Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck: Inventing a new art

Throughout 2017 art museums around the Netherlands, including the Gemeente Museum in The Hague, are celebrating a century since the advent of the influential De Stijl art and design movement.

A major exhibition, Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck: Inventing a new art, was declared open by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands on 11 February 2017.

People viewing pre De Stijl works by Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck.

People viewing pre De Stijl works by Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck.

Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck were founding members of the De Stijl movement. Their compositions — which are typified by blocks of blue, red and yellow on white backgrounds — have inspired a range of subsequent works.

Logos of L’Oréal’s Studio range of toiletries and patterns adorning dresses designed by Michael Barnaart van Bergen, whose flagship store is in The Hague, count among designs influenced or inspired by the De Stijl movement.

Opening of the Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck exhibition in The Hague.

Opening of the Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck exhibition in The Hague.

Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck: Inventing a new art

Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck: Inventing a new art is one of the first major exhibitions of a year that will see events in museums and galleries across the Netherlands. It is part of Mondrian to Dutch Design. 100 Years of De Stijl, a year-long celebration marking the centenary of the beginning of De Stijl.

The movement has been described as “Holland’s most important contribution to twentieth century culture”. Yet it grew from something small. The magazine De Stijl, from which the movement took its name, had just 30 subscribers when its first edition was published in Leiden, by Theo van Doesburg, in November 1917.

Workers leaving the factory depicted by Bart van der Leck.

Workers leaving the factory depicted by Bart van der Leck.

Uncertainty about Europe’s future

A century ago the world, not so differently to today, seemed an uncertain place. In 1917 World War One was being fought on battlefields across Europe and beyond, and Russia experienced revolution. The founding members of De Stijl wanted to utilise art and design to forge a brighter future for the world.

In the work of Gerrit Rietveld those ideas took a three-dimensional form. Rietveld is best remembered for his Red and Blue Chair and strove to create affordable furniture. During the 1950s he designed the De Ploeg factory, at Bergeijk, to provide a bright, positive and egalitarian workspace.

The first galleries of Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck: Inventing a new art opens with works predating the initial period of cooperation between Van der Leck and Mondrian. That occurred during 1916 at the village of Laren, 25km south-east of Amsterdam.

What do you mean you'd rather be watching football?

What do you mean you’d rather be watching football?

Paintings by Bart van der Leck

Van der Leck’s stylised depictions of people influenced Mondrian due to their use of bold colours. Mondrian’s abstract compositions, meanwhile, soon had an impact on Van der Leck’s depictions. The works displayed in this exhibition illustrate how the two artists developed. Mondrian began linking shapes by lines while Van der Leck kept them open.

Van der Leck’s sketch of people departing an industrial building in 1917 is displayed next to the work that it inspired, Composition No. 3 (Leaving the Factory). Consequently, it’s possible to discern the abstractions and relate the blocks of colour to the scene it depicts.

Entrance to the Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck exhibition.

Entrance to the Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck exhibition.

Exhibitions at the Gemeente Museum

This exhibition at the Gemeente Museum will be followed by The Discovery of Mondrian (from 3 June to 24 September 2017) and Architecture and Interiors. The desire for Style (10 June to 17 September).

The museum holds the world’s largest collection of works by Piet Mondrian, including Victory Boogie Woogie, the unfinished work that is regarded as his masterpiece. The colourful lines on the diagonally displayed painting are said to depict the vibrant colours of New York City, where Mondrian died, having emigrated from wartime Europe, in 1944.

A Piet Mondrian self-portrait at the Gemeente Museum in The Hague.

A Piet Mondrian self-portrait at the Gemeente Museum in The Hague.

Useful information about The Hague

Entry to the Gemeente Museum

Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck: Inventing a new art runs until 21 May 2017.  Entry to the exhibition costs €14.50 (€11 for students). The Gemeente Museum is open between 10am and 5pm, from Tuesday to Sunday.

Getting to The Hague

The Hague is approximately a 50 minute journey by intercity train from Amsterdam’s central railway station.

Getting Around in The Hague

Hiring a bicycle from Lola’s Bikes and Coffee (Noordeinde 91, 2514 GC The Hague) is a way of exploring the city and its beachfront Scheveningen district. As the name of this business suggests, it serves up coffees as well as bicycles.

A day ticket, offering unlimited travel on The Hague’s public transport system, costs €6.50.

Eating in The Hague

Friet District (Prinsesstraat 73) is a fast food outlet that is transforming eating chips into a gourmet experience. The brainchild of Michelin-starred chef Niven Kunz, Friet District offers croquettes flavoured with Old Amsterdam cheese and fries with mayonnaise flavoured with truffle.

The chips are down - gourmet fries served with truffle mayonnaise at Friet Dirtrict.

The chips are down – gourmet fries served with truffle mayonnaise at Friet District.

Useful information

The Hague and the Visit Holland tourism information websites are both useful sources of information about the city and surrounding country.

The author

This exhibition overview was written by Stuart Forster, who was named Journalist of the Year at the Holland Press Awards of 2015 and 2016.

5 Comments

  1. James Bodein says:

    I didn’t know about De Stijl but visited after stumbling upon this post. It’s a very good exhibition and a beautiful museum.

  2. Frankie Wilson says:

    I’m really enjoying following this blog. Keep up the awesome work.

  3. Adrian Durell says:

    Great insights!

  4. Emma Easton says:

    I never know whether it is written Mondrian or Mondriaan. His work is adorable. Fascinating how the early works differ so greatly from his De Stijl pieces.

    • Emma, his last name is Mondriaan. However, when he lived in Paris, he started using Mondrian because it was easier (since in French there was no difference of “a” or “aa” sound like in Dutch). So Mondrian became his international name.

      Both ways are correct, then. 🙂

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