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8 Fun Facts About ‘De Stijl’ Artists

2017 marks 100 years since Dutch artists Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondriaan launched De Stijl art journal in the historic city of Leiden, the Netherlands. De Stijl – translated simply as 'The Style' – was a major artistic movement in the 20th century and is regarded as The Netherlands’ most important contribution to modern art. To celebrate this centenary, we present 8 fun facts about the ‘De Stijl’ artists and their famous and sometimes controversial works of art. Enjoy!

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1. The first one to use the iconic primary colours was Bart Van der Leck

Composition (1917) by Bart van der Leck / Via holland.com

When thinking about the De Stijl’s three iconic primary colours (red, blue and yellow), most of us automatically think of Piet Mondriaan. Not many know that it was actually Bart van der Leck who first started working with flat planes of the three colours, exclusively alongside white and black (grey on a white background). Mondriaan was introduced to Bart van der Leck's work in 1916. However, it took until 1920 for Mondriaan to start using the primary colours in his paintings as well.

2. Mondriaan had a disagreement with Van Doesburg about the use of diagonal lines

Composition with big red plane, yellow, black, gray and blue (1921) by Piet Mondriaan / Via holland.com

Although Mondriaan held the idea that diagonals suggested three-dimensionality, Van Doesburg felt that the dynamic quality was too much the classical image of ‘neo-plasticism’. This disagreement eventually led to a (temporary) split between Mondriaan and De Stijl group. During the split, Mondriaan continued to further develop this aesthetic of ‘neo-plasticism’. Many of his works from this period, including ‘Composition with Red, Yellow, Black, Blue and Gray’ (1921), are permanently exhibited at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.

3. Gerrit Rietveld’s Schröderhuis is a UNESCO World Heritage site

Rietveld Schröderhuis in Utrecht / Via holland.com

Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Rietveld Schröderhuis in Utrecht is an iconic home designed by Gerrit Rietveld in 1924 to a commission by art patron Mrs Truus Schröder. The building was realised according to the architectural principles of De Stijl and encourages a seamless flow between inside and out. It has bright, dynamic living spaces created by sliding panels and the application of bold, primary colours throughout. Today the Rietveld Schröderhuis stands as a solid and lasting monument to the movement, and arguably the only true De Stijl building in the world.

4. Theo van Doesburg was the sole editor of De Stijl art journal until its final issue in 1928

Dancers (1916) by Theo van Doesburg / Via holland.com

During WWI, artists Bart van der Leck and Piet Mondriaan shared a strong conviction that the modern world needed a new kind of art. A growing group of Dutch and international artists and designers embraced De Stijl’s ethos: to make a playful, visual and optimistic impact on people's lives, be it with paintings, interiors or architecture. However, from the beginning in 1917 until the end in 1928, no one other than Van Doesburg ever edited the art journal.

5. Co-founder Bart van der Leck refused to sign the movement’s first manifesto

The Tempest (1916) by Bart van der Leck / Via holland.com

Bart van der Leck moved to the artists’ community of Laren in 1916, where he began to paint abstract compositions comprising simple, basic shapes in primary colours. Although he co-founded the De Stijl art journal with Piet Mondriaan and Theo van Doesburg in 1917, he refused to sign the movement’s first manifesto. Only one year later, he left the group. Van der Leck continued to work on abstract compositions for the rest of his life, finally settling in Blaricum in Noord-Holland, where he died peacefully at his easel two weeks before his 82nd birthday.

6. Mondriaan used to be an impressionist

Evening: The Red Tree (1908-1910) by Mondriaan / Via holland.com

Mondriaan’s early work involved landscapes and still lives that were typical of the Dutch impressionist movement known as The Hague School, the prevailing art trend at this time. Works such as ‘Oostzijdse molen’ (1907) and ‘Veld met bomen bij avond’ (1907) – now in the collection of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag – were praised by his tutors. However, it didn’t take long before he moved away from this style and started painting more expressively, reducing his colour palette and introducing more angular strokes. ‘Evening: The Red Tree’ (‘Avond: de Rode Boom’, 1908) demonstrates one of his cubist-inspired experiments, picked up in Parijs.

7. Theo van Doesburg’s first major assignment involved decorating 16 residential homes in Drachten

Home in the Parrot District in Drachten / Via holland.com

The Friesland town of Drachten has a strong connection with De Stijl. It was here that Theo van Doesburg, one of De Stijl’s pivotal figures, realised his first major assignment: devising a bold colour scheme for the exterior and interior of 16 residential homes in the 'Papegaaienbuurt’ – also known as the Parrot District – in accordance with De Stijl’s joyful use of primary colours.

8. The Ploegfabriek in Bergeijk is the only industrial space designed by Gerrit Rietveld

De Ploegfabriek in Bergeijk / Via holland.com

The iconic textile factory ‘De Ploegfabriek’ in the town of Bergeijk was the only industrial space designed by Gerrit Rietveld, while acclaimed landscape architect Mien Ruys was responsible for its surrounding park. De Ploegfabriek is reopened to the public especially for the Mondriaan to Dutch Design celebrations in 2017.

9. For more information, visit Holland!

Compiled by Helin Okcuoglu

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