Van Doesburg, Simultaneous Counter-Composition, 1929-30


Theo van Doesburg’s Simultaneous Counter-Composition was introduced in 1930. Through the use of only rectangles and simple colors, van Doesburg is painting in his newly developed style named De Stijl which exemplifies the abstract style. Part of the De Stijl style is the use of only simple shapes and colors which is clearly seen in Simultaneous Counter-Composition. Van Doesburg focuses on breaking down the images to their simplest forms in order to represent them in their purest form.

The De Stijl movement was focused on reducing art down to purist form by using only primary colors and simple shapes such as squares. Van Doesburg believed by reducing paintings down to this pure abstraction level the true meaning of the object could be seen. The breaking down of an image to its simplest form can be seen in all of van Doesburg’s De Stijl paintings and architecture including Simultaneous Counter-Composition. By removing the complex colors and curves from a painting, De Stijl represents an image in its most basic and pure form.

The lines and shapes in this painting appear to have been carefully traced to ensure the correct dimensions were achieved. The colors used (black, blue, red, white, and yellow) indicate the De Stijl method of using only the primary colors. The use of only primary colors removes the complexity of using an infinite number of other colors to represent an image. By removing the ability to recognize an image based on color, van Doesburg forces the viewer to see the image in its most basic form. The blue, red, and yellow colors have a degree of intensity that gives the squares an eye-catching effect. The black square is placed in the top right corner with a majority of the square cut off to prevent too much black from overtaking the color. Also, the colored squares are connected with a black line placed at a right angle which falls into place with the squared theme of the piece. By simplifying the colors, van Doesburg is able to construct a purely geometric piece of simplicity which exemplifies the style of the De Stijl movement.

Simultaneous Counter-Composition focuses on the balance of the squares. All of the colored shapes are cut-off squares and even the canvas itself is a square. By using squares, van Doesburg promotes the purely geometric form of painting. The yellow and blue squares lie parallel to one another while the red square lies slightly offset from the others. All of the squares are connected through the use of right angle which creates a clear square over a majority of the piece. Van Doesburg uses squares because it represents the purest of the geometric shapes due to its symmetry and equivalence of sides. Through the use of multiple squares arranged over a square canvas, van Doesburg simplifies his piece down to the basic shapes and colors to promote “harmony and order…[with] pure abstraction and simplicity.”[1]

Theo van Doesburg did an extraordinary amount of work into Simultaneous Counter-Composition compared to his past works around that time period. As Denker states in his Art Journal, “Van Doesburg was often a downright sloppy painter and a lazy draughtsman.”[2] Van Doesburg had been focusing on architecture during the 1920s and had not produced many in-depth paintings in quite some time. Also, van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian had had an argument over the use of diagonals in De Stijl causing them to go their separate ways. Denker goes on to  point out that, “…Simultaneous Counter-Composition[‘s]…richly colored planes, perfectly placed black lines, small scale, and square format indicate more than one look at Mondrian’s work of the same year…”[3] Simultaneous Counter-Composition does include diagonal lines, but the balance of the squares and their colors indicates Mondrian’s influence on van Doesburg.

Simultaneous Counter-Composition successfully uses squares and simple colors to break painting back down the basics exemplifying the goal of the De Stijl movement.




Denker, Susan A., “De Stijl: 1917-1931, Visions of Utopia,” Art Journal 42, no. 3 (1982): 245,

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] Susan A. Denker, “De Stijl: 1917-1931, Visions of Utopia,” Art Journal  42, no. 3 (1982): 245,

[3] Denker, 245.


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