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De Stijl Art Definition Essay

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Updated: Oct 2nd, 2021


Many artists usually have preferences about their subjects. Masterpieces only makes becomes meaningful when they consistently run through against their own history and the artists convey the essence of what they want to express and relate with the demands of their audiences. Some of the art forms during the past eras have something to do indeed with the visuals that people see in the world today. This essay primarily focuses on the De Stijl architecture and the principles that the artists proposed during the time constraint the De Stijl Group which was pioneered by some artists and in fact, predominantly took a publication for their underlying theories. A relation with how the use of simple lines and colours are the basic ideas of De Stijl art signifies.

Abstraction, purity and essence were the major determinants of how the expression should be used in neoplasticism. Mondrian as one of the most important character in the De Stijl movement played a great role in the development of the art. Another masterpiece was depicted through the creation of Rietveld’s house and prevailed to have arguments with what the essence of the whole De Stijl principle taught but however, it was still considered as a Mondrian building where in the house was largely influenced by Piet Mondrian’s aesthetic.


De Stijl Art was also known as neoplasticism or the new plastic art, which was characterized as a Dutch movement in 1917 and literally means The Style. Particularly, De Stijl describes a body of work during the year 1917 up to 1931 in Netherlands. This is also coined as a journal made by a Dutch artist, Theo Van Doesburg and illustrated the theories of the De Stijl group.

To relate with the third congress of the International association of Art Critics, the Museum of Stedelijk in Amsterdam formed a comprehensive exhibit of the work of the artists in the Stijl Group. The group of painters, architects, sculptors and poets had been the first ones to come out with a published magazine with regard to the underlying principles of their art and indeed, it depicts a lot of excellent claims to the attention of the audience (H.R., 1951).

For Piet Mondrian, it produced a painter who held the ideas of abstraction to their logical conclusion, and on the architectures of Rietveld, Oud, and Van Eestern who portrayed a decisive influence behind their own country on the progress of the important architectural principles. The group animator was indeed Theo Van Doesburg who was known to be a propagandist of energy and intelligence. Doesburg also taught the new ideas not just based on the pages of the literatures that he reviewed but also in the lectures and actual presentations all throughout Europe. During the 1921, Doesburg came to the Bauhaus in Wimer and said that every thing turned out to be upside down radical. He shared the poison of the new spirit or was able to share information and ideas which developed new principles for other artists.

Uniqueness needed to be disregarded and a new kind of focus was launched in the form of universality. They promoted the use of contemporary forms of art and everything in the past was eliminated in describing the real meaning of arts and its sentimentality (Overy, 1969). Architecture and furniture of Oud and Rietveld in particular was undoubtedly connected with the work of Charles Rennie Macintosh, the determined father of modern architecture, which is said to be an interesting idea for the search of whether a direct link existed with the Scottish pioneer.

Generally, De Stijl aims to express a new kind of Utopian principles of spiritual harmony and organization. They pursued pure abstraction and universality by deducting too much use of colours. They promoted the use of a simple visual representation which comprises of vertical and horizontal lines together with the application of basic colours along with hues of black and white (Jaffé, 1956). Mondrian actually set a standard and delimitation in his essay specifically in the Neo- Plasticism in Pictorial Art. According to Mondrian’s essay, the new plastic idea will neglect the particulars of appearance of the natural form and colour.

But it should depict the whole expression by its abstraction in the form and colour by the excellent use of straight lines and a clear presentation of the basic colours (Locher, 1994). Thus, the art illustrates a mere portrayal on the use of lines and primary colours in order to come up with a masterpiece. Geometry of the straight line is given emphasis and the use of basic shapes such as square and rectangle together with the firm asymmetrical concept. The prevailing use of the pure basic colours with the blend of black and white, the connection between positive and negative factors in an arrangement of non- objective forms and lines are also focused as well.

Furthermore, the limitations on the use of colours include the use of yellow, red, and blue hues as well as the three basic values which are black, grey and white (Locher, 1994). The works tried to reject symmetry and achieved aesthetic balance through the use of opposition. This certain element of the movement constitutes the other meaning of Stijl which is ‘a support, jamb or perhaps a post’. Exemplifying this idea would consequently result to the construction of crossing joints most especially in the carpentry area.

In a lot of works that illustrates a three- dimensional are, vertical and horizontal lines aligned in layers or planes intersects when put together hence, giving way for the other elements to be formed. This can be visible in the Rietveld Schröder House and the Red and Blue Chair. The movement of De Stijl was inclined also by the Cubist painting as well as by the mysticism and the principles about a perfect straight line. However, it did not follow the guidelines of an “ism” principle Cubism, Surrealism, and Futurism per se. It also opposed to the principles of art schools just like Bauhaus.


Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter and played a significant role on the De Stijl art movement and group. He had been developed a non- representational form which he regarded as Neo- plasticism, just like what is said earlier.

The members of the De Stijl movement were confident for what they advocated and known to be self- effacing artists which primarily suggested the use of pure and accessible kind of art. Mondrian did not account himself as one of the movement members but still, his ideas about abstraction or creation, De Stijl in general had contributed a great participation in totality (Schapiro, 1995).

Mondrian started as a naturalistic artist but eventually shifted into the innovations with regard to colors and abstraction. From being an impressionist and using a pointillism style of art, landscapes and still lifes during the era of 1906s, visualizations of Mondrian rapidly developed into a free, Fauvist style of landscapes. Though Mondrian received various criticisms for his works, he continued his aggressiveness in developing his style and set an open mind for innovations.

Mondrian’s adaptation of using more of an abstraction principle was motivated through his ideals to fully express universality. Putting a large consideration on the use of pure technique on evaluating the simplicity of art was one of his styles. His artistic philosophy depicted on the refinery of his paintings. He suggested that his expression of art greatly centers to what every artists and audiences as well seeks, and that is to relate with the harmony of the art through the comprehension of balance between the lines, planes and colours of course taking into account its clarity (Locher, 1994). He particularly uttered his philosophy in a series of articles like The Structuring of Painting that was published by Van Doesburg in his De Stijl magazine.

The conflict between the uses of technology in architecture was argued by Mondrian telling that the tensions between the technology and individuality were more a matter of people’s perception and understanding than in reality. He agreed that the shift from the meticulous to the abstract was the technique in order to put together these two obvious contradictions.

In 1917, Mondrian made his first composition about paintings and rhythmic horizontal and vertical lines and started creating geometric grid works in 1918. After the publication of his Neo- Plastcism literature, he personally made the first heavily black outlined colored rectangles (Schapiro, 1995). Mondrian did not view the black lines as edges and they were not intended to have colors for the reason of avoiding the creation of foreground and background that will apparently destruct the totality of having the unity of the work. As a replacement for that, the lines moved through the shapes such as rectangles of the color while maintaining the independency. Moreover, the fundamental compositions of color and line emphasize the dynamic interaction and relation of the significant elements of form and color.

During 1921, Mondrian did lessen his use of colors and set his palette into the three basic colors with black, white and grey. His emigration to New York contributed another idea of altering his framework of using black lines to colored lines and rows of small colorful rectangles. Thus, Mondrian’s suggestions and theories about abstraction, purity and essence, largely created a style that contemporary architecture uses. Buildings and houses today are somewhat patterned from his philosophy pointing out to the real essence of an art.

Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red in 1921. The actual size of this composition is 72.5 x 69 cm.
Figure 1. Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red in 1921. The actual size of this composition is 72.5 x 69 cm. (Haber, 1996)

Gerrit Rietveld’s Schröder House

The members of De Stijl religious movement held quickly to the rules with regard to colors and their certain meanings. A yellow color signifies the power source of the sun, blue depicts for the horizontal line which is important to architecture and red describes the relationship between the two. When Rietveld translated a Piet Mondrian painting into a three- dimensional object, it was definite that all the rules which relates to the style and preference were having questionable marks. Rietveld never thought that the Red Blue Chair would become a monument to t he audacity of the new artists, architects and designers of the movement (White, 2003).

A perfect symmetry between humanity and society in general and the physical association of humanity to its space are the movement’s collective objective. They promoted a mathematical formula to come up with a universal design from small things up to bigger ones such as chairs to buildings. And shapes in squares were treated as glorious forms for the group.

Rietveld, as a professional furniture maker adopted the chance to design the Schroder House. Initially, he aims at the creation of a structure which can be done in a simple and economic way and at the same time launch a new artistic design (White, 2003). Through the designs of Rietveld, the stimulation of De Stijl’s principles prevailed.

Following the De Stijl’s principles and Mondrian’s philosophy, Gerrit Rietveld’s Schröder House is often regarded not only as an archetypal exemplar of De Stijl architecture but also as a Mondrian’s building.

The exterior of the Gerrit Rietveld’s Schröder House which is also regarded as Mondrian’s building.
Figure 2. The exterior of the Gerrit Rietveld’s Schröder House which is also regarded as Mondrian’s building. (World Heritage Center, 2007)

As part of the movement, Rietveld used the primary colors such as red, blue, and yellow. The house has relatively two floors and portrays the use of planes connected together which actually started from lines. The architectural design of the house met the criteria for being masterpiece through the details of the house which includes the colour of the paint. Perhaps, it may be attributed to a mural canvas but each color on a certain area corresponds to a symbolic meaning (Overy, 1969).

Before the mid 1970s, the work of Rietveld had been singled out from the group. Rietveld held the principle of Mondrian which relies on the application of simplicity and purity if the work. The house served as a paragon of a symmetry who kept his distance from the divisive arguments that occurred from the other De Stijl members. Actually, his connections with the movement are treated as relatively unimportant in the comparison with his long- term association with the ideas if the design through the people who influenced Rietveld. The relationship between the client and the architect largely affect the whole abstract of the house.

The main point of the argument is that Rietveld showed equilibrium in his work and that opposes the De Stijl principle which rejects the symmetrical form of art (Schapiro, 1995). Though the house looked simple and used purity through the use of primary colors, it still appeared to maintain symmetry. However, other factors are considered to be the reason with regard to the descriptions of the house and the De Stijl principle.


Architectural designs nowadays come into different forms according to the person’s own conceptualization of a certain subject. The principle of De Stijl art still prevails in the modern culture and hence will be more likely to be visible in other forms of art. Abstraction, purity and essence are the main focus of the artists during the era of Mondrian and his other fellow artists. Paintings on the wall per se are some of the evidences where these principles can be empirically observed (Jaffé, 1956). The application of color, the use of lines and the patterns depicting simplicity comprises the whole ideal. Thus, harmony should compel the connections between the elements of the style.


Haber, J. (1996). “Control Freak: Piet Mondrian”. Web.

H.R. (1951). “De Stijl” The Burlington Magazine. The Burlington Magazine Publications, Ltd. Vol. 93, No. 582, pp. 300.

Jaffé, H. L. C. (1956). De Stijl, 1917–1931, The Dutch Contribution to Modern Art, 1st edition, Amsterdam: J.M. Meulenhoff.

Locher, H. (1994) Piet Mondrian: Colour, Structure, and Symbolism: An Essay. Bern: Verlag Gachnang & Springer.

Overy, P. (1969). De Stijl, 1st edition, London: Studio Vista.

Schapiro, M. (1995). Mondrian: On the Humanity of Abstract Painting. New York: George Braziller.

World Heritage Centre. UNESCO (2007). “Rietveld Schröder House”. Web.

White, M. (2003). De Stijl and Dutch Modernism. Manchester [etc]: Manchester University Press.

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