The Stijl File

One of the most interesting art movements in modern history is that of De Stijl. De Stijl (meaning “The Style” in Dutch) engulfs so many different aspects of artistic creation including furniture and interiors, painting, and sculpture.[1] Formed in the Netherlands in 1917, founder Theo van Doesburg (author of the journal De Stijl) established the creative movement under the manifesto of harmony and balance through abstraction. Geometric shapes (specifically rectangles and squares), primary colors and non-colors only were to be used as the bases of form, line and color to express spiritual equilibrium. Of the vast group of artist, Piet Mondrian, one of the more popular painters emerged with a complex take on modern abstraction, de Stijl principles and the history of Dutch art. As you can see, Mondrian has stripped painting down to its bare essentials: horizontals, verticals, boxes, black, white and the primary colors revealing what truly is beneath the composition of all painting throughout history. Additionally, these individual components are what make up the world around us today: Mondrian’s construction of lines around squares could effectively be seen as the view looking down on a New York City street.


Application of de Stijl philosophy in the design world is quite strong as it advocates basic structure. These fundamentals have been integrated not only in furniture and painting but have also found their way into popular culture. Yves Saint Laurent in the ‘60s combined de Stijl imagery (particularly that of Mondrian) and transformed it into a day dress that reads mod and color-blocking.


De Stijl furniture proves to be both basic in its elements yet complex as a whole perhaps attaining the balance for which members of the movement attempted to attain.




van doesburg

A van Doesburg architectural drawing that was never brought to life


Gerrit Rietveld with an architectural model

[1] Additionally, if you include Bauhaus (a different school yet with similar principles emerging at the same time in Germany), architecture is another important aspect for this creative coalition.


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