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Art Movements in Art History - Theosophy and De Stijl

Art Movements > De Stijl > Theosophy and De Stijl

Theosophy and De Stijl*

Mondrian was a member of the Dutch Theosophical Society from 1909 and kept a picture of
Madame Blavatsky in his studio. Nelly van Doesburg has confirmed that was so even as late
as 1921.

Mondrian referred to theosophy as "another expression of the same spiritual movement
which we represent at present in painting". The confidence expressed by
Mondrian in the equivalence between theosophy and abstraction warrants attention.
Common to both doctrines was the belief in a principle of immaterialism (spirit over matter),
a principle which had already been urged by Kandinsky. Kandinsky's precedent does not,
however, preclude the need to correlate this principle of immaterialism with the De Stijl
initiative.

Spiritual preoccupations supplied a working basis for the early apologists of
abstraction, intent on meaningful abstraction as opposed to the "desiccated abstraction"
of Cubism. (Implied in this phrase is a superficial arrangement and patterning of shapes,
devoid of vitality.) Theosophy, however, provided an intuitive principle - the immediate
apprehension by the mind without reasoning, the receiving of knowledge by direct
perception. The implicit spiritualism/immaterialism of the theosophical doctrine, that is
the assertion of the reality of the spirit as it exists apart from matter coincides with the
adjective "abstract".

This alignment between two principles, those of spiritualism and abstraction,
permeated the iconographic content of abstract works in the second decade of the 20th
century. Through Van Doesburg's knowledge of Kandinsky's writings, and through his
communication and contact with Mondrian, theosophical ideas infiltrated the declarations of
De Stijl. Dr Schoenmaekers was an additional influence.

 

Next: Mondrian and De Stijl >>


* Drawn from notes compiled by R. Becker for the University of South Africa

 




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