Theo van Doesburg

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Theo van Doesburg

Discover this Dutch artist’s far-reaching impact on modern art, architecture and design.

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Born in the Dutch city of Utrecht, Theo van Doesburg founded the De Stijl art movement, working closely with peers Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck. As such, his influence on modern art, architecture and design has left many traces in Holland and beyond. Find out more about his life and where to see his works.

  • Discover the life and work of Theo van Doesburg.
  • Learn how he founded the influential De Stijl art journal and movement in 1917, alongside Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck.
  • Find out where to experience his art and architecture today.

The life of Theo van Doesburg

Theo van Doesburg founded De Stijl. Born in Utrecht in 1883, he became a painter, architect and writer. But just as much as in his works, his influence lies in promoting the ideals of the De Stijl movement: optimism, modernity and finding truth of expression in abstraction. He founded the De Stijl art journal, first published in Leiden in 1917, and was close with Piet Mondrian and other De Stijl artists. The first De Stijl manifesto was published in four languages to push the movement into the consciousness of the international art world. 

In 1920, Van Doesburg met his wife Nelly, a musician and avant-garde artist herself, and together they moved to Weimar to be involved with the Bauhaus movement. Here, Van Doesburg grew increasingly fascinated by other new artistic movements, such as Dada and Constructivism. However, he continued to publish the journal as its sole editor until its final issue in 1928. In 1931, Theo van Doesburg died in Davos.

Works by Theo van Doesburg

Van Doesburg’s De Stijl influence began in the Frisian town of Drachten, where he befriended and worked with two brothers: the poet Evert and the painter Thijs Rinsema. They introduced him to the architect Cees Rienks de Boer, who worked for the municipality and through whom Van Doesburg got his first major assignment: devising a colour scheme for 16 homes. In accordance with De Stijl’s use of primary colours, the cheerful quarter is known as the ‘parrot neighbourhood’. Van Doesburg also created colourful stained-glass windows for a school building. These are now on display in Museum Dr8888.  

Van Doesburg was strongly inspired by Leiden, too, painting the city from the windows of various studios he worked in. Nevertheless, he felt his calling was in spreading the ideals of De Stijl internationally, and he moved first to Weimar, where he met Bauhaus pioneer Walter Gropius and gave lectures about De Stijl, and then to Paris.  

From 1925 onwards, Van Doesburg introduced diagonal lines in his paintings. It was a move that distinguished him from other De Stijl artists – particularly Mondrian, who rejected any oblique elements in his art.  

But Van Doesburg was always interested in collaborating with other artists. With the young architect Cor van Eesteren he made designs for the spectacular ‘Maison d’ Artiste’, which, though never built, had great influence on future designs. And he worked with Georges Vantongerloo, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Hans Arp on the arts centre and café Aubette in Strasbourg. These architectural works are an expression of Van Doesburg’s desire to place people within art rather than in front of it.

Where to find Theo van Doesburg

Much of Van Doesburg’s work and influence can be witnessed in Holland. In the second half of 2017, one of the houses in Drachten’s ‘parrot neighbourhood’ – the Van Doesburg-Rinsemahuis – is open to visitors; and his famous stained-glass windows and the gouache ‘The Archer’ are on display in Museum Dr8888. Alternatively, drop into Leiden’s city centre in summer 2017 for an open-air exhibition that includes a prototype of the 'Maison d’Artiste’. Both the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo feature many Van Doesburg works and host several De Stijl exhibitions in 2017 to celebrate the movement’s centenary. It is worth noting that the Kröller-Müller is also home to an immense collections of Van Gogh works. 

Visit the Mondriaanhuis in Amersfoort and Villa Mondriaan in Winterswijk to delve deeper into the early years of Piet Mondrian, Van Doesburg’s close collaborator in shaping De Stijl.

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Discover the impact of Theo van Doesburg in the Friesland town of Drachten. Visit a museum home in the so-called parrot neighbourhood and uncover modern art treasures at Museum Dr8888.

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Museumplein 2
9203DD Drachten

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