Dutch for ‘the style’, the De Stijl was an avant-garde art movement that spanned 1917 to 1931. It included artists working across painting, architecture and design, and is best known for the use of geometric shapes and primary colours. It was made popular by Dutch painters and co-founders of the movement, Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg and one of the main theoretical aims was to represent pure, abstracted forms using simple lines and colour.
Among the core group working in this style – also known as Neoplasticism – were three women artists that don’t often get the same level of acclaim as their male counterparts. Meet the women of the De Stijl movement…
1. Nelly van Doesburg
Nelly van Doesburg (1899–1975) was a painter, dancer, musician, and the wife of Theo van Doesburg. She worked under the pseudonym Cupera when she painted and Pétro when performing music. She was influenced by the work of her husband, and De Stijl principals of simplicity of form are evident in her painting style. Alongside Peggy Guggenheim, she became an essential figure in the promotion of De Stijl after Theo van Doesburg’s death, helping propel it to one of the most significant international movements of the twentieth century. She devoted her life to championing her husband’s work through exhibitions and selling his paintings into major collections.
2. Charmion Von Wiegand
Charmion Von Wiegand (1896–1983) studied at Columbia University, initially enrolled as a journalism student before switching to art history. She picked up painting as a hobby after graduating and moved to Moscow to work as a foreign correspondent. Upon returning to New York in 1932, she combined her art historical and journalistic skills to write for prominent art publications including ARTnews and The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. It was through this work that she met Piet Mondrian and eventually became infatuated with De Stijl.
The influence of Mondrian on her painting style is apparent in works like Sanctuary of the Four Directions (above), which make use of the iconic grid and colours associated with the neoplastic aesthetic. She was a member (and later president) of the American Abstract Artists and associated with notably abstract artists including Hans Richter, Wassily Kandinsky, and Joan Miró. These associations and her spiritual relationship with Buddhism would inspire her work after the death of Mondrian, at which time she expanded her colour palette, technique, and use of symbolism.
3. Marlow Moss
Partially trained at the prestigious Slade School of Art, Marlow Moss (1889–1958) was a British artist working in paint and sculpture mediums. After leaving school early, she changed her name from Majorie to Marlow and began to dress in the more masculine aesthetic of closely cropped hair and suits.
Like Von Wiegand, she became a friend and follower of Mondrian, who influenced her work alongside Cubists Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant, whom she studied under in Paris. It was during her stint in Paris that she met her future life partner, Antoinette (Nettie) Hendrika Nijhoff-Wind. She eventually returned to Cornwall where she worked concurrently with Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, but the artists never mixed socially (Nicholson actually ignored two invitations to tea).
She is often classed as a Constructivist painter, but neoplastic elements are clear in her work, and neoplastic ideas around form and subjectivity married well with her atheist beliefs. Though she mainly lived and worked in the UK, her work is better represented in Dutch and American collections.