De Stijl

Dutch artistic movement

De Stijl / The Style / Neoplasticism - in quotes. De Stijl [Dutch for 'The Style', also known as 'Neoplasticism'], was a Dutch modern art movement founded in 1917 in Amsterdam. De Stijl consisted of artists and architects. Proponents of De Stijl movement advocated pure abstraction and universality in painting art; they simplified visual compositions to the vertical and horizontal directions, and used only primary colours, along with black and white.

cover of magazine 'De Stijl' no. 9, Dec. 1921 / Jan. 1922, with 'Composition 17.' by Piet Mondrian, 1919

Quotes of De Stijl edit

sorted chronologically, after date of the quotes on De Stijl / The Style / Neoplaticism
Piet Mondrian, 1914: 'Tableau III', painting
Theo van Doesburg, c. 1916: 'Sphere', oil on canvas
Piet Mondrian, 1917: 'Composition with flat colors 5.
Theo van Doesburg, 1918: 'Study for Composition VIII (The Cow)'
Theo van Doesburg, 1918: 'Rhythm of a Russian Dance
Vantongerloo, c. 1919: two sculptures
Piet Mondrian, 1921: 'Composition'
Vantongerloo, 1921: furniture
Rietveld and Huszar: 'Space-Colour-Composition' for the Art Show in Berlin, 1923
Bart van der Leck, c. 1923: Composition
Gerrit Rietveld, c. 1923: final version of the 'Red blue chair'
Piet Mondrian, 1925: 'Tableau N VII, painting
Theo van Doesburg, design of Ciné-dancing, 'Aubette', in Strassbourg, 1926-1928
Piet Mondrian, 1930: 'Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow'
Vantongerloo, 1930: 'Cubist shield of R-26'

Quotes, 1912 - 1925 edit

  • If the masc. [masculine] is the vertic. [vertical] line, then a man will recognize this element in the rising line of a forest; in the horizont. [horizontal] lines of the sea he will see his complement. Woman, with the horizont. line as element, sees herself in the recumbent lines of the sea, and her complement in the vert. lines of the forest. [on his two paintings 'Sea' and 'Trees', both made in 1912
    • Quote of a note of Piet Mondrian, in his sketchbook, undated but c. 1912; as quoted in Mondrian, - The Art of Destruction, Carel Blotkamp, Reaktion Books LTD. London 2001, p. 70
  • For when I construct lines and colour combinations on a flat surface, it is with the aim of portraying 'universally beauty' as consciously as possible. Nature (or that which I see) inspires me, provides me – as it does every painter – with the emotion by which I am moved to create something, but I want to approach the truth as closely as possible, abstracting everything until I come to the foundation – still only an outward foundation! – of things. It is for me a clear truth that one does not want to say something 'specific', it is then that one says what is most specific: the truth (which is of great universality)
    • Quote of Piet Mondrian, in a letter to the Dutch art critic and buyer of Mondrians paintings, H. P. Bremmer, Paris 29 January 1914; as quoted in Mondrian, -The Art of Destruction, Carel Blotkamp, Reaktion Books LTD. London 2001, p. 81
  • Art is higher than reality and has no direct relation to reality. To approach the spiritual in art, one will make as little use as possible of reality, because reality is opposed to the spiritual. We find ourselves in the presence of an abstract art. Art should be above reality, otherwise it would have no value for man.
    • Quote of Piet Mondrian 1914, from Wikipedia; as cited by Michel Seuphor, in 'Piet Mondrian: Life and Work;Abrams, New York, 1956, p. 117
  • The problem which Piet Mondrian undertook to solve in nr. 116 [a new painting of Mondrian, exhibited then in the Stedelijk Museum in 1915, Amsterdam] was handled very successfully. This work spiritually dominates all others. It gives the impression of Repose; the repose of the soul. Its pre-determined structure embodies 'becoming' rather than 'being'. This represents a true element in art, for art is not 'being', but 'becoming'. The idea of 'becoming' has been expressed in black and white.. .Through years of hard work my own experiences have led me, before I came to know the theories of Uexkuell or Picasso, to prefer the use of the white-black-grey palette in works of a purely spiritual content..
    • Quote of Theo van Doesburg (1915), in the Dutch art-magazine: 'Eenheid' (Unity) no. 283, 6 November 1915; as quoted in Theo van Doesburg, Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 105
  • As you can see this is a composition of vertical and horizontal lines which will (in an abstract manner) have to express the idea of rising upwards, of magnitude. This is the same idea which used, for example, to be the guiding principle in the construction of cathedrals. Since only the manner of expression and not the representation has to express this general idea, I have not given any title. An abstract human mind will, of itself, receive the intended impression. I always confine myself to expressing the general.
    • Quote of Piet Mondrian, in a letter to Theo van Doesburg, Amsterdam, 1915; as quoted in Letters of the great artists, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 234 (transl. Daphne Woodward)
  • Since all preceding schools of painting have proved that the spirit of beauty does not lie in nature but in the 'I', now that painting in all its various expressions from Giotto to Cézanne has demonstrated that all beauty is in the 'I', that the 'I' is all emotion and that beyond the 'I' nothing can exist because all being exists only in relationship with the 'I', now the time has come to develop from this 'I' a new style. As soon as this 'I' becomes the general, universal 'I' instead of the individualistic or the rationalistic one, the new style will be a general style. [Van Doesburg is announcing here more or less 'De Stijl' movement]
    • Quote of Theo van Doesburg (1916), in his article 'The new Style in painting', in Dutch magazine 'De Avondpost' 2 May 1916
  • The new plastic idea [= De Stijl / Neo-Plasticism] cannot, therefore, take the form of concrete representation, although the latter does always indicate the universal to a degree, or at least conceal it within. 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.
    • Quote of Piet Mondrian (1917), in 'De Nieuwe Beelding in de Schilderkunst', Piet Mondriaan, in 'De Stijl' No. 1, October 1917; as quoted in Letters of the great artists, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London 1963, p. 236
  • The development of plastic art is determined by the will to visualize. Art of the past represented the subjective vision of 'naturalistic relationships'. Neo-Plasticism [= De Stijl ] embodies a subjective vision of 'plastic relationships'.. .Pure thought, which does not signify a concept derived from natural phenomena but which is contained in numbers, measures, relationships and abstract lines, is revealed conceptually (as Reason) by Chinese, Greek and German philosophy, and aesthetically by contemporary Neo-plasticism.
    • Quote of Theo van Doesburg (1918), in his art-review, 'Thought – Vision – Creation', published in art-magazine 'De Stijl' Vol ll, 2 December 1918; as quoted in Theo van Doesburg, Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, pp. 108-109
  • And then about whether or not to work from a given in nature. In my view, you [[w:Theo van Doesburg|Theo van Doesburg] define this in a rather narrow sense. In the main, I do agree with you that the destruction of the natural, and it reconstruction, must be accomplished according to a spiritual image, but I believe that we should take a broad view here. What is natural does not have to be a representation of something. I'm now working on a thing that is a reconstruction of a starry sky [in the painting: Composition, Checkerboard Dark Colours, 1919] and yet I'm making it without a given from nature. Someone who says he uses a theme from nature can be right, but also someone who says he uses nothing at all.
  • I believe that new art must differ totally in its manifestation from art as we know it, and people may be very reluctant to accept this. It is perhaps true to say, as someone did of cubism, that 'To sum up: since art is a need to create rather than imitate, the 'cubists' rousing themselves from the sentimentality born of the picturesque aspect of some natural spectacle or other, disengage the fleeting aspects from those which are constant and absolute, and with the aid of these two elements, construct a reality equivalent to that which they see before them'. Thus it is a question of finding the true equivalence (that, offered by Cubism is still not true equivalence), and this can only be 'that which is not nature at all, and is nonetheless one with nature' [like in Neo-Plasticism / De Stijl ].
    • Quote of Piet Mondrian , in a letter to Lodewijk van Deyssel (Dutch art critic, who reacted on Mondrian's essay: 'Le Néo-plasticisme'] Paris, February 1921; as quoted in Mondrian, - The Art of Destruction, Carel Blotkamp, Reaktion Books LTD. London 2001, p. 136

Quotes, 1925 - 1940 edit

  • Until now, man has let himself be lulled to sleep by pathetic lyric. That is why it is so fatal for the evolution of man, for all his activities, his necessary fight for equilibrium. On the other hand it has overfilled man with tragedy: tragedy has been so overrated that people have had enough. And already this is visible, man tries to ban it from all forms of art. Thus art achieves its goal at last; it takes evolution to balance..

'Richtingen in de Hedendaagsche schilderkunst' (1935) edit

Quotes from: Richtingen in de Hedendaagsche schilderkunst (Trends in the Present Day Art of Painting), by Jacob Bendien; W.L & J. Brusse N.V. Rotterdam, 1935, pp. 21-44 (transl. from Dutch: Anne Porcelijn, 2015)
  • Not only in the manner of presentation, but also in the subject, De Stijl / The Style artists [a. o. Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg and the Belgian artist Vantongerloo imposed limits upon themselves. They exclude all individual life – in general each special instance – and attempt to dissolve themselves to a more abstract and universal form of life, where there is no place for coincidental extras.
  • As far as the subject is concerned, the aspiration of De Stijl artists is based on what they call the universal or cosmic, as opposed to individualistic artists.. ..even in the expression of the subject, De Stijl artist subjects himself to the same strict means and his individuality will only be apparent in the way he uses these means. This can be seen in the proportions of the composition, the rhythm, the way he applies the paint and, as far as is possible, the colors.
  • ..De Stijl artist sees all enclosed, geometric figures as 'descriptive', 'individual' and, as such, too much preconceived 'form'. They feel themselves to be locked up in a figure, and thus cut off from the entirety of life, the universe.. .. Generally speaking, they use only means that can be broken or destroyed. These are means that can be used together with their opposites, such as a straight line with its rectangular opposite. By using them both together, the individuality can be deleted. For this reason they are called universal means.
  • It is very clear that De Stijl / The Style artists recognize and use the plane, they do not try to make it into a three dimensional pseudo space, nor do they create a pseudo depth. Three-dimensional space would only increase the chance of creating form, and deceptive form at that. Not filling in the forms evenly would also work descriptively and would also obscure the color.. .Not only do De Stijl artists limit their use of color to the basic red, yellow and blue, but, over time, they also use the three less and less together. Mainly they chose colors that symbolically contrast..
  • Reasoned / intellectual lines exclude all lyrical and dramatic emotion, reasoned/intellectual colors do the same. They exclude all mood. Only an active rather than passive disposition can reflect them. They do not carry us away as do the flowing differences of emotive colors. They stand before us, and each other, like naked facts.. .. they search for unity in contrasts, internally as well as externally. They achieve this unity by balancing these more or less reasoned/intellectual colors, by their positioning, stance and size.
  • De Stijl / The Style artists who focus entirely on the 'absolute', see life in all its facets as a search for balance between extreme contrasts: man-woman, objective-subjective, universal-individual, internal-external etc. Sometimes one is dominant and sometimes the other.. .However, the ideal is that by allowing equal dominance, both extremes create an annulment of one’s own separation, thus coming from most sensitive tension to balance. For De Stijl artists, the true art of painting is nothing other than balancing the opposing universal means.
  • Mondrian and Van Doesburg do mention the word 'symbol', however they use it only in the unfavourable meaning of allegory. Wassily Kandinsky is less afraid. He says in his Bauhaus art book 'Punkt und Linie zur Fläcke': 'Of course the new science of art can only develop when the signs translate to symbols, and the open eye and the open ear make the way possible from silence to speech. Those unable to do that would be better off learning only theoretical and practical art'..
    If one or other symbol has only suggestive power, and if it dominates all other symbols available, De Stijl artist will never use this particular symbol.. .For instance, a large black square on a white background. This symbol, ignored by The Stijl artists, played a large part in work by Suprematism-artist Malevich.

Quotes, 1940 - 1980 edit

  • It is the greatest injustice done to Mondrian that people who are plastically blind see only decorative design instead of the plastic perfection which characterizes his work. The whole De Stijl group from which Mondrian's art was derived must be considered a protest against such blindness.
    • Quotes of Hans Hofmann, 1948, in Search for the Real and Other Essays, Hans Hofmann, ed. Sara T. Weeks and Bartlett H. Hayes, Jr. Addison Gallery of American Art p. 47
  • I still think that Boccioni was a great artist and a passionate man. I like El Lissitsky's painting very much. But Mondrian that great merciless artist, is the only one who had nothing left over. The point they all had in common was to be both inside and outside at the same time. A new of likeness! ..for me to be inside and outside is to be in an unheated studio with broken windows in the winter.
    • Quote by Willem de Kooning, 1951, in his speech 'What Abstract Art means to me', on the symposium 'What is Abstract At' - at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951, n.p.
  • The ultimate consequences of its universal ambitions were formulated by 'De Stijl' in its programme of utopian desiderata. A new life, a new reality was to arise, according to the universal principles which the painters of ‘De Stijl’ had rendered completely visible for the first time in history. But not all of 'De Stijl's efforts were concentrated on a utopian, remote future. The purification of the plastic means of expression, should also serve to solve various actual problems of our present time. The pure means of expression could, in the first place, create a clear and universally current plastic language. This means that they were able to launch a style into present-day life..
  • Every field of artistic activity seems to have been inspired by 'De Stijl' dynamic and purifying attitude. Architecture in the first place bears the marks of 'De Stijl' and no wonder, for a series of daring and revolutionary projects had already been realized by the group. But its influence is not limited to architecture only, because it does not emanate from any specific work of the group. It is mainly due to the activities and the dynamism of Theo van Doesburg - 'De Stijl's' gifted and courageous leader. He propagated 'De Stijl's' principles and achievements all over Europe and by his fascinating lectures - the one I heard as a schoolboy has since remained in my memory as one of the most impressive speeches I have ever heard - and his great personal charm, he would find an echo even in the remotest corners of the Continent.
  • They want to get hold of things, like Mondrian. He was a fantastic artist, but now when we read his ideas and his idea of Neo-Plasticism [= De Stijl] – pure plasticity – it's kind of silly, I think. I mean, not for him, but I think one could spend one's life having this desire to be in and outside at the same time. He could see a future life and a future city – not like me, who am absolutely not interested in seeing the future city. I'm perfectly happy to be alive now.
    • Quote by Willem de Kooning, March 1960, in an interview with David Sylvester, edited for broadcasting by the BBC, first published in 'Location', Spring 1963; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 49
  • Well, Mondrian is absolute, and is pure, and those are real aspirations of our [American Abstract Expressionism art]. When I say 'pure', I don't mean 'clean'. I don't think Mondrian himself did; I knew him when he was here [New York] during the war.. .As for me, I must say, Mondrian's painting is intensely rhythmic, warm, passionate - restricted as the means ostensibly seem to me.
    • Quote by Robert Motherwell, in 'Metro', 1962; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 81
  • Mondrian? His mind was too subtle. He worked in the light. I work in the darkness.. .Mondrian is the Buddha of painting. I saw him once. You wondered how a man could radiate such charisma. [2 April 1967]
  • Perhaps he [Mondrian] was too faithful to a single discovery. And perhaps that kind of painting was right for the period. But now [ 1970] peace and harmony are no longer possible. There is only anguish. [16 July 1970]
    • Quote by Bram van Velde, (1967 + 1970), in Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde, ed. Charles Juliet, First Dalkey Archive edition, 2009, London and Champaign pp. 62+77

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