“In fine art, the term “neo-plasticism” refers to the austere, geometrical style of concrete art developed by the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) just after the First World War. The word is a meaningless translation of the complex Dutch phrase nieuwe beelding, first used by the writer Matthieu Schoenmaekers in his book Het Nieuwe Wereldbeeld (The New Image of the World), and re-used by Mondrian in his theoretical essay De Nieuwe Beelding in de Schilderkunst, before he adopted the French translation Neo-Plasticismefrom which the English term is taken. A better translation is simply “New Art” – mainly because it described Mondrian’s vision of an ideal, pure form of art and design, which he felt the post-war circumstances demanded. It was to be a pure type of abstract art that adhered to strict rules of composition. To start with, it was promoted by De Stijl – the mouthpiece of the avant-garde art movement of the same name – edited by Theo van Doesburg(1883-1931) and read by abstract painters, designers, abstract sculptors and architects in Holland, and across Europe. Although no more than a loose association, the De Stijl movement included such artists as the Dutch painter Bart van der Leck (1876-1958), the Hungarian-born graphic artist Vilmos Huszar (1884–1960), the Belgian sculptor Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965), the furniture designer Gerrit Rieveld (1888-1964) and the German painter Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart (1899-1962), as well as the architects Robert van ‘t Hoff (1887–1979) and J.J.P. Oud (1890–1963).

Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow, 1930

Characteristics of Neo-Plasticism

Mondrian’s new art was based upon fundamental principles, as follows:

• Only geometric shapes may be used; ignore natural form and colour.
• Main compositional elements to be straight lines or rectangular areas.
• Surfaces should be rectangular planes or prisms.
• No curves, no diagonals, no circles.
• Choose only primary colours (red, blue, yellow), plus black, grey and white.
• No symmetry: instead, strive for strong asymmetricality.
• Balance is attained by relationships between geometrical motifs.
• In addition, bold colours should balance bold direct lines.

In short, the rules of Neo-Plasticism were designed to produce pure, uncompromising, heavily structured abstraction, in accordance with Mondrian’s view that vertical and horizontal patterns were inherently harmonious.”


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