Translating simply to “the style” in Dutch, De Stijl was an abstract movement of art that began in the Netherlands in 1917. Initially a publication by the same name, the movement explored a purely abstracted reduction of imagery and claimed to be reacting to Art Deco and the Amsterdam School. De Stijl work can be recognised by its use of only vertical and horizontal lines and black, white, and primary colors.
The ideals of the De Stijl movement were centered around the “ideal” geometric form, taking on visual elements of Cubism and certain aspects of Dada. De Stijl proponents sought to go further than just the visual arts, taking De Stijl influence into architecture, music, poetry, and typography. Built from the destruction of the First World War, De Stijl expressed a sense of order and harmony. As the Netherlands was neutral in the War, Dutch artists could not leave the country after 1914, leading to a unique artistic style that developed isolated from the influences of the international art scene.
The leaders of the movement were Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. De Stijl the publication became a way for Mondrian to shape his ideas on art, define his artistic aims, and introduced the term Neo-Plasticism. Originally described by Mondrian in an essay, Neo-Plasticism is the style of pictorial arts created by the artists of De Stijl only using primary colors. The aim of Neo-Plasticism is to ignore natural forms to reach complete abstraction through simple geometric shapes, going beyond natural things to the core of reality.
At its height, De Stijl had 100 members. This included JJP Oud, Jan Wils, Gino Soverini, Antony Kok, Vilmos Huszár, and the two initial leaders Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. The cooperation of these artists led to the development of De Stijl, which remained relatively homogenous as participants signed manifestos forming deeper ideas and theories.
Architecture and interior design were important aspects of the De Stijl movement, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. Some artists, such as van Doesburg, became associated with Bauhaus. Around 1921, other influences began to be introduced such as Malevich and Russian Constructivism.
In 1925, van Doesburg developed Elementarism which introduced the diagonal, a form which represented dynamism. Mondrian strongly disagreed with this, who believed it to be the equivalent to artistic heresy, and he seceded from De Stijl. Elementarist diagonals, in his idea, created tension between composition and the pictorial plane.
When Theo van Doesburg died in 1931, De Stijl lost its leader and faded into nonexistence. The ideas of pure geometric abstraction and ideas of form and function were kept alive in various other movements, particularly within architecture. Many artists of the 20th century– from Abstract Expressionism’s Mark Rothko to Minimalism’s Donald Judd– were influenced by this De Stijl aesthetic.