Theo van Doesburg

Theo van Doesburg (30 August 18837 March 1931) was a Dutch artist, practicing in painting, writing, poetry and architecture. He is best known as the founder and leader of De Stijl together with Piet Mondrian. Later he engaged himself more with Dadaism, in cooperation with Kurt Schwitters and Hans Arp.


  • .. art and life are no longer separate domains.. ..The word ‘art’ no longer has anything to say to us. In place of that, we (= De Stijl) insist upon the construction of our surroundings according to creative laws, deriving from a fixed principle. (on integration of art in life, 1918)
    • "Abstract Art", Anna Moszynska, Thames and Hudson 1990, p. 85

  • Piet Mondrian realizes the importance of line. The line has almost become a work of art in itself; one can not play with it when the representation of objects perceived was all-important. The white canvas is almost solemn. Each superfluous line, each wrongly placed line, any color placed without veneration or care, can spoil everything – that is, the spiritual.
    • 'Eenheid' no. 283, 6 November 1915; as quoted in "Theo van Doesburg", Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, pp. 105-106

  • For – to say a few words on technique – whereas the curved line was used predominantly for reasons of beauty, (Phidias, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens) it has been used more and more economically for reasons of truth (Millet, Monet, Paul Cézanne) until it will end as the straight line for reasons of Love. This will enable the art of the future to create an international form; a form understandable to all and vital enough to the expression of a general feeling of love in a monumental way. Such is the future.
    • 'Onafhankelijke bespiegelingen over de kunst’, in De Avondpost 23 January 1916

  • In all these products, whether iron bridges, locomotives, automobiles, telescopes, cottages, airport-hangars, funicular railways, skyscrapers, or children’s toys, the will towards a new style expresses itself. The similarity of these examples to the new creations in art consists in the same striving for clear, pure form which expresses truth in the objects.
    • 'The will to Style', in De Stijl February-March 1922; as quoted in "Theo van Doesburg", Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 123

  • Dada is able to mobilize the optical and dimensional static viewpoint which keeps us imprisoned in our (three-dimensional) illusions. Thus it became possible tp perceive the entire prism of the world instead of just one facet at a time. In this connection Dada is one of the strongest manifestations of the fourth dimension, transposed onto the subject… …Dada is ‘yes-no, a bird on four legs, a ladder without steps, a square without angels. Dada possesses as many positives as negatives. To think that Dada simply means destruction is to misunderstand life, of which Dada is the expression.
    • 'What is Dada?????????????????', in De Stijl, The Hague, 1923; as quoted in "Theo van Doesburg", Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 134

  • We speak of concrete and not abstract painting because nothing is more concrete, more real than a line, a colour, a surface. (1925)
    • "Abstract Art", Anna Moszynska, Thames and Hudson 1990, p. 107

  • It must be emphasized that in seeing a work of art that has been composed by precise means, the viewer does not perceive dominant details. His impression is one of perfect balance to which all the parts contribute, an impression which not only applies to the parts as such, but is transmitted also to the relation existing between the work of art and the viewer. Although it is very difficult to express in words the effect of a work of art, it may be said that the viewer’s deepest impression can best be defined as the achievement of a balance between objective meaning and subjectieve meaning, both directly penetrated by awareness. He has a sensation of height and of depth which are no longer in any way bound to natural conditions or to spatial dimensions, a sensation which places the viewer in a state of consciousnes harmony. (1925)
    • "Abstract Painting", Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co. 1964, p. 85-86

  • True artistic experience is never passive, for the spectator is obliged to participate, as it were, in the continuous or discontinuous variations of proportions, positions, lines and planes. Moreover, he must see clearly how this play of repeated or non-repeated changes may give rise to a new harmony of relations which will constitute the unity of the work. Every part becomes organized into a whole with the other parts. All the parts contribute to the unity of the composition, none of them assuming a dominant place in the whole. (on the necessary unity of a piece of art, 1925)
    • "Abstract Painting", Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co. 1964, p. 86

  • Our time has produced a need for contrast. This has been achieved not only in the external appearance of plastic expressions of coulor and matter, but also, and chiefly, in the tempo of life and in the techniques related to the daily, mechanical functions of life; namely standing, walking, driving, to lying and sitting – in short, every action which determines the content of architecture.
    • 'Painting: from composition towards counter-composition'. in 'Painting and plastic art', De Stijl, series XIII, 73-4, 1926, pp. 17-18

  • The work of art should be entirely conceived and formed by the mind before its execution. It should receive nothing from Nature’s formal properties or from sensuality or sentimentality.. ..The picture should be constructed entirely from purely plastic elements, that is to say, planes and colours. A pictorial element has no other significance than ‘itself’, and therefore the picture has no other significance than 'itself'.
    • first and only issue of the artmagazine Art Concret, Paris 1930

  • We speak of concrete and not abstract painting because nothing is more concrete, more real then a line, a colour, a surface. A woman, a tree, a cow; are these concrete elements in a painting? No. A woman, a tree and a cow are concrete only in nature; in painting they are abstract, illusionistic, vague and speculative. However, a plane is a plane, a line is a line and no more or no less than that. "Concrete painting". Spirit has arrived at the age of maturity…
    • 'Comments on the basic of concrete painting', Paris, January 1930, Art Concret, April 1930, pp. 2-4

  • To be white, red, yellow, or black is to be a painter. To-day it is not sufficient for the painter to think of colour; he should be colour, feed on colour and transform himself into painting. That is the essential thing. To feel like colour means to carry within oneself the entire range of colours, not as a treasure, but as a trust.
    • 'Elementarism', in De Stijl – Van Doesburg Issue, January 1932, pp. 17-19

  • The complete and definitive work of art is created beyond one’s individuality… …The universal transcends such a level. Mere spontaneity has never created a work of art which possesses a lasting cultural value. The method leading to universal form is based upon calculations of measure and number.
    • 'Elementarism', in De Stijl – Van Doesburg Issue, January 1932, pp. 17-19

  • One must always paint in opposition to nature, and to one’s own 'mood'. To let oneself go is a weakness, a sort of hysterics. If you are full of red, choose a green or a blue; if you feel like yellow, choose grey or black. In this continuous opposition lies the entire secret of plastic creation… …To create a great work of art demands self-mortification.
    • 'Elementarism', in De Stijl – Van Doesburg Issue, January 1932, pp. 17-19

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