De Stijl

De Stijl

Pronunciation: /də ˈstʌɪl/

A 20th-century Dutch art movement founded in 1917 by Theo van Doesburg (1883–1931) and Piet Mondrian. The movement favoured an abstract, economical style and was influential on the Bauhaus and constructivist movements.


Dutch, literally ‘the style’, originally the name of the movement’s periodical.

Literally, stijl means style in Dutch. What the term de stijl has come to represent is the whole art movement centred around a circle of Dutch abstract artists who painted using strict compositional rules, often vertical, horizontal black lines with a limited primary colour palette and a came from the self titled magazine/publication of the time.


Beginning in 1917 Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg were the main artists involved in this movement, with van Doesburg later in 1923 causing controversy and a division between the two by throwing a diagonal orientation into the composition.

The effects of De Stijl are still echoing today through the world of design and more mainstream elements in popular culture with diluted themes arising in fashion, interior design, cars, kitchens, dresses, cakes, nail art. There remains a strong following for this movement, over 100 years later. It is distinctive and translates well into a range of products.

On a personal note, it’s just not my style. There is something just a little too neat, too calculated, cold and pre-planned about it. I’m much more a fan of the unexpected, the random intervention and the game of chance: Brownian motion. Looking to nature and growing the ideas.

However, I enjoyed the task of exploring composition in de style of De Stijl. Constraining although it was to be dictated the number of verticals, horizontals and colours, this was freeing my mind up. Someone else (in this case the die) had dictated the compositional elements and there was no arguing. Get on with it. I suppose this is why we find very open briefs so challenging. We need pointers, signposts on the path through design. Also, it gave me a chance to learn more basics of photoshop, including the polygonal lasso tool, and get used to changing colours positions, new layers. Basic stuff.

I was feeling rebellious and so explored diagonals in composition. Looking at it why I did this was because after 2 compositions using just the specified 1 horizontal, 5 verticals and 1 colour I wanted to explore – what else can I do? “There must be more I can do”– so I can sympathise with van Doesburg, although he managed to sit on his hands for 6 years before breaking out into diagnonal. I lasted about 6 minutes. And when I did I liked the change. … obviously.

I still wanted to take this further given time – to look at the shape of the image overall– square? Other geometric shape? Non geometric shape? More colours. Non primary colours? Throw in a curved line? Or two? Breaking the boundaries. I think in effect that’s why whilst I appreciate the thinking behind composition and the movement, I know this style isn’t for me.



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