LONDON - Dutch painter César Domela – whose Composition Néo-Plastique from the early 1920s is featured in this November’s Sotheby’s inaugural sale 20th Century Art – A Different Perspective – was one of the most innovative and influential artists working in Europe during the mid-20th century. A friend of Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, Domela’s own theories on using geometrical forms and abstraction in art interested the other artists who invited him to join the De Stijl movement they had founded.

César Domela’s Composition Néoplastique. Estimate £400,000–600,000.

This famous movement forged a new pictorial language, independent from figurative representation and centred on universal principles: the use of straight lines, squared angles and neutral or primary colours. In its elements, Composition néo-plastique conforms to these criteria, yet Domela’s work also hits on a division within the movement. Although perpendicular, the lines in Composition néo-plastique are diagonals, something Van Doesburg advocated while Mondrian firmly believed in the absolute harmonic value of horizontal and vertical lines.

Although embracing Van Doesburg's ideas, however, Composition néo-plastique also bears testimony to Domela's determinedly independent approach as he did not comply with Van Doesburg’s strict ideas that the diagonals had to be introduced in the picture plane at forty-five degree. In opting for a more instinctive compositional principle that would ultimately lead him to explore in his later works curved lines and the three dimensional relief works, Domela created a dynamic composition, adding a vivid sense of movement to its rigorous geometric structure.

20th Century Art – A Different Perspective
12 November

Tessa Kostrzewa is Head of Sale, 20th Century Art – A Different Perspective and a specialist in the European Paintings department, Sotheby’s London.