Art Movements in Art History - Van Doesburg and De Stijl
Art Movements > De Stijl > Van Doesburg and De Stijl
Van Doesburg and De Stijl*
Van Doesburg was born Christiaan Emil Marie Kupper in Utrecht in 1883 but chose to adopt
the name of his mother's second husband. He began painting as early as 1899, but his
significant productive period is generally taken as being between 1916 and 1931. However,
in view of the "managerial" position Van Doesburg was to assume in relation to De Stijl, his
intellectual outlook from 1912 is relevant.
By the time he was 30, Van Doesburg had familiarised himself with the European
artistic situation. Being fluent in both French and German, his reading had been intensive,
thus allowing his absorption of the prevailing artistic inclination to disengage art from its
dependence on nature. Both the aesthetic preoccupations of analytical Cubism and the
proposal for a meaningful abstraction evident in Kandinsky's Concerning the spiritual in
art, published in Munich in 1912, were known to Van Doesburg. In addition, when he settled
in Leiden, after having been stationed with the Dutch Frontier Guard on the Belgian border
during the years 1914 to 1915, Van Doesburg made a concentrated effort to learn Italian in
order to become conversant with the ideas of the Futurists - the painters' manifestoes
having appeared in 1910 and Boccioni's Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture in 1912.
1913 saw the publication of Kandinsky's Reminiscences, in which critical thought processes
were retraced by Kandinsky and acceptance of the autonomous art object was again mooted.
That Van Doesburg applied the knowledge gathered from his wide reading is revealed in
his work as art critic prior to the founding of De Stijl. In Eenheid, a weekly magazine
published in Leiden, Van Doesburg formulated the following argument in 1912: "Strip
nature of its forms and you will have style left". A nonobjective
determinant, later to guide De Stijl in the direction of pictorial autonomy, had been
engendered then, five years before the existence of a group. Running parallel to the
progressive painting of the time, the early date of this conception is noteworthy.
In 1915, Van Doesburg's notes for Principles of neo-plastic art were made. The final
manuscript was ready by 1917 and printed in two parts in the philosophical journal Het
Tijdschrift voor Wijsbegeerte. A revised version of these preliminary formulations were
published in 1925. Again, a definitive aesthetic programme had borne fruit before the
founding of the De Stijl group. However, Van Doesburg waited until 1917 for a consolidation
of the ideas of artists whose inclinations, he felt, were in accordance with his convictions
formulated long before in 1912.
* Drawn from notes compiled by R. Becker for the University of South Africa