Van Doesburg artist house
The Van Doesburg studio-house is one of the best known artists’ homes from the interbellum that is still in use as a studio-house. Theo van Doesburg designed it for himself and his wife Nelly towards the end of the 1920s, in Meudon-Val-Fleury, a suburb of Paris. He could finally translate his all-encompassing views on art and life into an architectural creation in the city where the international avant-garde had settled and which was so beloved by Theo and Nelly. The house was completed at the end of 1930. Even before it was furnished and the paintwork finished, Van Doesburg died, aged 47. His studio-house, which in the 1980s was named after its designer, ranks as representative of Van Doesburg’s ideas on the synthesis of the arts and his ideal to unite them with society, industry and the sciences.
Van Doesburg studio-house at Rue Charles Infroit in Meudon-Val-Fleury, photo Hervé Abbadie (2012).
After Theo’s premature death, Nelly lived on in the Meudon house for the rest of her life. When she died in 1975 the collection and studio-house were inherited by Wies van Moorsel, Nelly’s niece and sole heir. Wies and her husband, Jean Leering, decided to implement Nelly’s original idea to donate the entire collection and the house to the Dutch State. They also envisaged opening the studio-house, in keeping with Theo and Nelly’s views, for artists and researchers to live and work. These would be people active in the many areas with which the Van Doesburgs had an affinity – the visual arts, design, architecture, literature and the performing arts. The house became the property of the Dutch State in the early eighties and the Van Doesburg House Foundation was set up. The foundation’s board was charged with managing and maintaining the house properly, and making it available as residential and studio space. Work began immediately: in 1981 the house acquired listed status, after which it was thoroughly restored. In the period between 1983 and 2014 some 30 artists and researchers were to stay at the Van Doesburg house.
The studio with the characteristic concrete table, photo Johannes Schwartz (2020).
In the bilingual publication
Het Van Doesburghuis, ontmoetingen in Meudon ( available in Dutch and French) [The Van Doesburg house, encounters in Meudon], several residents describe their experiences of the house. The author and poet, K. Schippers, who often visited Nelly in her latter years and who returned in the 1990s, implied that Theo did indeed design the house, but Nelly brought it to life. Architecture historian Bart Lootsma considers the house to be uncomfortable and awkward: “The house isn’t attuned to life”. The art historian and Van Doesburg authority, Evert van Straaten, states that the spatial experience has taken precedence over privacy: “(…) all the architectural elements are focused on a spiritual, aesthetic experience, at the expense of the physical and socio-functional. The colour compositions serve as vehicles for a mystical experience. In that context, this house is an apotheosis of De Stijl architecture (which as such barely exists).”
The kitchen with exterior view and staircase, photos Johannes Schwartz (2020)
The significance of the studio-house, the only architectural work in Theo van Doesburg’s oeuvre that has been retained in its original state, intrigued not only its temporary occupants. It was also fuel for theoreticians and critics. Some art historians see the studio-house, with its simple composition of two interlocking cubes, as an example of Nieuwe Zakelijkheid or New Objectivity . Others stress the premises of
De Stijl which pursued architecture as a synthesis of art forms. And therein lies the controversy which Theo van Doesburg triggered, as a person and an artist. “Art is not ‘being’, but ‘becoming’”, is one of the pronouncements quoted by Evert van Straaten to reflect Van Doesburg’s artistic skill. As a dadaist, constructivist, visionary, revolutionary, utopian and malcontent/grouser [a truculent individual], sometimes pro and sometimes contra, Van Doesburg sought to give the role of the artist and of art a prominent place in society. And that is where his qualities lie: as a trailblazer for an artist’s conviction which is still current and a source of inspiration for new generations of artists.