De Stijl: Dutch Modernist Design Part 3
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De Stijl: Dutch Modernist Design Part 3

De Stijl was a radical movement in art and design, which can be understood as the Dutch version of Modernism. Modernism was not a monolithic entity. Each of the major European countries produced their own version: Germany had the Bauhaus; France had Le Corbusier; and Russia had Constructivism. The Dutch version was known as De Stijl, which is Dutch for ‘the style.’

The De Stijl movement produced little actual design. Nevertheless, De Stijl has been influential.  It influenced the Bauhaus, which was founded in 1919, two years after De Stijl group. De Stijl encouraged Bauhaus designers to move away from their early Expressionist aesthetic, to pure geometrical simplicity. Kandinsky taught colour theory at the Bauhaus, and believed that geometric forms corresponded to primary colours.

The White Stripes released an album called De Stijl, which evokes the style on the cover. The White Stripes have a strong sense of visual design. Like De Stijl, they use a restricted range of colours – in their case red, white and black. The sleeve notes of this album include photos of De Stijl furniture.

The aesthetic is so simple that it is easy to emulate, and some of the influences are surprising. Nike released Mondrian-style trainers, using the basic elements of his work.

The influence spread to fashion. This is a De Stijl dress.

This is a De Stijl swimsuit by Sarah Schofield.

The aesthetic has even reached the digital realm. A designer called Sledge Roffo has created a virtual De Stijl space in Second Life.

Modernism tried to simplify design, to reduce it down to its essential form. In the postmodern period – the 1970s onwards – our visual landscape is becoming cluttered again. The rise of new media gives everyone the space and the tools to create ‘design’, even though they may not have the talent. For example, social media allow people to create their own profiles and personalise them. Very often these profiles are cluttered and uncoordinated, because they’re designed without any visual intelligence. There is a sense that we’re all designers now. We have the technology, if not always the talent.

The graphic designer Jessica Helfand has argued that De Stijl offers a solution. She published an article entitled ‘Geometry is Never Wrong’. Geometry consists of a series of unchanging, fundamental mathematical forms; they are pure and ideal. Again, this echoes the ideas of Plato. Helfand argues that De Stijl and its use of geometry and the grid offers a solution to the visual clutter that surrounds us.


In conclusion, De Stijl was the Dutch version of Modernism. The artistic philosophy that formed the basis of the group's work was neoplasticism. Proponents of De Stijl advocated pure abstraction and universality by reducing design down to its essential form. They did this by using only straight lines and rectangular forms, and primary colours.


Helfand, J. ‘De Stijl, New Media, and the Lessons of Geometry.’

Overy, P. (1969). De Stijl. London: Studio Vista.

Van Doesburg, T. (1924). ‘Towards a plastic architecture’ in De Stijl, XII, 6/7.

White, M. (2003) De Stijl and Dutch Modernism. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

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Comments (3)

A great, fascinating series! These 3 articles explained all the applications of De Stijl so well. It's amazing how much innovative art and design came out in the early 20th century, even during times of war and upheaval. The De Stijl homes seem pretty attractive and livable, with the clean lines and bright, cheerful colors.

Ranked #1 in Art & Art History

Thanks, Kathleen.

You are so good with this stuff, thanks again.