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Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931)

Theo van Doesburg was a Dutch painter, writer, poetand architect. He is best known as the founder of De Stijl. After a short training in acting and singing he decided to become a painter. His first exhibition was in 1908. Although he considered himself to be a modern painter at that time, his early work is in line with the Amsterdam Impressionists and is influenced by Vincent van Gogh. This suddenly changed in 1913 after reading Wassily Kandinsky’s Rückblicke. It made him realize there was a more spiritual level in painting that originates from the mind rather than from everyday life, and that abstraction is the only logical outcome of this. In 1915 he came in contact with the works of Piet Mondrian, who was eight years older, and had by then already gained some attention. Van Doesburg saw in these paintings his ideal in painting: a complete abstraction of reality. Van Doesburg got in contact with Mondrian, and together with several other artists founded the magazine De Stijl in 1917.

Van Doesburg was the ‘ambassador’ of the movement, promoting it across Europe. He moved to Weimar in 1922, deciding to make an impression on the Bauhaus principal, Walter Gropius. While Gropius accepted many of the precepts of contemporary art movements he did not feel that Doesburg should become a Bauhaus master. Doesburg then installed himself near to the Bauhaus buildings and started to attract school students interested in the new ideas of Constructivism. Dadaism, and De Stijl. In 1923 Van Doesburg moved to Paris. During 1924 Doesburg and Mondrian had disagreements, which eventually led to a (temporary) split. The exact reason for this split has been a point of contention; usually the divergent ideas about the directions of the lines have been named as the primary reason: Mondrian never accepted diagonals, whereas Doesburg featured them in his art. After the split, Van Doesburg launched a new concept for his art, Elementarism, which was characterized by the diagonal lines and rivaled with Mondrian’s Neo-Plasticism.

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