The Colours of De Stijl

Event  |  Reviews  |  Comments
The Colours of De Stijl

Eemplein 77
3812 EA Amersfoort

May 6th, 2017 - September 3rd, 2017
Opening: May 5th, 2017 5:00 PM - 8:00 PM

+31 33 422 5030
Tue - Sun 11am -5pm
10 euro + 2 euro extra surplus for The Colours of De Stijl


The colours of De Stijl

6 May t/m 3 September 2017

Artists:  Piet Mondriaan (1872-1944, NL), Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931, NL), Bart van der Leck (1876-1958, NL), Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964, NL), Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965, BE), Vilmos Huszár (1884-1960, HU), Barnett Newman (1905-1970, US), Josef Albers (1888 – 1976, DU), Richard Paul Lohse (1902 – 1988, CH), Jasper Johns (1930, US), Yves Klein (1928 – 1963, F), Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967),  Robert Ryman(1930, US), Piero Manzoni (1933 – 1963, IT), Alan Charlton (1948, GB), Richard Serra (1939, US), Joseph Kosuth (1945, US), Poul Gernes (1925 – 1996, DK), Olafur Eliasson (1967, DK), De Rijke/De Rooij (1970 - 2006 / 1969, NL), Katja Mater (1979, NL), Jan van der Ploeg (1959, NL), Steven Aalders (1959, NL), Roy Villevoye (1960, NL), Fransje Killaars (1959, NL)

Red, yellow and blue – the three primary colours have become synonymous with the art movement known as De Stijl. But that single iconic colour combination has tended to mask the reality of the diversity of ideas advanced by its various members. At the end of the day, Piet Mondriaan, Theo van Doesburg, Bart van der Leck, Gerrit Rietveld, Georges Vantongerloo and Vilmos Huszár all formulated their own individual views on colour.  

In this exhibition, Kunsthal KAdE zooms in on the use of colour by the six main exponents of De Stijl and goes on to examine how artists have continued to investigate the autonomous power of colour in the post-World War II period: from the abstract expressionism and concrete art of the 1960s and ’70s through to the work of artists who are today still exploring colour as an independent element. The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam is lending top works like Barnett Newman’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III’ and Jasper Johns’ triptych ‘Untitled’. The Van Abbemuseum is sending the architectural model of Theo van Doesburg’s proposed colour scheme for the auditorium of Strasbourg’s café/cinema ‘Aubette’, as well as works by Piero Manzoni, Richard Serra and Joseph Kosuth. And the studio of Olafur Eliasson is contributing the light installation ‘Ephemeral afterimage star’ (2008). 

The exhibition is part of ‘ Mondriaan to Dutch Design’: a year-long programme of events taking place nationwide to mark the centenary of the launch of the De Stijl magazine. Events are being held in The Hague,, Amersfoort, Utrecht, Otterlo, Eindhoven, the Northern Netherlands and Gelderland.
More info:

Colour as an autonomous element 'of the art'

The starting point for the exhibition will be a series of small spaces setting out the varying positions of the De Stijl artists.  Mondriaan’s palette evolved over time from naturalistic to Luminist and on through brown/grey, pastel shades and primary colours to his final more richly variegated shades of red, yellow and blue.  Van Doesburg saw color as an essential tool to visualize the spatial ambitions of an architect. Huszár hung the theories of the chemist Wilhelm Ostwald, who thought the mixture of white and black of interest to create 'harmony' (ideas published, for example, in De Stijl in 1920). Other Stijl artists followed for any length of time the ideas of Ostwald. Van der Leck saw colour primarily as a means of making his figure pieces ‘more essential’. Vantongerloo developed a colour theory of his own, using pseudo-mathematical formulae to link colours to music and arriving at a system of seven colours. For Rietveld, finally, colour played a subservient and supporting role; he attached particular importance ot he perceptions of the individual and the eye-catching power of primary colours.

The common denominator between all these artists was their desire to use colour as an independent element, ‘from art’ rather than ‘from nature’, on the basis of the idea that the right relationships between colours would produce ‘harmony’. After the heyday of De Stijl, their exploratory and analytical view of ‘colour’ was widely adopted.  In addition to major examples of the work of the selected artists, the exhibition will include documents concerning their colour concepts: not only drawings and letters, but books and other texts, and examples of colour theories on which their thinking was or is based. The colour theories of Wilhelm Ostwald will be examined in this context.

Displays in two small separate spaces will focus on specific topics: Theo van Doesburg’s 1928 design ot he interior of café/cinema ‘Aubette’ in Strasbourg and Gerrit Rietveld’s 1950s designs for aircraft interiors. The latter display will include a full-scale 3D mock-up of the lounge area of a Lockheed L-188 Electra, built by furniture-maker Erwin Kwant on the basis of a Rietveld sketch.

Top piece ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III’

The section of the exhibition dealing with the post-World War II period will begin with Barnett Newman’s great painting ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III’, now in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum. Newman sought to liberate the primary colours from the weight of De Stijl and other colour theories by using them expressively rather than didactically. Newman regarded the work of  Mondriaan, in particular, as decorative. Because his Neo-Plasticist disciples had made the primary colours so much their own, the Abstract Expressionists shied away from them. Newman re-appropriated them. In this context, the exhibition will look at the work of Josef Albers and Richard Paul Lohse (important colour theorists who had a major influence, especially on artists), as well as at Yves Klein, with his patented shade of blue.

The exhibition will continue by exploring conceptual positions adopted by artists of the 1960s and ’70s in relation to colour. The artists concerned will include Piero Manzoni and Robert Ryman (for whom ‘white’ was so important, partly as an objective ‘non-colour’), Alan Charlton (who chose ‘grey’ as the most neutral colour), Richard Serra (who used intense black as an ‘architectural’ element) and Joseph Kosuth (interested in the definition of colour). This block ends with the work of the Danish artist Poul Gernes who searched for  the social significance of artistic expression in  his color studies. He reflected this amongst others, in exuberant color schemes on the walls of the Herlev Hospital in Copenhagen (1968-‘76 ).

Contemporary artists

The final part of the exhibition will take a look at contemporary artists. Olafur Eliasson will ot hein installation focusing on the use of light to blend colour. Eliasson is fascinated by the ‘spectral colours’ that occur, for example, in natural phenomena like rainbows. On show in the video room will be De Rijke/De Rooij’s media-installation ‘Orange’, in which 88 slides are projected as a means of addressing the problem of using the colour orange on film. Katja Mater is fascinated by the colour theory of Isaac Newton, who showed that white light is composed of seven different colours. At the same time, she is interested in the phenomenon by which spinning colour wheels produce mixed shades (in an ideal situation, the colours will ‘merge’ to produce white). Mater repeats experiments conducted by colour theorists of the past, but in her case the process is rather one of deconstruction. Before the exhibition, Mater will be spending the early part of 2017 as artist in residence in Theo van Doesburg’s studio home in Meudon, a suburb of Paris.


Steven Aalders works with strictly ordered compositions of horizontal and vertical lines and blocks, which he constructs on the basis of colour schemes specific ot he series and generally derived from examples in art history. Jan van der Ploeg makes monumental wall paintings with repeating geometrical patterns in strong colours. Finally, Roy Villevoye adopts an anthropological approach. For many years he has been visiting Papua New-Guinea to work with indigenous peoples there. For example, he picks up on a T-shirt ritual that is part of their culture and has three Papuans pose in T-shirts in the trio of colours used in colour printing: magenta, cyan and yellow. It is a collision of cultures brought about by colours that are ubiquitous in the Western world, but non-existent in the jungle of Papua New Guinea. Papuans don’t even have a word for ‘colour’. 

Catalog The Colours of De Stijl

Along with the exhibition ‘The Colours of De Stijl a rich illustrated catalog will appear. With texts by Robbert Roos, Marjory Degen and Nynke Besemer. With an introduction ot he different color theories of Goethe, Newton and Ostwald written by Marjory Degen. The exhibition and catalog are divided into three sections: Artists of De Stijl, Artists after the war and contemporary artists. Buy the catalog in the KadEShop or order the catalog online  15 euro (excluding shipping costs). | 96 pages,  ISBN: EN: 978-94-90153-26-7


Special thanks to: Kwant Meubelmakerij, Meubelstoffeerderij Designbekleding, De Ploeg meubelstoffen, Stichting het van Doesburghuis, Meudon, all partners, artist, lenders, galleries . Fonds 21. Mondriaan Fund and VSB Fonds

All activities of Kunsthal KadE are sponsered by the city of Amersfoort

Visiting address

Eemplein 77
3812 EA Amersfoort
T +31 (0)33 422 50 30

Kunsthal KAdE is part of the Amersfoort in C Foundation, which also includes Museum Flehite, Architecture Centre FASadE and the Mondriaanhuis.

Entrance: € 10,-
Museum card: free
CJP: € 5,-
Students: € 5,- 

For The Colours of De Stijl is a  2 euro surcharge for all the above fees.

Until 17 years  free entrance