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.