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César Domela
b. 1900, Amsterdam, Netherlands
d. 1992, Paris, France

 

César Domela was a Dutch painter, sculptor, photographer, and typographer, and the youngest member of De Stijl. His father was the famed anarcho-socialist leader Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, and in 1920, the year after his father’s death, Domela decided to devote himself fully to his self-taught art practice. Domela’s early work consists of landscapes and still lifes painted in a Constructivist style, but after moving to Berlin in 1923 and becoming acquainted with the November Group, he created his first non-representational painting: a composition of vertical and horizontal lines and planes. In 1924, he had his first solo show at the Galeria d’Audretsch, and in 1925 Domela joined De Stijl, working closely with Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg.

 

Unbound by formal training or a specific medium, Domela experimented with three-dimensional reliefs, typography, and graphic art. He also proclaimed photography as the contemporary medium for communication, and his practice in photomontage design spurred his participation in the Ring Neue Werbegestalter with Kurt Schwitters. In 1931, he organized Germany’s first large-scale photomontage exhibition at Berlin’s Staatliche Kunstbibliothek.

 

With the rise of Nazi power, Domela moved to Paris, and in 1934 established the city’s first silkscreen printing studio for advertising. Despite his success in the commercial arts, he returned to painting and in 1936 was part of the Cubism and Abstract Art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In Paris, Domela befriended Hans Arp, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, and Anton Pevsner, whose varying influences can be seen in his work; Domela in turn influenced Nicolas de Staël, Jean Deyrolle, and Auguste Herbin with his work at the inaugural Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in 1939.

 

After Domela died, his vast archive of works was left to the Netherlands Institute for Art History, and in 2009, his two daughters donated nine of his works to the Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, where a room is now dedicated to the artist.