‘De Stijl’ architecture

Tuesday, 07.03.2017

It was during a business trip that I went to the BOZAR (Paleis voor Schone Kunsten) in Brussels to see the exhibition ‘Theo van Doesburg: A New Expression of Life, Art and Technology’ (26 February – 29 May 2016); see www.bozar.be/en/activities/103881-theo-van-doesburg

Exhibition Poster showing Theo van Doesburg's Counter-Composition XIII (oil on canvas, 1925–26, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice)

Exhibition Poster showing Theo van Doesburg’s Counter-Composition XIII (oil on canvas, 1925–26, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice)

The exhibition was focused on a movement called ‘De Stijl’ which was founded by Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian in The Netherlands in 1917. Piet Mondrian’s abstract paintings and Gerrit Rietveld’s ‘Red-Blue Chair’ are probably the most well known images of ‘De Stijl’ and have since become icons of twentieth century art. However, it was Theo van Doesburg who made this pioneering visual language not only appear in paintings such as his ‘Counter-Composition XIII’ but also in his buildings, furniture and interiors. In Weimar, he presented his new awareness of beauty to the Bauhaus architects.

In architecture, van Doesburg’s desire was to destroy the static aspect of a building. He wanted to replace the heaviness and confinement of walls with rhythmic and colourful animation. Van Doesburg created several architectural models together with Cornelis van Eesteren between the years 1923 and 1925. The most important aspect of this architecture is the asymmetry of volumes. This was achieved through creating axonometric views. These views show an object from a skew direction in order to reveal more than one side in the same picture. The asymmetry re-inforces the lightness and flexibility of the walls underlined by dynamic colours. This is superbly illustrated in the drawing for a ‘private house’ from 1923. An example that was actually built is Gerrit Rietveld’s  ‘Schröder house’ in Utrecht from 1924

Theo van Doesburg, Axonometric projection of a private house (Indian ink, gouache and collage on paper, 1923, Nieuwe Instituut collection, Rotterdam)

Theo van Doesburg, Axonometric projection of a private house (Indian ink, gouache and collage on paper, 1923, Nieuwe Instituut collection, Rotterdam)

Theo van Doesburg, Studio House, Meudon, 1930 (model from 1982, Nieuwe Instituut collection, Rotterdam)

Theo van Doesburg, Studio House, Meudon, 1930 (model from 1982, Nieuwe Instituut collection, Rotterdam)

Gerrit Rietveld, Schröder House, Utrecht, 1924 (model from 1987, Centraal Museum, Utrecht)

Gerrit Rietveld, Schröder House, Utrecht, 1924 (model from 1987, Centraal Museum, Utrecht)

Van Doesburg also designed the interior of the Aubette cafe, restaurant and dance hall in 1927-28. The artist wrote ‘The spatio-temporal painting of the twentieth century with its plastic and structuring possibilities, allows the artist to achieve the dream of placing man not in front of, but inside the painting itself.’

Theo van Doesburg, Interior of the Cine- Dancing of the Aubette, 1927-28, Strasbourg (reconstruction from 1968, VanAbbemuseum, Eindhoven)

Theo van Doesburg, Interior of the Cine- Dancing of the Aubette, 1927-28, Strasbourg (reconstruction from 1968, VanAbbemuseum, Eindhoven)

aubette2