Art History Lab

The Impact of De Stijl: Revolutionizing Art and Design

De Stijl Movement: A Response to World War I

The De Stijl movement, also known as Neoplasticism, was a Dutch artistic movement founded in 1917 by

Theo van Doesburg. The movement’s primary objective was to create art with a specific style that was free from anything that was not, in their estimation, essential.

This article delves deep into the De Stijl movement and explores its influence on the artistic landscape of the early 20th century.

Historical Overview and Founders of the Movement

Theo van Doesburg, a Dutch artist and writer, was the founder of the De Stijl movement. He was joined by artists such as Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck, Vilmos Huszr, J.J.P. Oud, and

Gerrit Rietveld.

The movement took its name from De Stijl, an art and architecture journal that van Doesburg began publishing in 1917. The De Stijl movement sought to create a new visual language that was free from the traditional concepts of art and architecture.

The movement stressed order, simplicity, and harmony. The De Stijl artists believed that by reducing their art to its essential elements, they could create a new spiritual reality that would be free from the destruction and chaos caused by World War I.

Influence of World War I and the Search for Spiritual Meaning

The De Stijl movement emerged as a response to the existential heaviness and stress brought about by the First World War. The artists of this movement sought to rid themselves of the pessimism and despair that overwhelmed their generation by imagining a Utopian world where spirituality was essential.

They believed that this new world would enable human beings to express their spiritual essence via art. The De Stijl artists reduced their artistic creations to the bare minimum, using only primary colors, straight lines, and rectangles.

They also embraced asymmetry and the use of negative space to highlight the essential elements of their art. The movement’s principles extended from paintings, sculpture, architecture, furniture design to publication design and typography.

Influences on the De Stijl Movement

Art Movements

The De Stijl movement was heavily influenced by other art movements such as Cubism, Suprematism, and Constructivism. Cubism, a movement founded by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, emphasized the use of geometric shapes to represent human subjects.

The Suprematism movement, founded by Kazimir Malevich, urged artists to create a non-representational world made up entirely of abstract forms and colors. From this movement came the concept of the zero-degree of painting.

Constructivism, founded by Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko, advocated for the integration of art into everyday life and embraced industrial materials such as glass and steel. Theosophical Society and M.H.J. Schoenmaekers

The Theosophical Society, founded in the United States by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, sought to promote universal truths that would lead to spiritual enlightenment.

Rudolf Steiner, who formed the Waldorf educational system, was one of the leaders inspired by the society’s principles. De Stijl Artists were also influenced by M.H.J. Schoenmaekers, a Dutch mathematician and Theosophist.

He invented the concept of Neo-Plasticism, which held that ‘abstract art’ was the purest way to achieve transcendentalism.


The De Stijl movement came about as a result of artists seeking to create a new world that was free from the chaos brought about by World War I. By simplifying artforms to their most elementary components, De Stijl artists created a visual language that was uniquely their own.

The movement’s influence was felt beyond the borders of the Netherlands and influenced not only the art world but also architecture, furniture design, publication design, and typography. The De Stijl movement represents an ideal example of how societal events can shape artistic expression.

De Stijl Art Characteristics, Styles, and Artworks

The De Stijl movement is recognized for its unique artistic expressions, which are characterized by simplicity and abstraction. The elements are reduced to their basic shapes, such as primary colors and geometric lines, which have created a visual language that is universally understood.

In this article, we delve into the art characteristics, styles and artworks within the De Stijl movement.

Characteristics of the De Stijl Movement

The rectangular shape is the main characteristic of De Stijl art. It is also apparent in furniture design and architecture inspired by this movement.

The rectangle symbolizes the concept of simplicity, which is at the heart of all De Stijl artworks. The use of primary hues, mainly red, blue, and yellow, exemplifies the minimalist nature of the De Stijl movement.

These colours harmonize with each other, and through their simplicity, a deeper form of expression is created. Another characteristic of De Stijl art is asymmetric balance.

The aim of De Stijl artists was not to create a symmetrical figure but an artistic composition that was aesthetically pleasing and balanced without being symmetrical. Asymmetric designs create a sense of dynamism, which is a prevalent feature in many De Stijl artworks.

Styles within the De Stijl Movement

The De Stijl movement has two styles: Neo-Plasticism and Elementarism. Neo-Plasticism developed from the ideas of Piet Mondrian, who advocated for the use of simple geometric shapes, particularly a horizontal-vertical grid of black lines to create a sense of order and harmony.

He also used primary colors in varying proportions to create asymmetrical balances within his artworks. Other geometric shapes such as squares and rectangles are used to create tension and balance within the composition.

Elementarism, on the other hand, was founded by

Theo van Doesburg, who sought to expand the concepts of Neo-Plasticism while retaining the fundamental aspects of the style. Elementarism introduced diagonal lines, which extended the basic horizontal-vertical of Neo-Plasticism.

This diagonal line component helped to create dynamism in artwork and enhanced the asymmetry.

Famous De Stijl Artists and their Artworks

Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian was a prominent De Stijl artist whose contribution to the art movement was significant. He developed Neo-Plasticism, which became the foundation of De Stijl art.

Mondrian’s artworks consist of basic geometric shapes in primary colors carefully and meticulously placed onto the canvas to visually symbolize simplicity. An example of his works is the “Composition with Color Planes” (1917).

This artwork consists of colored squares and rectangles in primary hues of red, blue, and yellow, set against a white background, to create an asymmetrical shape. Broadway Boogie-Woogie, completed in 1942, was Mondrian’s final work before his death in 1944.

The piece is an example of his later-style, introducing more tiny rectangles in various colors to create a mosaic of colored grids.

Theo van Doesburg

Theo van Doesburg was a Dutch artist who founded the De Stijl movement in collaboration with Piet Mondrian, and he further developed the Elementarism movement. He created counter-compositions – artworks that were asymmetrical in design and incorporated diagonal lines.

This technique gave his paintings a dynamic and vibrant quality. One of his notable artwork is the “Counter-Composition I” (1924), which is a perfect example of the Elementarism style with its use of diagonal lines, rectangles, squares, and primary colors.

Gerrit Rietveld

Gerrit Rietveld was a Dutch furniture designer and architect and a member of the De Stijl movement. He designed the most famous De Stijl piece of furniture, the Red and Blue Chair (1917).

The chair exemplified the De Stijl’s main characteristics of simplicity and asymmetry, having a rectangular frame, colored in the primary colors of red and blue. Rietveld’s most famous architectural work is the Rietveld Schrder House in Utrecht, developed in collaboration with the client Truus Schrder-Schrader.

The design incorporated De Stijl’s concepts, with a floor plan based on a grid system and asymmetrical design, with solid blocks, and glass to create a light and airy feel.


The De Stijl movement impacted the artistic world in a significant way and continues to inspire modern art even today. The simplicity of the De Stijl art created new and innovative ways to represent art by reducing elements to fundamental geometric shapes.

The movement stressed the importance of spiritual essence and harmony, bringing significant elemental changes to art and design. The Neo-Plasticism and Elementarism styles within De Stijl movement allowed artists to explore their individual perspectives on minimalism and asymmetry, which had a profound impact on how we perceive art and aesthetics even today.

Influence and Legacy of the De Stijl Movement

The De Stijl movement had an immense impact on the art world in the early 20th century and continues to influence modern art and design. The movement revolutionized the art world by reducing artistic forms to their basic geometric shapes, and it showed how simplicity could be used to express spiritual essence.

This article discusses the influence and legacy of the De Stijl movement in different areas.

Influence on Modern Art and Other Artists

The De Stijl movement had a significant impact on modern art and other artists. The International Style, which emerged as a result of the De Stijl movement, emphasized the use of industrial materials in architecture, such as glass, steel, and concrete.

The International Style would have a significant influence on the construction design of public buildings in the United States in the post-WWII era. De Stijl also inspired the famous German Bauhaus School, founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius.

The Bauhaus school was a design institution that taught students how to create art and architecture that was functional and productive, focused on creating aesthetic solutions and mass-produced goods. The curriculum at the school included geometrical shapes, primary colors, asymmetry, and principles of design that were implemented in various design areas.

Modern artists also continue to be inspired by the De Stijl movement. The artists Mark Rothko, Frank Stella, Dan Flavin, and Donald Judd, among others, were known to have been inspired by it.

Rothko, in particular, was known to have utilized De Stijl’s principles in his color-field paintings. De Stijl’s Impact on Art and Design

The De Stijl movement revolutionized the art world through its emphasis on the use of simple geometric shapes, primary colors, and asymmetry in visual art.

By reducing art to its essential forms, it showed unseen possibilities in art and architecture. The movement was also a unifying force, helping to create harmony between art and architecture.

The architectural works of the De Stijl movement emphasized clean, minimalist lines, with neutral or colored planes used as decoration. This approach was in stark contrast to past styles dominated by ornamentation intended to elevate status.

With De Stijl, beauty could be found in simplicity, and a building could be functional yet attractive aesthetically. The De Stijl movement focused on the reduction of form to its basic geometric principles and created works of design that were pure and abstract, making them almost timeless in their aesthetics.

This approach has demonstrated how art and design can be permanently valuable through minimalist design principles with multiple applications. The De Stijl movement has had a lasting legacy in the art and design world.

Its principles of simplicity, abstraction, and the reduction of form created a new meaning in art and design, breaking away from traditional styles. While the De Stijl movement is often considered to have been short-lived, its lasting influence can still be felt today.

The De Stijl movement taught artists that they could use simplicity to express complex ideas and helped architects create buildings that were simplistic yet functional and pleasing to the eye. It continues to inspire architects and artists around the world, and its impact on art continues to be felt even in contemporary society.

The De Stijl movement, with its emphasis on simplicity, abstraction, and reduction of form, had a profound influence on the art and design world. It revolutionized the way artists and architects approached their work, inspiring modern art movements, such as the International Style and Bauhaus.

The movement’s impact can be seen in the works of renowned artists, and its principles continue to resonate in contemporary art and design. The legacy of De Stijl serves as a timeless reminder of the power of simplicity and the ability of art to transcend boundaries, leaving a lasting impact on the artistic landscape.

Through its minimalist approach, the De Stijl movement has left a timeless impression on the world of art and design.

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