On Mondrian and Discovering a 100 Years of De Stijl in The Hague

The year 2017 marks a 100 years of De Stijl, the early 20th century Dutch art movement that has had a considerable impact on the development of modern art. The Netherlands celebrates this centenary with a yearlong program of events throughout the entire country under the title “Mondrian to Dutch Design.” But the best place to explore Mondrian this year is The Hague.

Widely known as the political epicentre of The Netherlands, the city has an air of prestige. Many who will visit The Hague, will come to know it for its unique history and decadence, and at the same time for its untamed creativity, its vibrant international community –and its Peace Palace that has earned it the title of “The International City of Peace and Justice.” In light of the yearlong celebrations, The Hague’s city council decided to pay a unique tribute, by commissioning artists Madje Vollaers and Pascal Zwart (Studio VZ) to recreate one of Mondrian’s famous compositions on the municipal building. The largest Mondrian recreation ever made to date, the abstract stick-on plastic sheets standout on the signature white construction of the American architect Richard Meier.

For the full Mondrian experience, art lovers are directed to the city’s Gemeentemuseum. Home to both the greatest Mondrian collection on earth and of one of the world’s major modern art collections, the museum aims to take the audience to an extensive tour through the life and work of the Dutch painter. The discovery of Mondrian contains a collection of nearly 300 works, covering all stages of Mondrian’s impressive career and includes sketches, letters, films, items of furniture, some of his other personal belongings- and a life-size reconstruction of his Paris studio displayed on the Museum’s ground floor, as part of the architecture and interiors exhibition that runs until the 17th of September.

Undisputedly, Mondrian’s influence on modern art has been great, but even greater was his impact on design- and on fashion. In 1965, Yves Saint Laurent designed a couture collection based upon several modern arts artists including Poliakoff, Malevich and of course, Mondrian. Though the collection was diverse in its inspiration and design, it would be the six Mondrian dresses that became the center of the entire collection. Saint Laurent’s 1965 Mondrian dress would be echoed a half-a-century later by Alexander McQueen’s 2014 Mondrian ballet flats, and it wouldn’t be the last time for a designer to be inspired by the famous De Stijl painter.

Most notably in the Netherlands, the impact of Mondrian and De Stijl transcended the realm of modern art, in that it became a way of creating: Dutch designers have continuously challenged and transformed the concept of clothing, turning fashion into vehicles to express innovative and modern ideas about body, form, pattern, and the role of ornamentation- harmoniously fusing fashion with art and architecture. Mondrian himself made no distinction between art and architecture. In the Neo-Plastic universe, art and architecture (and subsequently the act of ‘making’ fashion, too) are considered as one: “We can only be pure if we once again regard the art of building as art,” Mondrian wrote to J.J.P Oud, his fellow De Stijl peer.

Tracing the influence of Mondrian and De Stijl in Dutch fashion, most prominent example is the work of the contemporary Dutch fashion designer Alexander van Slobbe. Dubbed by insiders as “the pioneer of Dutch Modernism in fashion,” Van Slobbe often plays with ideas of abstraction, purposely leaving out ornamentation and reducing lines in order to emphasise functionality and the timelessness of his garments. In her paper ‘Close to the Clothes: Materiality and Sophisticated Archaism in Alexander van Slobbe’s Design Practices,’ for the 30th volume of the Design History, Professor Doctor Marie-Aude Baronian writes: “Van Slobbe’s fashion is not about creating clothes in order to think, but rather about thinking closely through the clothes themselves and ultimately rethinking the integrality of the design process in bringing ‘the hand of the maker’ and ‘the hand of the wearer’ into a close relationship.” This emphasis on creating as the result of the cognitive, is what Van Slobbe and Mondrian have in common- though one being a painter and the other a designer- in terms of modus operandi.

Through his work, Mondrian always looked for ways to express a state of spirituality. His creations were the direct result of the intangible questions he faced as an artist in order to create. He tried various ways to incorporate this ‘metaphysical state’ into his paintings, especially once he became interested in Helena Blavatsky’s theosophical movement; a spiritual movement based on the idea that every living being is essentially ‘one’, coming from the same unreachable and unknown source. By abstracting images, using lines, planes, and a palette of primary colours- Mondrian aimed to create an invisible dimension that transcended human understanding and sought to capture the perpetual unison of the cosmos on his canvas.

Fashion fans who wish to further explore the influence of Mondrian and De Stijl on fashion can rejoice! Next to this summer’s grand Mondrian retrospective, The Hague’s Gemeentemuseum is launching Fashion in Style. This extra exhibition in July will feature selected designs of Prada, Moschino, Frans Molenaar, Marlies Dekkers and The Hague based designer Michael Barnaart van Bergen- all inspired by Mondrian. Unique to the exhibition will be a series of vintage knitted sweaters. During the 80s, a popular trend in the Netherlands was to knit your own Mondrian sweater and as a result, many knitted their own version. The museum has selected a few of these Mondrian sweaters and allows their owners to explain what the piece of clothing means to them.

The Discovery of Mondrian runs until 24th of September 2017 and the extra exhibition Fashion in Style will run from 15th of July 2017 till 13th of August 2017.