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Theo van Doesburg. Interior model. Colour design for ceiling and three walls, cinema and dance hall of Café de l'Aubette, 1926/1927. Pencil and gouache on cardboard. 43 x 74,5 cm. Collection Het Nieuwe Instituut, DOES m l. Photo: Johannes Schwartz
Theo van Doesburg. Interior model. Colour design for ceiling and three walls, cinema and dance hall of Café de l'Aubette, 1926/1927. Pencil and gouache on cardboard. 43 x 74,5 cm. Collection Het Nieuwe Instituut, DOES m l. Photo: Johannes Schwartz

National Collection acquires only surviving model by Theo van Doesburg

Het Nieuwe Instituut has acquired a unique interior model by architect and artist Theo van Doesburg. The design is for the café-restaurant of the Aubette, one of the most important architectural projects of De Stijl, the art movement of which Van Doesburg was the figurehead. With this radical design, Van Doesburg no longer makes a distinction between architecture and painting. The acquisition was made possible by contributions from the Mondriaan Fund, the Rembrandt Association, and Galerie Gmurzynska.

The interior of the Aubette (Strasbourg, 1928) has become an icon of the 20th-century avant-garde. Van Doesburg created a dynamic colour design with diagonals across both the walls and the ceiling. The unity of form, colour, and architecture was intended to entice visitors to move through the different spaces of this modern entertainment complex.

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The model in Van Doesburg’s studio at Place Kleber in Strasbourg, 1927. Archive of Theo and Nelly van Doesburg, Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD).
The model in Van Doesburg’s studio at Place Kleber in Strasbourg, 1927. Archive of Theo and Nelly van Doesburg, Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD).

The acquisition is a provisional colour design from 1926. At first sight, it appears flat, but it is in fact a model: the walls fold up. The work fits seamlessly into the Van Doesburg archive that Het Nieuwe Instituut manages, and which contains a series of Aubette drawings from first sketches to the final design of 1928. Van Doesburg not only designed the interior, but also the furniture, lighting, and graphics. The series shows the development of a total work of art by a single artist proficient in several disciplines.

Guus Beumer, Director of Het Nieuwe Instituut: “For us, the connection with the existing Van Doesburg archive wasn’t the decisive factor. We became really enthusiastic only when it turned out that behind the glass was no drawing, but a model folded flat. This purchase is first and foremost a point of reference in the discussion about the multidisciplinary ambitions of Van Doesburg and De Stijl. Such a work should be a part of the National Collection.”

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Theo van Doesburg. Interior model, detail. Colour design for ceiling and three walls, cinema and dance hall of Café de l'Aubette, 1926/1927. Pencil and gouache on cardboard. 43 x 74,5 cm. Collection Het Nieuwe Instituut, DOES m l. Photo: Johannes Schwartz
Theo van Doesburg. Interior model, detail. Colour design for ceiling and three walls, cinema and dance hall of Café de l'Aubette, 1926/1927. Pencil and gouache on cardboard. 43 x 74,5 cm. Collection Het Nieuwe Instituut, DOES m l. Photo: Johannes Schwartz

Eelco van der Lingen, Director of the Mondriaan Fund: “With this only surviving model by Theo van Doesburg, Het Nieuwe Instituut is acquiring an international icon. There is a strong emphasis on the innovative ideas about the convergence of painting and architecture that are typical of Van Doesburg and the De Stijl movement. It is important that this model will be in the right context for research at Het Nieuwe Instituut and will remain visible to the public. An asset to the Dutch Collection.”

Fusien Bijl de Vroe, Director of the Rembrandt Association: “This acquisition strengthens our understanding of Van Doesburg’s work. Our ability to help buy works like this one is thanks to our 16,000-plus members who are united in their belief that good art should be shared with everyone. If he were here today, the idealistic Van Doesburg might be an inspired Rembrandt member."

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