Theo Van Doesburg

ICONOFGRAPHICS

The Netherlands, Utrecht, 1883 - 1931

"There is an old and a new consciousness of time.
The old is connected with the individual.
The new is connected with the universal.
The struggle of the individual against the universal is revealing itself in the world-war as well as in the art of the present day."
- Theo Van Doesburg

Manifest I of De Stijl, 1918,
De Stijl, vol. 2, nr. 1
The manifest can be read here.

Christian Küpper, who adopted the pseudonym Theo van Doesburg, was born in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on August 30, 1883. He was a Dutch allround artist, practicing in painting, writing, poetry, typography and architecture, but he had been more successful writing about art than working as an independent artist. Quite adept at making new contacts due to his flamboyant, impulsive personality, he had many useful connections in the art world.

Theo van Doesburg in the Aubette, Strasbourg.

In 1917 he founded the group De Stijl and the periodical of the same name together with architects J. J. P. Oud and Jan Wils, Vilmos Huszár, Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck, and Georges Vantongerloo. The periodical propagated the group's theories.
De Stijl has come to represent their common aims and utopian vision. The essential idea underlying De Stijl’s radical utopian program was the creation of a universal aesthetic language based in part on a rejection of the decorative excesses of Art Nouveau in favor of a simple, logical style that emphasized construction and function, one that would be appropriate for every aspect of modern life.* They simplified visual compositions to the vertical and horizontal directions, and used only primary colors along with black and white.

*As written by the 'Guggenheim collection' on Theo van Doesburg

The first cover design of De Stijl magazine, used from 1917 trough 1920, carried an abstract image by Vilmos Huszar. He probably designed the lettering as well.

An example of the interior pages, which had not been touched by typographers.

The first edition of the De Stijl artmagazine appeared in oktober 1917. The cover contained an abstract woodcut composed of black rectangles, over which the words De Stijl were drawn in fragmented square capitals. In his foreword, Van Doesburg mentions Vilmos Huszar as the designer of the vignette. It is generally assumed that Huszar also drew the lettering.*
The only remarkable piece of design in the magazine was the cover, the inside had not been touched by designers, as texts were delivered to the printer and set in standard typefaces.

*Extract from the book 'Dutch type' by Jan Middendorp

De Stijl
1921
Vol. 4, no. 11
Anthologie-Bonset
A collection of visual poetry by I.K. Bonset (pseudonym of Theo van Doesburg)

In 1921 the De Stijl magazine appeared in a new design. The new logo consisted of standard sans-serif type and was designed by Van Doesburg and Mondriaan. The letters N.B. in red stand for “Nieuwe Beelding” (new imaging).

You can find more information on De Stijl here.

VAN DOESBURG'S ARCHITYPE

Square Alphabet
1919
Van Doesburg's alphabet revived as Architype Van Doesburg

Of the artists linked to De Stijl, many drew an alphabet, but it is probably Van Doesburg’s which has been most influential. He drew a sans-serif modular alphabet that is constructed entirely of evenly weighted strokes. Each character is based upon a square divided into a raster of 5x5. This makes some characters, especially the K, R and X, so unconventional that they must have been unreadable to many readers. The earliest version of the alphabet was made up of letterpress ruling pieces. The finished typeface was used in 1919.

Bond van Revolutionaire Socialistische Intellectueelen
1919
logodesign

La Section d'Or
1920
65 × 62,5 cm
Design for an exhibition poster

Klassiek, Barok, Modern
1920
a transcript distributed in Antwerp, Belgium by De Sikkel on the occasion of two lectures by Van Doesburg

The transcript in French could be found on wikipedia

Van Doesburg used the alphabet for several design jobs, like the logo for the League of Revolutionary-Socialist Intellectuals. In this logo he plays with the widths of the letters, so the name could form a justified rectangle.
A digital revival has been created by Freda Sack and David Quay of The Foundry.

DADAISM

Kleine Dada Soirée
1922
30,2 × 30,2 cm
New York,
Museum of Modern Art

Van Doesburg organized several Dada Soirées during a dada Tour, taking place in the Netherlands. Description of the evening (in dutch) can be found on wikipedia.

Although De Stijl was made up of many members, Van Doesburg was the 'ambassador' of the movement, travelling across Europe for promotion. In 1922 Van Doesburg became briefly involved with Dadaism and traveled on a lecture tour with Kurt Schwitters. At the same time he worked with the constructivists and became interested in the Bauhaus, which had recently been founded in Germany. His geometric style was well received by Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, but still they believed their ideas would not match. Reacting to this disappointment Van Doesburg then installed himself near to the Bauhaus buildings and started to attract Bauhaus students interested in the new ideas of De Stijl.
Around 1924 the original De Stijl group started to fall apart as Van Doesburg introduced these Bauhaus and Dadaist influences.

At the end of his life, he moved to Davos in Switzerland because of his declining health. Theo Van Doesburg died on March 7, 1931, due to heart failure.

READING

Jan Middendorp, Dutch type, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam (2004).
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read this book on books.google.com

Els Hoek, Theo Van Doesburg: Oeuvre Catalogue, Centraal Museum Utrecht, The Netherlands (2000).
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IMAGES

archive of De Stijl magazine of University of Iowa
Het geheugen van Nederland, "the memory of the Netherlands"
Wikimedia commons