usage of diagonal lines rather than horizontal and vertical lines. Jan Wils was kicked out after he started writing for Levende Kunst, a magazine promoting the Amsterdamse School.
Most members had left the movement by 1920, but that didn't keep other members from publishing a new installation of the magazine every so often, even though the magazine was considered to be suffering from an internal crisis. None of this kept Van Doesburg from continuing to publish De Stijl, nor did it stop him promoting the magazine as the representative medium of the movement. He instead decided that the Netherlands were not ready for the futuristic ideas that the movement introduced, hence he started looking outside of its borders. Van Doesburg went from capital to capital, meeting artist left and right and presenting them De Stijl and all it stood for. Van Doesburg met with artists of the Bauhaus in Berlin, who liked his ideas and sent Van Doesburg to the Bauhaus in Weimar. He stayed in Weimar for a while, most likely hoping to become a proper part of that movement, but Bauhaus was split in two, making it impossible for Van Doesburg to properly influence that movement with the ideas of his own movement. Van Doesburg, having not succeeded in Bauhaus, left the movement and started organizing De Stijl courses, which got De Stijl quite a few new members. One of the artists that Van Doesburg, still living in Weimar met, Cornelis van Eesteren, organized an exposition of the movement with him, which took place in Paris, and returned in 1924, the year after, making it seem to the Dutch as if De Stijl had succeeded in France where it failed in the Netherlands. To Van Doesburg's displeasure, De Stijl was even chosen to represent the Netherlands at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, or for short, the 1925 World Fair.
Van Doesburg had by now settled in Clamart, a suburb of Paris, where he too met other artists such as César Domela and Vordemberge-Gildewart, who would become members of the movement. It was in Clamart that Van Doesburg developed a new way of painting: Elementarism, which was a response to the Nieuwe Beelding, which in turn was a part of De Stijl. Elementarism, unlike De Stijl was encouraging the usage of diagonals, which led to Mondrian leaving the movement upon disagreeing with Van Doesburg about this. Van Doesburg asked all former members to come together and publish a special edition of the magazine in honour of its tenth birthday. The issue wouldn't be published until the year after. In this issue Van Doesburg clarified that the movement was never intended as a final stage, but more as a development in art. The last issue of the magazine was published the year after, in 1928. This issue was entirely dedicated to Aubette. Van Doesburg started a new magazine the year after called Art Concret. He died two years after that in 1931, after which a handful of former members came together to publish one final issue of the De Stijl magazine, which was released in 1932. Many former members kept true to the ideals of De Stijl. Mondrian and Rietveld kept producing art and furniture respectively that met De Stijl's ideals. Some of their most popular works were made after Van Doesburg's death.
- 1 Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Stadhouderslaan 41, Den Haag ( ), ☏ , email@example.com. M closed; Tu-Su 10:00-17:00. The biggest museum in the Netherlands when it comes to De Stijl. Founded in 1866, the museum nowadays is renowned for its large collection of works by Mondriaan, but houses works by Huszár and Van der Leck as well. His last (unfinished) work, the Victory Boogie-Woogie is also on display here. Adult €15, children under the age of 18 and holders of the Museumjaarkaart get free access..
- 2 Centraal Museum Utrecht, Agnietenstraat 1, Utrecht ( ), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. M closed, Tu-Su 11:00-17:00. The main museum of Utrecht, the Centraal Museum, owns the Rietveld Schröder House, and a reasonably sized collection of De Stijl works, mostly by Van Doesburg and Rietveld. Until the end of 2019, the Van Baaren collection is on display, which consists of many works from the first half of the twentieth century, mostly works by Rietveld. Adults (18+) €13.50, groups (10+ people) €11 per person, students (13-17) €5.50, children (0-12) and Museumjaarkaart-holders free.
- 4Kröller-Müller Museum, Houtkampweg 6, Otterlo ( (From Arnhem CS or Barneveld)), ☏ , email@example.com. M closed, Tu-Su 10:00-17:00. Regular (13+) €19, children (6-12) and Museumjaarkaart-holders €9.50; children (6-) free.
- 5 Villa Mondriaan, Zonnebrink 4, Winterswijk ( ), ☏ . The elderly house of Piet Mondrian, which has been turned into a museum containing mostly early work of his. The museum doesn't focus on Mondriaan as a part of De Stijl, but more so on Mondriaan as an artist in general.
- 6 Museum de Lakenhal, Oude Singel 32, Leiden ( ), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu-Su 10:00-17:00. The Lakenhal contains many works that are coming from people born in or otherwise linked to the city of Leiden. Theo van Doesburg fits into this row since he formed De Stijl in Leiden. The museum is owner of Van Doesburg's first leaded windowpane (Glas-in-loodcompositie I), amongst many other works. Other famous artists with some of their works here are Rembrandt van Rijn and Jan Steen. Adult €12.50, free under the age of 18 and with Museumkaart and other passes.
- Several works of (mostly) Mondriaan are found in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Museum of Modern Art, both in Manhattan, New York.
- Buildings by J.J.P. Oud
- 7 Café De Unie (Now: Brasserie De Unie), Mauritsweg 34-35, Rotterdam ( ), ☏ . A restaurant built in 1925 by J.J.P. Oud. It is one of his oldest, still existing and functional works following De Stijl, even though Oud had left the movement when he designed this building.
- 8 Weißenhofsiedlung, Buildings 5-9, Pankokweg 1-9, Stuttgart. The Weißenhofsiedlung is a housing estate in Stuttgart, built for a 1927 exhibition showcasing international styled architecture, for which J.J.P. Oud designed this row of four houses.
- 9 Nationaal Monument op de Dam, Dam, Amsterdam ( ). National monument of rememberance of the Second World War in the Netherlands. Designed by J.J.P. Oud and finished in 1956, the monument is best known as the location of the annual Rememberance of the Dead ceremony. The monument is Oud's best known work, yet influences from De Stijl aren't as prominent as in his earlier work.
- 10 Stadhuis Almelo, Haven Zuidzijde 30, Almelo. Oud's last building, designed together with his son, Hand Oud. Many prior works were never completed. Unlike previous works by Oud, the city hall of Almelo does show many similarities with the ideals of De Stijl.
- Buildings by Theo van Doesburg
- 11 Aubette, Place Kléber, Strasbourg ( ). Building built between 1765 and 1772 in the centre of Strasbourg. Van Doesburg has designed the Café-brasserie and restaurant on the ground floor, as well as the Ciné-dancing, large ballroom and stairway in 1926-28, of which the ground floor rooms have since been removed. The others have been restored up to 2006.
- 12 La Maison Van Doesburg (Van Doesburg House), 29, rue Charles Infroit, Meudon, ☏ , email@example.com. Sa 14:00-18:00; closed on other days and during August. The Van Doesburg House is the former house and art studio of Van Doesburg. Van Doesburg designed the house himself, but had it worked out by an architect as Van Doesburg lacked the experience to do so himself. The simplistic-looking two storey villa can now be visited as a museum.
- Buildings by Jan Wils
- 13 Woningbouwcomplex Daal en Berg (Daal en Berg housing development), Papaverhof, Den Haag ( ). A housing development in The Hague, designed by Wils, consisting of 128 middle-class houses. Daal en Berg was listed as one of the top hundred rijksmonumenten of the Netherlands in 1990 and remains on the list to this day.
- 14 Olympisch Stadion (Olympic Stadium), Olympisch Stadion 2, Amsterdam ( ). Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam, used for the Olympic Games of 1928. The stadium is designed in its entirety by Jan Wils. It was expanded in 1937 and renovated between 1998 and 2000. The stadium hosts major sporting events to this day, such as the 2018 World Allround Speed Skating Championships.
- 15 Citroëngarage (Zuidelijk Citroëngebouw), Stadionplein 26-30, Amsterdam ( ). Headquarters of Citroën Netherlands completed in 1931. The Citroëngarage was designed to be a showroom/garage for Citroën cars. It is just in front of the Olympic Stadium.
- 16 City Theater (Pathé City), Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen 15-19, Amsterdam ( ), ☏ . Opened in 1935, City Theater is a cinema in the centre of Amsterdam. The building, after a major reconstruction between early 2007 and late 2010, has little of its original interior, but the outside remains mostly unchanged aside from some new signs. Until 1996 the cinema even had a large theatre organ, which could no longer be used after renovations in that year. The cinema's heyday was during the 1950s, when the cinema mostly showed pictures by MGM and Disney.
De Stijl lives on to this day. Many of the buildings created during the movement are still standing. Replicas of Mondrian's works are still popular and Rietveld's furniture has inspired modern design chairs to simple furniture you could find at and budget warehouse. The movement is very much timeless, giving its works a large appeal in modern times. Many of the museums exhibiting works of Mondrian and Rietveld will sell anything from small souvenirs inspired by Mondrian to large books to proper replicas of the movement's works.