Skip to content

The Rietveld chair was brown - 10 things you didn't know about De Stijl #MTDD

Something with straight lines and planes and primary colours. We all get that far with De Stijl. But did you know that there was also Style music and a mechanical figure dancing to that, er, Style? Let's get things straight for the Mondrian to Dutch Design-exhibitions season begins.

1. Mondrian was not the great man of De Stijl

Piet Mondrian is the most famous Style artist. Known for the apple tree that became increasingly abstract and, much later, his jazzy Victory Boogie Woogie he is considered the movement's figurehead. But De Stijl was not actually a movement, but a magazine that existed from 1917 to 1928. The apple trees are from before that and the Victory from after.

And the central figure in De Stijl was not Mondrian, but Theo van Doesburg. Doesburg regulated everything, sometimes to the point of dictatorship. Mondrian was an important member, though, as were Vilmos Huszár, J.J.P. Oud, Bart van der Leck, Jan Wils, Robert van 't Hoff, Georges Vantongerloo and Gerrit Rietveld.

2. Mondrian and Rietveld never met

Van Doesburg coordinated the magazine and pretended that De Stijl was a close-knit group. In reality, everyone had strong opinions of their own and several prominent figures never met.

3. Hardly anyone stuck to the primary colours

De Stijl had established artistic principles. For instance, art had to consist of elementary forms, be asymmetrical and be made only in primary colours and grey/black. Not everyone did that, including Van Doesburg himself. To keep up the appearance of unity, Van Doesburg later coloured black-and-white reproductions of otherwise coloured artworks in primary colours.

4. The Rietveld chair was uncoloured

The first version of the famous the Red and blue chair by Gerrit Rietveld was not red-black-blue-yellow, as we know it, but of unpainted dark wood. Many artists, including Paul Citroen, Charley Toorop and poet Til Brugman, ordered chairs from Rietveld with alternative colours such as white or sea green. It was not until 1923 that the Rietveld chair received its familiar Stijl colours.

5. Gerrit Rietveld was a communist

And Huszár, Wils and Van 't Hoff also adhered to communist ideals. Other members, on the contrary, wanted nothing to do with politics.

6. De Stijl also included music, literature and dance

Vilmos Huszár designed a mechanical dancing figure. This has been lost, but a copy of it is in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Composer Jacob van Domselaer tried to capture the abstraction of De Stijl art in music. Van Doesburg's wife Nelly, under the name Pétro van Doesburg, played this music on the piano. This was done in sessions influenced by the absurdism of the Dada movement. Dadaists like Kurt Schwitters also often published poetry in the magazine.

Session with Vilmos Huszárs mechanical dancing figure (source:
Session with Vilmos Huszárs mechanical dancing figure (source:

7. De Stijl counted one woman

That one woman was not Nelly, but Truus Schröder-Schräder. She was later the client for the Rietveld-Schröder House in Utrecht, where the Style characteristics were implemented in both the architecture and the interior.

8. Mies van der Rohe was influenced by De Stijl

Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe often based his work on Style principles. Conversely, De Stijl itself was influenced by the architecture of H.P. Berlage. Jan Wils and J.J.P. Oud were both in contact with him years before Wils designed the Papaverhof in The Hague and Oud designed café De Unie in Rotterdam.

9. Louis Andriessen honours De Stijl in an opera

Louis Andriessen wrote a opera called The Matter. The third act of that opera is called The Style. The structure is based on Mondrian's Composition with red, yellow and blue.

10. Leiden honours Van Doesburg in pavement, The Hague at city hall

In front of the door of Van Doesburg's former studio at Kort Galgewater 3 in Leiden, the De Stijl logo is executed in decorative paving. In 2009, Leiden temporarily placed a never executed fountain design by Van Doesburg on the Stationsplein: Square in Square. Leiden has another work of art reminiscent of De Stijl: The two squares by El Lissitzky at the former flour mill. However, Lissitzky was not officially a Stijl member.

In the current Style year, some facades of the Hague city hall in Mondrian colours repainted. Read more about the citydressing of The Hague and how the Gemeentemuseum views it.

Decorative paving in front of Theo van Doesburg's studio in Leiden (photo Martijn Westerop/José Bunnik)
Decorative paving in front of Theo van Doesburg's studio in Leiden (photo Martijn Westerop/José Bunnik)

Frans van Hilten

I am a freelance cultural journalist. Because I think an independent cultural voice is important, I enjoy writing for this platform.View Author posts

Private Membership (month)
5€ / Maand
For natural persons and self-employed persons.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Own mastodon account
Access to our archives
Small Membership (month)
18€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of less than €250,000 per year
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
All our podcasts
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Posting press releases yourself
Extra attention in news coverage
Large Membership (month)
36€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of more than €250,000 per year.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Share press releases with our audience
Extra attention in news coverage
Premium Newsletter (substack)
5 trial subscriptions
All our podcasts

Payments are made via iDeal, Paypal, Credit Card, Bancontact or Direct Debit. If you prefer to pay manually, based on an invoice in advance, we charge a 10€ administration fee

*Only for annual membership or after 12 monthly payments

en_GBEnglish (UK)