Art Movements Throughout History: De Stijl

A painting showing the style of Piet Mondrian, a famous De Stijl artist.

De Stijl was an art movement founded in 1917 by a group of Dutch abstract artists. De Stijl in Dutch simply means "the style". This style of art was based on straight lines and basic horizontal and vertical geometric forms. The pioneering artists include Theo Van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian, Vilmos Huszar, and J.J.P. Oud. The De Stijl movement was formed with the intention of creating simplicity, harmony, and abstraction through art forms. This was especially in response to the aftermath of World War I, where the artists envisioned the power of art in expressing a Utopian idea which could bring harmony and order to society.

By adopting various visual elements from Cubism and Suprematism, De Stijl was designed to include various artistic influences that could be applied in other forms of art in society such as urban planning, architecture, poetry, typography, and music. The members of this movement aspired to be more than just visual artists by embracing the expansive notion of art and expressing utopian ideas of spiritual harmony.

Key Ideas

De Stijl was established by the use of simple geometric forms that were rendered in the three primary colors. This reduction of elements was the very core of achieving pure geometric forms and abstraction. It also helped in eliminating symmetry while achieving a balance between surfaces and distribution of color.

Art was used as a transformative vehicle in society to bring order and harmony after the effects of the first World War. In trying to achieve universal harmony, the exponents of De Stijl proposed a visual language that consisted of simple, rendered geometric forms such as squares, straight lines, and rectangles that were meant to search for the governing laws of harmony.

While the artists worked hard to achieve their vision of a utopian world, it was essentially an overwhelming task that was not possible to attain in the real world. The failure to realize the vision led to the ultimate demise of the group. As a result, the enduring works of De Stijl are those by Piet Mondrian who was the most renowned member of the movement.

Famous Works

Composition A

Artist: Piet Mondrian

Year: 1920

Composition A consisted of basic elements and solid blocks rendered in primary colors. This work was non-objective in nature as depicted by its title which made no reference to any object rather than itself. Mondrian wanted to achieve geometric abstraction by using rectilinear forms that were outlined with areas of color. He wanted to apply the knowledge of Schoenmaekers's theory and achieve an appropriate visual language that appeared modern at the time. Shades of black and gray were widely used in this work together with solid blocks of primary colors. This helped in expressing simplicity and created basic compositions.

Red Blue Chair

Artist: Gerrit Rietveld

Year: 1923

The Red Blue Chair is described as one of the canonical works of the De Stijl movement. Designed by the architect Rietveld, the chair was supposed to be unique and transformative to the surrounding space. The design incorporated lines, planes, and rectilinear volumes that were not meant to intersect. The primary colors of red, blue, and solid black are clearly defined. The lines and planes of the chair all seem to stand as individual pieces of furniture, yet they are assembled to create one piece. The chair was built out of standard lumber sizes which made it possible to mass-produce as opposed to being handcrafted. The design of the chair does not use natural form, unlike other chairs.


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