De Stijl Movement

After World War I there was a turning away from old forms and philosophies among architects and designers, just as there was among artists and writers.

Many of the same abstract ideas came into play, as did ideas that incorporated the "machine" aesthetics of the new industrial age. In fact, one of the important trends of the 20th century would be the increasing parallels between - even merging of - art and design, which had been separated since the end of the renaissance.

In the early 1920's a group of architects and artists, influenced by some of the ideas of DaDa, formed a movement called de Stijl (Dutch for The Style). Theirs was a utopian philosophical approach to aesthetics, centered in a publication called de Stijl, which presented their ideas and designs. The founder of the publication and leader of the group was Theo van Doesburg, an architect. Other important participants were Gerrit Rietveld and Piet Mondrian.

The philosophy was based on functionalism, with a severe and doctrinaire insistence on the rectilinearity of the planes, which seem to slide across one another like sliding panels. All surface decoration except color was to be eliminated, and only pure primary hues, plus black and white were to be allowed.

The most important thing about this group was their ideas, since they managed to build very few of their designs. One important exception is Gerrit Rietveld's Schroeder House, which is the most complete realization of the de Stijl aesthetic. Not only the house, but also the furnishings and decoration were planned by Rietveld. In spite of the apparently small output of this group, they would be very influential on subsequent design styles.

The initial source of their ideas came from DaDa notions about dispensing with the pretentious elitist design aesthetics of the pre war era. Some of the early work of Frank Lloyd Wright, which had been published in Europe in 1910, influenced their notions about form. Japanese sources were also of significance, though these ideas may have been derived through the work of Wright.

De Stijl, Dutch for "The Style", also known as neoplasticism, was a Dutch artistic movement founded in 1917. In a narrower sense, the term De Stijl is used to refer to a body of work from 1917 to 1931 founded in the Netherlands. De Stijl is also the name of a journal that was published by the Dutch painter, designer, writer, and critic Theo van Doesburg (1883–1931), propagating the group's theories. Next to van Doesburg, the group's principal members were the painters Piet Mondrian (1872–1944), Vilmos Huszár (1884–1960), and Bart van der Leck (1876–1958), and the architects Gerrit Rietveld (1888–1964), Robert van 't Hoff (1887–1979), and J.J.P. Oud (1890–1963). The artistic philosophy that formed a basis for the group's work is known as neoplasticism — the new plastic art (or Nieuwe Beelding in Dutch).

Proponents of De Stijl sought to express a new utopian ideal of spiritual harmony and order. They advocated pure abstraction and universality by a reduction to the essentials of form and colour; they simplified visual compositions to the vertical and horizontal directions, and used only primary colors along with black and white. Indeed, according to the Tate Gallery's online article on neoplasticism, Mondrian himself sets forth these delimitations in his essay 'Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art'. He writes, "... this new plastic idea will ignore the particulars of appearance, that is to say, natural form and colour. On the contrary, it should find its expression in the abstraction of form and colour, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary colour." The Tate article further summarizes that this art allows "only primary colours and non-colours, only squares and rectangles, only straight and horizontal or vertical line." The Guggenheim Museum's online article on De Stijl summarizes these traits in similar terms: "It [De Stijl] was posited on the fundamental principle of the geometry of the straight line, the square, and the rectangle, combined with a strong asymmetricality; the predominant use of pure primary colors with black and white; and the relationship between positive and negative elements in an arrangement of non-objective forms and lines."

The name De Stijl is supposedly derived from Gottfried Semper's Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten oder Praktische Ästhetik (1861–3), which Curl suggests was mistakenly believed to advocate materialism and functionalism. In general, De Stijl proposed ultimate simplicity and abstraction, both in architecture and painting, by using only straight horizontal and vertical lines and rectangular forms. Furthermore, their formal vocabulary was limited to the primary colours, red, yellow, and blue, and the three primary values, black, white, and grey. The works avoided symmetry and attained aesthetic balance by the use of opposition. This element of the movement embodies the second meaning of stijl: “a post, jamb or support”; this is best exemplified by the construction of crossing joints, most commonly seen in carpentry.
In many of the group's three-dimensional works, vertical and horizontal lines are positioned in layers or planes that do not intersect, thereby allowing each element to exist independently and unobstructed by other elements. This feature can be found in the Rietveld Schröder House and the Red and Blue Chair.

De Stijl was influenced by Cubist painting as well as by the mysticism and the ideas about "ideal" geometric forms (such as the "perfect straight line") in the neoplatonic philosophy of mathematician M.H.J. Schoenmaekers. The works of De Stijl would influence the Bauhaus style and the international style of architecture as well as clothing and interior design. However, it did not follow the general guidelines of an “ism” (Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism), nor did it adhere to the principles of art schools like the Bauhaus; it was a collective project, a joint enterprise.

In music, De Stijl was an influence only on the work of composer Jakob van Domselaer, a close friend of Mondrian. Between 1913 and 1916, he composed his Proeven van Stijlkunst (Experiments in Artistic Style), inspired mainly by Mondrian's paintings. This minimalistic—and, at the time, revolutionary—music defined "horizontal" and "vertical" musical elements and aimed at balancing those two principles. Van Domselaer was relatively unknown in his lifetime, and did not play a significant role within the De Stijl group.