Theo van Doesburg

30-08-1883 - 07-03-1931

In 1916, painter, poet and architect Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931) embraces the flat, geometric-abstract style, becoming a tireless advocate of the new movement in art. He founds the influential avant-garde journal De Stijl in 1917. Van Doesburg’s geometric compositions are an attempt to integrate painting and architecture.

Theo van Doesburg is born in 1883 in Utrecht as Christiaan Emil Marie Küpper. His parents get divorced and, in 1893, his mother marries the watchmaker Theodorus Doesburg, possibly the natural father of Emile Küpper. He begins using the name Theo van Doesburg in 1908.

Van Doesburg is largely self-taught. Until 1914, he is far from being a pioneering artist but on becoming acquainted with the work of Vassily Kandinsky, his vision undergoes a sea change. In the second half of 1916, Van Doesburg devotes himself entirely to developing a flat, geometric-abstract style. To promote this new movement in art, he founds the journal De Stijl in the summer of 1917. He is the only editor and, from the very outset, invites contributions from artistic luminaries such as Piet Mondriaan, Bart van der Leck and Vilmos Huszàr, poet Anthony Kok and architect J.J.P. Oud. De Stijl is not a close-knit movement and is constantly plagued by conflicts between the editor and staff. Although the journal has only several hundred subscribers, it exerts an enormous influence on the development of architecture and the visual arts in the early twentieth century.

Van Doesburg’s geometric compositions are an attempt to integrate painting and architecture. He designs stained glass windows and colour compositions for buildings by De Stijl architects J.J.P. Oud and J. Wils. In collaboration with architect C. Van Eesteren, he designs three dwellings, the drawings and scale models of which are presented in the exhibition Les Architectes du Groupe De Stijl in the Paris 'Galerie de l'Effort Moderne' in 1923. Working with Hans Arp and Sophie Tauber, he designs the decor for café-restaurant l'Aubette (1926-1928) in Strasbourg.

The only architectural design by Van Doesburg that was actually built is his own home and studio atelier (1927-1930) in Meudon-Val-Fleury. Shortly after its completion, he dies at the age of 47.


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