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Expressionism - De Stijl
(1917 - 1932)

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De Stijl (Dutch, "The Style"), was a periodical founded by the painters Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian in 1917. The name also applies to the artists and architects associated with it, and to the style they created. The magazine, which promoted Neo-Plasticism and, later, Dadaism, was one of the most influential art periodicals of its time. The last issue appeared in 1932 upon the death of Theo van Doesburg. Below are shown the only stamp issues world wide of Mondriaan's and van Doesburg's works.  

 
The Netherlands 1994.  Piet Mondrian:  De Stijl. Fragment of "The Red Windmill" (1910).  Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. The Netherlands 1994.  Piet Mondrian: De Stijl. "Composition with Yellow Lines" (1933).  Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. The Netherlands 1994.  Piet Mondrian:  De Stijl. Detail of "Broadway-Boogie-Woogie" (1942).  Museum of Modern Art, New York.

As a movement, De Stijl was dedicated to abstraction that would create a universal response from all viewers based on a quest for harmony and order. De Stijl canvases are abstract compositions with areas in pure primary colours (blue, red, and yellow) combined with straight lines in black, grey, and white.  

The Netherlands 1983. Piet Mondriaan. De Stijl. Official First Day Card. Composition 1922. The Netherlands 1983. Piet Mondriaan. De Stijl. Official First Day Card. Opposite Construction of a Special House. 1922.

It is an accepted theory among (Danish) art historians that the De Stijl Movement itself was -- at least partly -- inspired by the Danish classical painter Vilhelm Hammersh°i (1864-1916). 
 

Denmark 1997. Vilhelm Hammersh°i "Dust Dancing in the Sunrays".

Hammersh°i was very interested in photography, and he used often photographed interiors as inspiration for his works, such as is obviously the case in his famous painting "Dust Dancing in the Sunrays", where the artist has focused on the formal demands for composition of a painting. 

In this art work the vertical and horizontal lines are accentuated. The window's geometrical form seems to be a forerunner for the 20th century's constructivist art, where the coloured fields are often structured in squares around vertical and horizontal coordinates (compare with the Mondriaan-postcard immediately above on the left). 

  • Denmark 1997. Vilhelm Hammersh°i "Dust Dancing in the Sunrays". The painting portrays the artist's domicile in Central Copenhagen, which also served as his studio. Oil on canvas, 70 x 59 cm. Belongs to the Ordrupgaard Collection, Copenhagen. 

The De Stijl principles influenced in themselves the decorative arts, and architecture in particular, for which the movement advocated plain surfaces and austere lines, related to Cubism. 

Piet Mondriaan, (1872-1944), was a Dutch painter, who carried abstraction to its furthest limits. Through radical simplification of composition and colour, he sought to expose the basic principles that underlie all appearances. He was born in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, on March 7, 1872, and originally named Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan. Despite his family's objections, he embarked on an artistic career, studying at the Amsterdam Academy of Fine Arts. His early works, through 1907, were calm landscapes painted in delicate greys, mauves, and dark greens. 

Moving to Paris in 1911, Mondriaan adopted a Cubist-influenced style, producing analytical series such as Trees (1912-1913) and Scaffoldings (1912-1914). He moved progressively from semi-naturalism through increased abstraction, arriving finally at a style in which he limited himself to small vertical and horizontal brushstrokes. 

The Netherlands 1983. First Day Cover from the De Stijl-set with works of Mondriaan and van Doesburg.

In 1917 Mondriaan and the Dutch painter Theo van Doesburg founded De Stijl, a magazine in which Mondrian developed his theories of a new art form he called Neo-Plasticism. He maintained that art should not concern itself with reproducing images of real objects, but should express only the universal absolutes that underlie reality. He rejected all sensuous qualities of texture, surface, and colour, reducing his palette to flat primary colours. His belief that a canvas -- a plain surface -- should contain only planar elements led to his abolition of all curved lines in favour of straight lines and right angles. His masterly application of these theories led to such works as Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue (1927, Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio), in which the painting, composed solely of a few black lines and well-balanced blocks of colour, creates a monumental effect out of all proportion to its carefully limited means.

When Mondriaan moved to New York in 1940, his style became freer and more rhythmic, and he abandoned severe black lines in favour of lively chain-link patterns of bright colours, particularly notable in his last complete masterwork, "Broadway Boogie-Woogie" (1942-1943, Museum of Modern Art, New York), see the stamp top right. Mondriaan was one of the most influential 20th-century artists. His theories of abstraction and simplification not only altered the course of painting but also exerted a profound influence on architecture, industrial design, and the graphic arts. Mondriaan died in New York on February 1, 1944. 

Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931), also a Dutch painter and the leading advocate of Neo-Plasticism, a movement created by Piet Mondrian in the Netherlands. He was one of the founders (1917) of De Stijl magazine, which promoted the Neo-Plasticist ideals of radical simplification based on the use of straight lines, right angles, and flat planes. Through speeches and articles, Doesburg spread Neo-Plastic ideas to the Bauhaus school, where they influenced the course of mid-20th-century architecture. 

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