Celebrating 100 years of De Stijl

Composition en rouge, jaune, bleu et noir by Mondrian via Wikimedia Commons

It is exactly 100 years since the first issue of De Stijl magazine was published in October 1917. This is commonly regarded as the starting point for the influential artistic movement of the same name, chiefly associated with the artist Piet Mondrian and abstract geometric paintings using primary colours. The anniversary has been marked throughout the year by exhibitions in several locations around the Netherlands (see here for more details) along with the publication of new books on the movement and related artists. This is a good time for us to consider relevant books that we have and to highlight recent new acquisitions.

Close-up of the cover

The University Library has a reprint of the complete run of issues of De Stijl from its beginnings until its closure in 1932 (T400.b.226.1-2). The founder and editor of the magazine was Theo van Doesburg and the cover featured a woodcut design by Vilmos Huszar. The first issue contained articles by Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck, Antony Kok and Jacobus Oud, each important members of the group. In its relatively short life De Stijl served as a platform for associated artists to voice their ideas about art and was generally dominated by writing with few illustrations. Selected articles can be found translated into English in De Stijl by Hans Jaffé (S400:3.c.9.13).

The 100 year celebration prompted the publication last year of De Stijl, 100 jaar inspiratie: de nieuwe beelding en de internationale kunst 1917-2017 by Anton Anthonissen and Evert van Straaten (C205.d.608). This book features many illustrations of works from the group and puts the De Stijl movement in the context of art that went before and later artwork influenced by the movement. Other recent good introductions to De Stijl are:

  • The story of De Stijl: Mondrian to Van Doesburg by Hans Janssen and Michael White (C201.b.1983)
  • De Stijl, 1917-1931 (2011.12.10), catalogue of an exhibition held at the Pompidou Centre in Paris in 2011

Last year Brussels played host to an exhibition on Theo van Doesburg and the accompanying catalogue, Theo Van Doesburg: a new expression of life, art, and technology (S950.a.201.4095) gives insights into his life and work.

Piet Mondrian is undoubtedly the best-known artist connected with the De Stijl movement and it is unsurprising that the anniversary has coincided with the publication of new books on him. These include:

  • Piet Mondrian: the man who changed everything (S950.b.201.4162), based on the large Mondrian collections of the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague
  • Piet Mondriaan: een nieuwe kunst voor een ongekend leven: een biografie (C213.c.781), a new biography by Hans Janssen of the Gemeentemuseum

Another recent book devoted to Mondrian is Piet Mondrian: life and work edited by Cees W. de Jong (S950.a.201.3555). It is clear from all these books that although Mondrian is most closely associated with the abstract work of De Stijl he started out as a more traditional Impressionistic painter.

Picture by Dingdongchathan via Wikimedia Commons

De Stijl was also most notably represented in 3D by the Red and Blue Chair by Gerrit Rietveld, a furniture designer and another main member of the group. You can find out more about him and his designs in Gerrit Rietveld by Ida van Zijl (2017.13.26).

One of the exhibitions held earlier this year at the Gemeentemuseum focused on Mondrian and Van der Leck in particular, concentrating on the early years of their association. The University Library holds the catalogue of this exhibition: Piet Mondriaan & Bart van der Leck: de uitvinding van een nieuwe kunst: Laren 1916-1918 (C202.b.833).

If you have not managed to catch any of this year’s exhibitions so far there is still time as two more open this weekend, one in Amsterdam on links with the department store Metz & Co, and one at the Kröller-Müller Museum on Bart van der Leck and the patron Helene Kröller-Müller.

Katharine Dicks

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