Theo van Doesburg Refurbishes Café Aubette

In 1926 van Doesburg, with artists Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber, obtained the commission to refurbish the interior of a mid-eighteenth-century building to create Café Aubette—large restaurant with a cinema and dancehalls.

A painter as well as an architect, van Doesburg used this project to explore his theory of Elementarism, which built upon the concepts of Neoplasticism developed by the de Stijl movement of Dutch abstract artists. In addition to flat planes and rectilinear configurations, Elementarism employed inclined planes and relief to activate compositions. Van Doesburgís schemes for the interior walls of Café Aubette were based on a grid of predominantly gray planes, with vibrant panels in primary colors. Plaster was used to form a relief pattern between panels. Merging architecture and design with painting, van Doesburg also designed ashtrays for Café Aubette, and even the lettering used for the neon-lit facade and other signs.

The original Aubette, a neo-classical construction situated at Place Kléber and designed by the architect Jean François Blondel between 1764 and 1767, became, at the instigation of Paul and André Horn, architect and pharmacist from Mulhouse, a vast leisure complex of around 200m2 in 1928.

The décors of diverse spaces – a café, restaurant, brasserie, tea room, cinema/ballroom, cellar-dancehall, Salle des Fêtes (festivity hall) and others – are spread across four levels (cellar, ground floor, entresol and floor level). Their creation was entrusted to Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp who joined forces with their friend, the painter and architect, Theo van Doesburg. Most of the drawings were completed in early 1927. It then took one year to build and officially inaugurate the building on February 17, 1928.
The Aubette was conceived to be a work of total art applying the esthetic theories of «De Stijl», the movement founded by Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian in 1917.
Too avant-garde for the public’s taste, most of the Aubette decors were modified, and later destroyed in the latter part of the 30’s.