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Georges Vantongerloo (Belgian, 1886–1965)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Belgian sculptor and painter. He trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp (1900–04) and at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels (1906–9). During World War I he moved to The Hague as a refugee. In 1915 he met Jules Schmalzigaug, who introduced him to Cubism and Futurism. His sculpture of this period consists of impressionistic representations of the human body, while his painting reflects a debt to Pointillism (e.g. Sitting Man, 1917; priv. col., see Gast, p. 234).

In 1918 Vantongerloo became associated with the journal De Stijl; in two of its issues he published a series of articles titled ‘Réflections’, in which he formulated theories about art and the role of the artist. These articles reveal his absolute belief in abstraction and a predilection for mystic and pseudo-scientific theories and concepts. Largely derived from his interest in the writings of the philosopher M. H. J. Schoenmaekers, these beliefs led Vantongerloo to visualize space as a combination of the volumes of objects and the voids that surround them.

After meeting Theo van Doesburg in 1918, Vantongerloo moved towards greater geometric and biomorphic abstraction in his sculpture. Familiarity with van Doesburg’s work and ideas led Vantongerloo to construct four small sculptures collectively titled Construction in the Sphere (version, priv. col., on loan to The Hague, Gemeentemus.), in which Impressionism has given way to geometric abstraction, without, however, totally relinquishing recognizable motifs. In these works the human figure is reduced to geometric forms, such as the sphere, cube and pyramid. In one instance the figure is transformed into an amorphous, bulging mass with which Vantongerloo suggests movement; he appears to have been influenced by Boccioni, although there is no evidence that he knew that sculptor. After World War I Vantongerloo returned to Brussels and in 1919 he produced two stone sculptures, Interrelation of Volumes (version, London, Tate; for illustration see Stijl, De), constructed from horizontal and vertical interlocking rectangular forms; van Doesburg recognized these works as the three-dimensional realization of the principles of De Stijl.

In 1920 Vantongerloo moved to Menton in southern France and there developed a theory of colour in which the three primary colours favoured by De Stijl artists were exchanged for the seven main colours of the spectrum. In addition, mathematical formulae and equations played an increasingly important part in his work. His sculptures still consisted of rectangular forms, but their construction was more open. A similar development took place in his paintings, where some of the rectangular blocks produced by the irregular grid were left white. At this time Vantongerloo began designing interiors, furniture and ceramics, as well as utopian architectural projects (villas, airports and bridges) that were never realized.

Vantongerloo gradually began to move away from De Stijl, although he remained true to most of its principles. In 1928 he moved to Paris and became a driving force behind the emergent movements Cercle et Carré (1930) and Abstraction-Création (1931–6). Although Vantongerloo gradually distanced himself from De Stijl and went so far, after van Doesburg’s death, as to deny that he had ever been associated with the movement, it was not until 1937 that dramatic changes occurred in his paintings: his reliance on a rectilinear grid was replaced by rounded forms (circle segments and ovals), drawn as thin coloured lines against a white background, softening the severe character of his compositions.

From 1937 to 1945 Vantongerloo produced only paintings. When he took up sculpture again, his compositions became progressively more playful, comprising loose constructions of painted wire, reminiscent of atomic nuclei and the orbits of electrons around them. In this period he favoured such modern materials as perspex and plastic, in the form of imaginary heavenly bodies and comets, reflecting his continuing preoccupation with the concept of space.

Nicolette Gast
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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