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Theo van Doesburg
b. 1883, Utrecht, The Netherlands; d. 1931, Davos, Switzerland
Christian Emil Marie Küpper, who adopted the pseudonym Theo van Doesburg, was born in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on August 30, 1883. His first exhibition of paintings was held in 1908 in the Hague. In the early 1910s he wrote poetry and established himself as an art critic. From 1914 to 1916 van Doesburg served in the Dutch army, after which time he settled in Leiden and began his collaboration with the architects J. J. P. Oud and Jan Wils. In 1917 they founded the group De Stijl and the periodical of the same name; other original members were Vilmos Huszár, Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck, and Georges Vantongerloo. Van Doesburg executed decorations for Oud’s De Vonk project in Noordwijkerhout in 1917.
In 1920 he resumed his writing, using the pen name I. K. Bonset and later Aldo Camini. Van Doesburg visited Berlin and Weimar in 1921 and the following year taught at the Weimar Bauhaus, where he associated with Raoul Hausmann, Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Hans Richter. He was interested in Dada at this time and worked with Kurt Schwitters as well as Jean Arp, Tristan Tzara, and others on the review Mécano in 1922. Exhibitions of the architectural designs of Gerrit Rietveld, van Doesburg, and Cor van Eesteren were held in Paris in 1923 at Léonce Rosenberg’s Galerie l’Effort Moderne and in 1924 at the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture.
The Landesmuseum of Weimar presented a solo show of van Doesburg’s work in 1924. That same year he lectured on modern literature in Prague, Vienna, and Hannover, and the Bauhaus published his Grundbegriffe der neuen gestaltenden Kunst (Principles of Neo-Plastic Art). A new phase of De Stijl was declared by van Doesburg in his manifesto of “Elementarism,” published in 1926. During that year he collaborated with Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp on the decoration of the restaurant-cabaret L’Aubette in Strasbourg. Van Doesburg returned to Paris in 1929 and began working on a house at Meudon-Val-Fleury with van Eesteren. Also in that year he published the first issue of Art concret, the organ of the Paris-based group of the same name. Van Doesburg was the moving force behind the formation of the group Abstraction-Création in Paris. The artist died on March 7, 1931, in Davos, Switzerland.