van doesburg, card players, 1917


Theo van Doesburg produced his Composition IX (Abstract Structure of Card Players) in 1917. The piece does not follow the same style of van Doesburg’s later De Stijl pieces because it was released towards the beginning of the De Stijl movement before a definitive style had been defined. Composition IX only incorporates the non-colors of black, white, and grey with small amounts of blue indicating the somberness of the scene. There are predominately rectangles, but there are also unusual shapes, such as various six-sided objects, which are uncharacteristic for De Stijl paintings. Overall, Composition IX is a building block piece for van Doesburg because it incorporates some of the new De Stijl style while retaining some of the older abstraction style.

The De Stijl movement was focused on representing images in their purest form. They represented the purest form by breaking down images until they were squares and rectangles.[1] In addition, only the primary and non-colors were used because they represented the breaking down of all colors. All together, De Stijl art appears to be simply geometric shapes and primary colors, but in reality it is an image represented in its purest form. For example, Composition IX is a scene of two people playing cards. The middle of the painting has a cluster of small rectangles which represents the playing cards and the table. To the left and the right, the rectangles and other shapes get larger representing the people playing cards. Overall, a scene of two people engrossed in a frantic card game is represented.

In respect to color, Composition IX follows the De Stijl style, but in contrast to van Doesburg’s later pieces, it relies heavily on the use of the non-colors with small amounts of the primary color blue. The significant amount of black and white creates the scene of the card players playing their game in a low-lit area. The white is used to represent the people, cards, chairs, etc. while the black is used as the background color. There is a small amount of grey used to balance the white and the black which does not represent a specific object. The three blue rectangles are placed on the center horizontal of the piece. The blue especially catches the eye in this piece since it is the only color used by van Doesburg. The blue is used to draw attention to the center of the piece where the actual card game is taking place; however, other than their attention grabbing quality, the blue squares do not appear to represent anything. Overall, van Doesburg uses the black and white to describe the scene while using the grey and blue to balance the color and draw attention to sections of the painting.

In respect to the shapes, this piece breaks the De Stijl style by incorporating the use of non-rectangular shapes. Generally, De Stijl pieces are composed of solely squares and rectangles since they are the most basic of shapes.[2] While Composition IX does incorporate squares and rectangles, it also uses other shapes, an anomaly not seen in van Doesburg’s later pieces. The other shapes do not have any curves, but they have a higher degree of complexity then the simple four-sided square or rectangle. In addition to having non-rectangular shapes, the piece has an extraordinary amount of vary sizes of the shapes. In many of van Doesburg’s later pieces, a small amount of rectangles and squares are used to represent the image whereas a large number are used to represent the scene. Since the white shapes are used to represent a wide variety of objects, the various sizes can be used to attribute what the shape actually represents; however, by accurately representing an object by its shape, van Doesburg is not painting in a truly abstract style. Overall, Composition IX generally follows the De Stijl style by using exclusively straight lines to form geometric shapes to represent an image, but differs from the style in its use of non-rectangular shapes and in the amount of shapes used to represent the image.

Composition IX is a unique De Stijl piece that incorporates many of the aspects that embody De Stijl while not following some attributes that are found in van Doesburg’s later works. The piece has less abstraction then other De Stijl pieces due to the sheer number of shapes used to represent the scene and the lack of more primary color is unusual compared to van Doesburg’s other paintings. Overall, van Doesburg’s evolution as an artist can be seen in Composition IX when compared to his future De Stijl paintings in respect to the degree of color and quantity of geometric shapes.




Mendez, Adrian. “Modern Art Encyclopedia.” Last modified Spring 2011. Accessed April 23, 2012.

Troy, Nancy, “Figures of Dance in De Stijl,” The Art Bulletin 66, no. 4 (1984): 648,



[1] Nancy Troy, “Figures of Dance in De Stijl,” The Art Bulletin 66, no. 4 (1984): 648,

[2] Adrian Mendez, “De Stijl,” Modern Art Encyclopedia, 2011,

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