THE HAGUE - Their names are not as familiar to me as their Dutch counterparts Rembrandt, Vermeer or Van Gogh, but their art is admired equally. Their abstract works hang in the temples of modern art - New York’s MoMa and Guggenheim Museum and this city’s renowned Gemeentemuseum. Their use of primary colours - red, blue and yellow - with horizontal and vertical lines has jumped off the canvas and into our daily lives in the form of fashion, architecture and even marketing. They are not just artists, but revolutionaries whose De Stijl movement has become a major source of inspiration for architects, designers and even other artists worldwide.
And in 2017, art lovers from around the world will beat a path to this fabulous Dutch city to celebrate the 100th anniversary of a movement started by artists Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck in 1917 after meeting a year earlier in the nearby town of Laren, an artist’s colony in the early 20th century.
Left: Self portrait of Piet Mondrian. Right: One of the group's most famous works.
“Mondrian and van der Leck believed that new art could lead to a modern and better society when they launched the De Stijl movement,” Benno Tempel, Director of the Gemeentemuseum, tells an assembled group of art lovers and journalists in The Hague museum where a whole gallery has been dedicated to showcasing Mondrian’s works - almost 300.
While The Hague’s Gemeentemuseum is ground zero for the 2017 celebrations, entitled “Mondrian to Dutch Design: 100 years of De Stijl”, other Dutch towns where members of the art movement were born, worked or lived, are also joining in the tribute - especially Utrecht and Amersfoort. Mondrian, Van der Lack and two other important members of De Stijl, Gerrit Rietveld and Theo van Doesburg, were either born in Utrecht or Amersfoort.
And don’t make the mistake of comparing De Stijl to Germany’s Bauhaus or director Tempel will playfully scold you.
“Bauhaus is a design school, not a movement,” he explains to the uninitiated.
How important is De Stijl to modern living? Well, according to Tempel, “the layout of our living room would have been very different without these artists.”
Interestingly, Mondrian started out as a landscape painter but after being introduced to the avant-garde while living in Paris, he began painting in a cubist style until only straight lines and primary colours - the basis of De Stijl art - are left. Some of his most important works include Composition No. 8 (1917), Composition No. 3 with colour planes (1917) and Victory Boogie Woogie - the last of his works which was unfinished at the time of his death in 1944.
Left: Dutch celebrated 100 years of De Stijl art in 2017.
During exhibitions planned in 2017 at the Gemeentemuseum - an art deco beauty in its own right - visitors will be shown how the artists of De Stijl have helped design our modern cities, streets and houses.
The museum will also explain how the colour combination of red, yellow and blue remain primary to packaging and advertising - even website designs.
Talk about surviving the test of time.
Above: The Rietveld Schröder House designed by Gerrit Rietveld.
Utrecht’s Centraal Museum houses the largest Rietveld collection, including his legendary Zig Zag Chair and Red Blue Chair. Lovely Utrecht is also home to the crowning architectural achievement of the De Stijl movement, the Rietveld Schröder House, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which draws hundreds of thousands of admirers annually.
The house, which Rietveld built for Mrs. Truus Schröder-Schrader, a widow with three children in 1924, was years ahead of its time - sliding walls and built-in furnishings - and remains a source of wonderment even today.
“Rietveld and Schröder later married - this is where Rietveld died,” a guide at the house tells me. However, Rietveld apparently did not die a happy man.
“He designed the house to take advantage of the lovely country scenery that prevailed in this part of Utrecht when it was built,” says the guide. “But when a four-lane motorway - it still exists - was later built (just a few metres from the front door) Rietveld said ‘they might as well tear the house down,’ ” relates the young woman.
Fortunately, they did not and the house remains a monument to Rietveld’s genius.
Amersfoort, where Mondrian was born in 1872, is also joining in the celebrations - the birth house is now a museum (Mondrianhuis) and it’s also planning many exhibitions throughout 2017.
Above: De Stijl art has made its way into fashion and architecture.
No matter where you walk in The Hague, reminders of De Stijl are everywhere. The red, blue and yellow vertical and horizontal lines decorate the exterior of the city’s massive new City Hall - it boasts the largest atrium in Europe.
Dress shops in The Hague’s trendy Old Quarter showcase garments inspired by the De Stijl artists and the iconic designs even show up on candy bars.
In a country renowned for artists, there are none more important than those of De Stijl - modern Dutch Masters who changed the art landscape forever.
The Gemeentemuseum kicked off the De Stijl celebrations February 11 with an exhibition entitled “The Invention of a New Art” which is a tribute to Mondrian and Van der Leck. It runs until May 21. From June 3 - Sept. 24, the museum will hold “The Discovery of Mondrian Exhibit” and from June 10 - Sept. 17, it will hold an exhibit - “De Stijl Architecture and Interiors” - that studies the affect the movement has had on design. For a complete program of events, go to www.
gemeentemuseum.nl / For events at Utrecht’s Centraal Museum, go to www.
centraalmuseum.nl and Amersfoort: www.
mondriaanhuis.nl / For information on Holland, go to www.
holland.com The Hague, www.
denhaag.com and Utrecht: www.
visit-utrecht.com/ / The best way to get to Holland from Canada is with Air Canada or KLM, both offer direct daily flights to Amsterdam. The Hague and Utrecht are short train rides from Amsterdam. Jet Airways also flies direct to Amsterdam from Toronto daily.