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The Art Story Homepage Movements, Styles, and Tendencies De Stijl Art Works

De Stijl - Important Art

De Stijl Collage

Started: 1917

Ended: 1931

Important Art and Artists of De Stijl

The below artworks are the most important in De Stijl - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in De Stijl. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

Composition A (1920)

Composition A (1920)

By: Piet Mondrian

Composition A - whose title announces its nonobjective nature by making no reference to anything beyond itself - is a good example of Mondrian's geometric abstraction before it fully matured within the framework of the De Stijl aesthetic. With its rectilinear forms made up of solid, outlined areas of color, the work reflects the artist's experimentation with Schoenmaekers's mathematical theory and his search for a pared-down visual language appropriate to the modern era. While here Mondrian uses blacks and shades of grey, his paintings would later be further reduced, ultimately employing more basic compositions and only solid blocks of primary colors.

Mechano-Dancer (1922)

Mechano-Dancer (1922)

By: Vilmos Huszar

This early work employs the signature geometric shapes of the De Stijl aesthetic, yet its layering of shapes and forms, and combination of horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines--along with the absence of color - reflect a different approach from that of the movement's leading artists, van Doesburg and Mondrian. The work's suggestion of a human figure - accomplished by the arrangement of geometric forms and placement of a cube at the top, possibly representing a head - is also unique in De Stijl art. Mechano-Dancer's evocation of a hybrid man-machine, also implied by its title, suggests the influence of Dada and Italian Futurism.

Red and Blue Chair (1923)

Red and Blue Chair (1923)

By: Gerrit Rietveld

Originally designed in 1918 but not fully realized until 1923, when it incorporated the characteristic De Stijl scheme of primary colors, Red and Blue Chair is one of the canonical works of the movement. Rietveld envisioned a chair that played with and transformed the space around it, consisting of rectilinear volumes, planes, and lines that interact in unique ways, yet manage to avoid intersection. Every color, line, and plane is clearly defined, as if each comprised its own work that just happened to be used for a piece of furniture. The simple assembly Rietveld deployed was quite intentional as well; he built the chair out of standard lumber sizes available at the time, reflecting his goal of realizing a piece of furniture that could be mass-produced as opposed to hand-crafted. Emphasizing its manmade quality, Red and Blue Chair also notably avoids the use of natural form, which furniture designers tend to favor in order to emphasize the idea of physical comfort and convenience.

Counter Composition V (1924)

Counter Composition V (1924)

By: Theo van Doesburg

First introduced in 1924, van Doesburg's Counter Compositions - his signature works - embody the artist's wish to move beyond the confines of De Stijl with his introduction of Elementarism. While van Doesburg continued to make use of horizontal and vertical lines, he now prioritized the diagonal line; he described Elementarism as "based on the neutralization of positive and negative directions by the diagonal and, as far as color is concerned, by the dissonant. Equilibrated relations are not an ultimate result." The titles of his Counter Compositions refer to the fact that the lines of the compositions are at a 45-degree angle to the sides of the picture rather than parallel to them, resulting in a newly energized relationship between the composition and format of the canvas. As in the present example, he repeatedly ventured beyond the three primary colors, including a triangle of grey in addition to the primary colors, white, and black. At the time he painted this composition, De Stijl was finding its own unique voice; paintings, furniture designs, and buildings produced by those associated with the movement communicated how lines and colors should interact, and how a work's appearance is just as essential as its function.

Rietveld Schröder House (1924)

Rietveld Schröder House (1924)

By: Gerrit Rietveld

The Rietveld Schröder House is an important precursor to the Bauhaus-inspired International Style, as well as the only building designed in complete accordance with the De Stijl aesthetic. The house was commissioned in 1924 by Truus Schröder-Schrader, who intended for the new home to be grand and open ("without walls"), a veritable manifesto for how an independent modern woman should live her life. Featuring the typical De Stijl palette of primary colors, black, and white, the building emphasizes its architectural elements - slabs, posts, and beams - reflecting the movement's emphasis on form, construction, and function in its architecture and design. In other ways, too, the design represents a major departure from architectural convention and precedent. Inside, the rooms are constructed as movable entities with portable walls. In addition, Rietveld's design makes no attempt to interact with any of the surrounding buildings or roadways, suggesting its presence as an isolated structure focusing inward instead of outward.

Arithmetic Composition (1929-30)

Arithmetic Composition (1929-30)

By: Theo van Doesburg

Made close to the end of van Doesburg's life, Arithmetic Composition reflects the artist's experimentation with abstract geometric shapes within a diagonal composition, resulting in a dimensional plane that would not have the same visual effect had the blocks been positioned vertically or horizontally. The work's diagonal configuration, combination of pure positive and negative space (black forms against white background), and incorporation of a curious backward "L" in the upper left corner, which consumes one block, create a sense of movement, making the shapes appear as if they are alternately moving toward and away from the viewer. However, unlike Mondrian's characteristic vertical-and-horizontal paintings, which lend themselves to the suggestion of figuration, van Doesburg here creates an abstract artwork totally devoid of the possibility of representation.

Related Movements and Major Works

Still Life with Chair Caning (1912)

Movement: Cubism

By: Pablo Picasso

By 1912, Picasso and Braque had exhausted their experiments with monochromatic color and with the illusion of low-relief sculpture across the surface of the canvas. In Still Life with Chair Caning, Picasso reintroduces color and goes further into experimentation with multiple perspectives. The image depicts a tabletop at a café; Picasso shows various objects on the table from multiple points of view including the knife, pieces of fruit, and wine glass that are in the top right of the image. Combining both paint and collage, Picasso also incorporates a piece of oilcloth (a cheap tablecloth) that resembles chair caning to reference to the type of seating common in a traditional café. The work is playful in that Picasso conveys the transparent quality of the tabletop by making it appear as if the caning of the chair can be seen through the glass. The spacing in the image, however, is even flatter than in previous works with no shading of objects, thus the café table is not depicted illusionistically as if in three dimensions, but conceptually.

Finally, Picasso paints the words "JOU" that are both the first three letters of the French word for newspaper (Journal), thus referring both to the act of reading a newspaper at a café (the folded newspaper itself can be seen on the left), and also spell the first letters of the French word for "play", signifying the playfulness and experimental quality of the image. Not only is this the first time that collaged elements were included in a work of high art, but it has been argued that the bits of collaged newspaper reference the unstable political situation in Europe and perhaps Picasso's own anarchist tendencies. Even though this work is now synonymous with Cubist experiments, it was seen by few people at the time because Picasso did not show his works at public exhibits, but rather displayed his ideas to like-minded (avant-garde) collaborators.

Suprematist Painting, Eight Red Rectangles (1915)

Suprematist Painting, Eight Red Rectangles (1915)

Movement: Suprematism

By: Kazimir Malevich

The three levels of Suprematism were described by Malevich as black, colored and white. Eight Red Rectangles is an example of the second, more dynamic phase, in which primary colors began to be used. The composition is somewhat ambiguous, since while on the one hand the rectangles can be read as floating in space, as if they were suspended on the wall, they can also be read as objects seen from above. Malevich appears to have read them in the latter way, since at one time he was fascinated by aerial photography. Indeed he later criticized this more dynamic phase of his Suprematist movement as 'aerial Suprematism,' since its compositions tended to echo pictures of the earth taken from the skies, and in this sense departed from his ambitions for a totally abstract, non-objective art. The uneven spacing and slight tilt of the juxtaposed shapes in Eight Red Rectangles, as well as the subtly different tones of red, infuse the composition with energy, allowing Malevich to experiment with his concept of "infinite" space.

Homage to the Square: Dissolving/Vanishing (1951)

Movement: Bauhaus

By: Josef Albers

This canvas, one of hundreds created as part of Albers's vast Homage to the Square project, contains several squares, declining in size and oriented toward the lower edge of the pictorial frame. The red of the central square is, perhaps, only apparently red, as the viewer's perception of it is influenced by the hues of the outer squares: an example of what the artist called "the interaction of color". As Albers put it in his influential 1963 book of that name, "[i]f one says 'Red' (the name of a color) and there are 50 people listening, it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different." Due to the interaction of the color and the placement of squares within squares, the image can also paradoxically appear to both advance and recede, subverting the two-dimensional pictorial plane.

Josef Albers, born in Westphalia, Germany in 1888, initially enrolled to study at the Bauhaus in 1920, having previously worked as an art teacher. In 1923, Gropius asked him to take over teaching of the intermediary werklehre course focused on functional techniques, and Albers continued to work at the school until its closure, following it from Weimar to Dessau to Berlin. In 1933 he emigrated to America, where he became the director of Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He described Homage to the Square, which was made up of over a thousand paintings, as a set of "platters to serve color." He began the series in 1949, when he already was sixty-two years old, and continued to work on it until his death in 1976, by which point it had become the culminating achievement of his career.

Through his work at Black Mountain and subsequently at Yale, Albers was hugely responsible for the transferal of its creative principles to North America in the decades following the school's closure. Through his work at those two institutions, and through monumental late works such as Homage to the Square, Albers influenced a whole swath of late-twentieth-century art-movements, including Op Art, Conceptual Art, Color-Field Painting, Hard-edged Geometric Abstraction, and Minimalism, as well as artists such as Bridget Riley, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Frank Stella, and Robert Rauschenberg.


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