Villa Allegonda 1916-1928

A De Stijl Gesamtkunstwerk

Resting atop the dunes in the seaside region of Katwijk aan Zee, there stands the Hotel Savoy and more importantly, what might be considered one of J.J.P. Oud’s earliest demonstrations of the De Stijl philosophy in his architecture, the Villa Allegonda, as it was once called. 

Villa Allegonda, 1918. Photo: Instituut Collectie Nederland

Originally the villa was known as Sigrid and inhabited by a Norwegian painter. The artist shortly thereafter sold the villa to the Rotterdam businessman J.E.R. Tousselot. After the transaction, the villa underwent a series of renovations and remodeling that continued for a number of years, the first of which was under the direction of Oud. The architect was tasked to renovate the villa whose existing details were then aligned with nearby North African architectural themes and vernacular. He enlisted a number of his close associates, many if not all of whom were artists. His drawings show a very clean and geometric structure, with an asymmetry prominent in his work.During World War II there was a mine explosion that destroyed van Doesburg's original windows.

Upon Oud’s suggestion, Theo van Doesburg was invited to design two leaded glass windows for the villa; he sketched Composition V in 1917-1918 (in 1984 the Kunsthaus Zurich purchased the original drawing where it presently resides). While it is not entirely known how many sketches for windows he produced, both Composition II & V were manufactured by the firm Vennootschap Crabeth in den Haag, and were installed into the staircase hall of the villa.[1] A period image shows the installed Composition II, the renovated villa and the sketch for Composition V. In a letter dated to December 1923, van Doesburg confirmed to Karel Wasch, then secretary of the N.V. Glasfabriek Leerdam, that he created and had installed both windows II and V in the villa Allegonda. During World War II there was a mine explosion and both windows were destroyed.

Theo and Nelly van Doesburg, 1923

Later, in 1956, after van Doesburg’s passing, his widow Nelly van Doesburg, herself an avant-garde artist and musician, sold the original color design sketch to De Bijenkorf Rotterdam, who then instructed the Dutch leaded glass firm Bogtman in Haarlem to fabricate the present example, to be installed in the Marcel Breuer designed Rotterdam Beehive building.

This window has been widely exhibited including at the Foundation Beyeler and it was on extended loan to the Stedelijik Museum in Amsterdam from 1969-1985.

While this window is a posthumous reproduction of the originally installed example, it has been exhibited widely and is illustrated in the Fondation Beyeler catalog Ornament and Abstraction, published on the occasion of the exhibition bearing the same name. It is also generally accepted that the dimensions match the original window.  Along the window’s metal exterior framework are exhibition labels. The history of this window illustrates the fully realized concept of art-architecture that van Doesburg was looking to attain. The rhythmic movements of the color scheme remain in adherence to the De Stijl philosophy, setting apart the artist and group in the canon of theoretical art and history.

[1] Please see J.J.P. Oud Poetic Functionalist 1890-1963 The Complete Works, Taverne, Wagenaar and de Vletter, ppg. 127-138 for a wider discussion of the villa

We speak of concrete and not abstract painting because nothing is more concrete, more real than a line, a color, a surface.

Theo van Doesburg

Theo van Doesburg 1883–1931

Theo van Doesburg was born Christian Emil Marie Küpper in the Netherlands in 1883. As a child he was drawn to a wide range of artistic practices including dance, theater, and song, but it wasn’t until he discovered painting that he felt he had found his calling. Van Doesburg’s first exhibition opened in 1908, his style heavily influenced by figurative painters such as Vincent Van Gogh. His work changed dramatically a few years later; after reading Wassily Kandinsky’s book Ruckblicke published in 1913, van Doesburg began exploring new modes of abstract expression.

In 1917, van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leek, and J.J.P. Oud founded the group De Stijl to promote Dutch abstraction and create a universal visual language. The members applied the De Stijl principles to a variety of mediums, including stained glass, graphic design, industrial design, and even typography. They often collaborated on architectural projects creating total Gesamtkunstwerks, for example, when J.J.P. Oud designed a home, van Doesburg would often craft stained glass windows, furniture, and design the interiors.

There was a rift in De Stijl in 1927. Van Doesburg began painting using diagonal shapes, and Mondrian felt that this direction of lines was an affront to the manifesto of De Stijl. The pair split, and van Doesburg began to espouse Elementism. Van Doesburg died in 1931 leaving behind an incredible legacy as the dynamic leader of the De Stijl movement. Today, van Doesburg’s works can be found in museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Guggenheim, NewYork, and the Tate, London, among many others.