The De Stijl movement, which has been characterized as “one of the major modern movements,” was founded in 1917 by Theo van Doesburg , Piet Mondrian, and various other artists including J.J.P. Oud, Jan Wills, Bart van der Leck, and Antony Kok.[1] These artists were concerned with original and progressive ideas about how the “production and consumption of art and design” along with the effect or power art held over modern society and social life interacted with each other.[2] The basic principles that the de Stijl movement promoted were a “stripping down of the traditional forms…into simple ‘basic’ geometric components or ‘elements’; the composition from these separate ‘elements’ of formal configurations which are perceived as ‘wholes’, while remaining clearly constructed from individual and independent elements; studied and sometimes extreme asymmetry of composition or design; and an exclusive use of ‘orthogonals’ and the ‘pigment primary’ colors, plus ‘neutral’ colors or tones.”[3]

Although these artists were working together in a similar style and technique, the de Stijl movement should not be thought of as a group movement. Artists such as van Doesburg and Mondrian worked individually and separately, yet their pieces of art viewed together form the works that are thought of today as unmistakable examples of the period. They did not collaborate on each others work, only commented. The artists who were involved with this style had a mutual respect for each other and their works; however these artists did not train together or have a centralized hub of production. De Stijl artists evoked the style in not only their works, but also in how they conducted themselves, the manner in which their workspaces were established and also in any other facet of life where they could incorporate the ideals of de Stijl.  In conducting their collective attitude rather than a formal group formation, the de Stijl artists worked as elements and produced works that came together as a whole which in itself is reminiscent of a founding ideal on which de Stijl was established; the individual elements coming together to be perceived as a whole.

In 1924, van Doesburg and Mondrian disagreed over the concept of using diagonals in their works. Mondrian did not support the use of diagonals because they were not natural and pure and therefore did not belong in De Stijl art. On the other hand, van Doesburg believed they were in fact natural and pure because they were just linear lines turned on their side. This documented disagreement between them led to Mondrian returning to the neo-plasticism style while by 1926 van Doesburg created his new theory of Elementarism.[4]

At this time, two distinct varieties of work began to be produced under the overall style of De Stijl. Mondrian painted under the neo-plasticism style which used the similar premises of De Stijl, but solely used horizontal and vertical lines. Opposed to Mondrian’s new style, van Doesburg painted using his new theory of Elementarism. Elementarism was also extremely similar to De Stijl except that diagonals were readily used. Also, at this time van Doesburg and van Eesteren, a Dutch architect, began architectural work under the design of De Stijl. The artists of De Stijl were eager to explore architecture in order to bring the simplified elements of De Stijl to the emerging art form. The De Stijl artist believed, similar to other art movements at the time, that a new modern home needed to be designed that could be easily mass produced. They believed their De Stijl designs would enable this mass production of new modern homes while retaining the simplified “pure” element of De Stijl art. Their first design was for a house for Léonce Rosenberg which was completed in 1923.[5] From 1923-1931, van Doesburg and other De Stijl artists began working with architecture and designed multiple houses and rooms; however, many were just models and never actually built on a large scale. Although many of the architectural designs and models were never made a large scale, the influence of De Stijl on architecture was seen throughout Europe.

The De Stijl movement ended in 1931 upon the death of the founder van Doesburg. Since the artists were loosely tied together, the death of the van Doesburg severed those connections. Overall, the De Stijl movement lasted around 14 years, but in that relatively short time it spread across Europe and revolutionized abstract art. Artists such as Mondrian and van Doesburg challenged the art world with their “pure” paintings and changed how images or ideas could be represented through art. The De Stijl movement’s influence can be seen in other movements of the time and in movements long after De Stijl had faded.



Langmead, Donald. Art Reference Collection. The Artist of De Stijl: A Guide to the Literature. Vol. 25. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000, 68-69.

Ovary, Paul. De Stijl. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson, 1991, 7.



[1] Paul Overy, De Stijl (New York, N.Y.: Thames and Hudson, 1991), 7.

[2] Paul Overy, De Stijl, 12.

[3] Paul Overy, De Stijl, 11.

[4] Donald Langmead, The Artists of De Stijl: A Guide to the Literature (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000), 69

[5] Donald Langmead, The Artists of De Stijl: A Guide to the Literature (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000), 68


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