De Stijl in Leiden

In the footsteps of De Stijl.

The origin of De Stijl in Leiden 


The historic university city of Leiden has been a major attraction for scientists and artists for centuries. Big names like Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Steen, Albert Einstein, Gustav Mahler and Sigmund Freud have all lived here. It’s therefore no coincidence that Theo van Doesburg founded the De Stijl magazine in Leiden - the Stronghold of Freedom (Bolwerk van de Vrijheid). The international art movement that arose around the magazine attracted artists such as Piet Mondrian, Vilmos Huszár, Bart van der Leck and architects like J.J.P. Oud and Gerrit Rietveld.


Contra-composition VII (1924), Theo van Doesburg © Collection Museum De Lakenhal

Van Doesburg and Leiden

Theo van Doesburg was a revolutionary in art, with big ambitions; De Stijl’s new, abstract and objective visual language would appeal to everyone and thus bring greater world harmony. He strived for a universal art that would unite people - at a time when the First World War still raged outside the borders of the Netherlands. Van Doesburg developed his own style in Leiden. His earliest work was true to nature, for example a fairly realistic drawing of the Blauwpoortsbrug in Leiden. But in subsequent versions, he gradually simplified reality into simple lines and planes. Van Doesburg eventually developed a purely abstract method in which the painting no longer refers to a recognisable reality.

The diagonal

Museum De Lakenhal has multiple works by Theo van Doesburg in its collection. Below is the key work 'Atmosphere' (Sfeer), the first completely abstract painting by Van Doesburg. In 2017, exactly one hundred years after the birth of De Stijl, Museum De Lakenhal was able to buy the masterpiece 'Contra-composition VII'. This painting is usually hung in a diamond shape, but it’s now thought that Van Doesburg intended it to be shown as a square painting with diagonal composition. The canvas is part of a series of five, three of which can be seen in the Netherlands: Contra-composition V (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam), Contra-composition VI (Tate Modern, London), Contra-composition VII (Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden), Contra-composition VIII (Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago) and Contra-composition X (Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterloo).

Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden


Museum De Lakenhal

This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt association. Museum De Lakenhal purchased a rare abstract painting by Theo van Doesburg at an auction in London. He painted Contra-composition VII in 1924 in Paris, during the heyday of De Stijl. Exactly 100 years after Theo van Doesburg founded the eponymous De Stijl magazine in Leiden in 1917, Museum De Lakenhal could add this masterpiece of international importance to its permanent collection. Contra-composition VII was purchased thanks to the generous support of the Vereniging Rembrandt association - thanks in part to its Nationaal Fonds Kunstbezit, the Mondriaan Fonds, the VSBfonds, the Vereniging van Belangstellenden in Museum De Lakenhal, the Lucas van Leyden Mecenaat, the municipality of Leiden, the De Banderfonds and a number of anonymous, private donors.

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Museum De Lakenhal will be closed for renovations and expansion until 15 June 2019. During this period, several of the masterpieces will be displayed in other museums, such as the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar and Museum het Rembrandthuis. For more information about the collection, the expansion and reopening go to

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