Nelly van Doesburg

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nelly van Doesburg
Portrait of Nelly van Doesburg 002.jpg
Nelly van Moorsel

27 July 1899
The Hague, Netherlands
Died1 October 1975 (1975-11) (aged 76)
Meudon, France
Other namesCupera
Pétro van Doesburg

Nelly van Doesburg (née Petronella Johanna van Moorsel; The Hague, 27 July 1899 – Meudon, 1 October 1975) was a Dutch avant-garde musician, dancer, artist and art collector. She performed under her dadaïst alias Pétro van Doesburg and used the pseudonym Cupera for her work as a painter.


She was born on 27 July 1899 as the daughter of shopkeeper Petrus (Piet) Bartholomeus van Moorsel and his wife Helena (Leentje) Maria Büch as the second youngest of the six van Moorsel children.[1]

She started classical piano studies at the age of 14, graduating 4 years later in 1918. After which she continued her musical studies in Rotterdam for a time, while also working as a piano teacher.

She was a life long champion of De Stijl movement and advisor to notable American art collector, bohemian and socialite Peggy Guggenheim.

In 1920 she met Theo van Doesburg through her brother, who had a subscription to the magazine De Stijl, published by Van Doesburg. During the opening of the La Section d'Or exhibition in The Hague on 11 July 1920, she was completely captivated by this man, and fell in love in what she later called a "coup de foudre". Her Catholic parents did not appreciate the association with Van Doesburg, who was not only Protestant, but also already married. Because of this, her parents came up with the idea to send her to a boarding-school for nuns in the UK, hastily sewing the wardrobe needed for this. She ran away from home around the turn of the year from 1920-1921 and was received in Leiden by J.J.P. Oud and Van Doesburg's wife Lena Milius.[2] During her relationship with Van Doesburg she was introduced to the world of modern art. Van Doesburg took her with him on a lecture tour through Europe in March 1921, during which they also visited Piet Mondriaan in Paris.

From April 1921 she lived with Van Doesburg in Weimar. In December she spent a few weeks in Vienna to reflect on her future. Here she met the Hungarian artist Lajos Kassák, publisher of the magazine Ma. Aktivista Folyóirat (Present Activists Magazine). After this a correspondence between Kassák and Theo van Doesburg arose.[3]

On 24 September 1922 she visited with Theo, Cor van Eesteren and others, the Städtische Kunstverein by Walter Dexel in Jena.[4] The following day she played compositions by Vittorio Rieti during a dada evening at Hotel Fürstenhof in Weimar, in which Jean Arp and Tristan Tzara also participated.[5]

In January–February 1923 she participated with her future husband and the artists Kurt Schwitters and Vilmos Huszár, under her stage name Pétro, in the Dutch Dada tour. During these evenings she played music by Satie and Rieti. Following this tour she played compositions by Arthur Honegger, Daniël Ruyneman, Francis Poulenc, Josef Hauer and Egon Wellesz during a "Modern Soirée" on 12 March at the Lily Green dance school in The Hague.[6] "Proeven Van Stijlkunst" (Experiments In Artistic Style) by the composer Jakob van Domselaer also featured in her repertoire. The final performance, together with Schwitters took place on the 14th of February 1925 at the avant-garde-publisher Müller & Co. in Potsdam. In addition, under the pseudonym Cupera she made a number of paintings, in which influences from De Stijl can be recognized. In Paris she enjoyed some fame as a dancer under the name Sonia Pétrowska.

From 2 October 1929 to 5 January 1930 she organized the ESAC (Expositions Sélectes d'Art Contemporain) of "contemporary young Parisian painting" at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and Pulchri Studio in The Hague.[7] Van Doesburg also participated in this exhibition under her pseudonym P. Cupera.

After Theo van Doesburg's death in 1931, widow Nelly van Doesburg committed herself to keeping the memory of her husband alive. She wanted to help change the one-sided image of Theo being primarily a follower of artistic movements instead of an innovator of modern art . To achieve this, she organized a series of exhibitions of his work.[8] She also provided a good shelter for a large part of his paintings by selling them to the best collections of modern art in the world. Many paintings by Van Doesburg ended up in the United States, for example in the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim collections, because Van Doesburg was friends with Peggy Guggenheim, who acted as her agent in America.

Though they shared a lot of their social circles, in the artistic avant-garde at the time, Peggy and Nelly did not meet in person until 1938 in London after which they developed a close friendship. During the Second World War Peggy bought several of the artworks in Nelly's collection, allowing Nelly to sustain herself in a time where there was practically no market for abstract art.[9] While a few of these works were by Theo van Doesburg, it also included paintings by El Lissitzky, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini. Nelly's influence on Peggy Guggenheim's collection didn't end here. Peggy preferred to buy works for her collection directly from the artists themselves, through her many connections and relations within the art-world Nelly was able to introduce Peggy to an array of abstract artists and subsequently helped broker a great deal of Peggy's acquisitions in that time.[9]

In the fifties she also made some reproductions in silkscreen of her late husband's works. Van Doesburg's remaining collection, consisting mainly of archive material, studies, photographs and drawings, left Nelly van Doesburg to her cousin Wies van Moorsel, who donated it to the Dutch Nation in 1981. The collection is managed by the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage and the Netherlands Institute for Art History.

She also remained active in the artists' circuit. She had a short relationship with the German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who helped her with setting up an exhibition of her late husband's work in Chicago in 1947. She was also, as an important witness of the entire Stijl movement, a good source for, among others, the book Holland Dada by K. Schippers. At the end of her life she returned to her roots and she became Catholic again.

It is rumoured that Nelly van Doesburg had an affair with Jazz musician Thelonious Monk who she met whilst in at the Minton's Playhouse, and continued the relationship in the De Stijl house in Meudon.

Nelly van Doesburg died at the age of 76 from the consequences of breast cancer in the home and studio designed by Theo van Doesburg in Meudon, France.


  1. ^ van Moorsel, Wies (2000). Nelly van Doesburg (in Dutch). Nijmegen: SUN. p. 14. ISBN 906168966X.
  2. ^ Maria), Ottevanger, Alied (Alida (2007). De Stijl in Tilburg : over de vriendschap tussen Theo van Doesburg en Antony Kok. Amsterdam: Stokerkade, cultuurhistorische uitgeverij. ISBN 978-9079156016. OCLC 191933837.
  3. ^ Maria), Ottevanger, Alied (Alida (2007). De Stijl in Tilburg : over de vriendschap tussen Theo van Doesburg en Antony Kok. Amsterdam: Stokerkade, cultuurhistorische uitgeverij. p. 68. ISBN 978-9079156016. OCLC 191933837.
  4. ^ Manfred., Bock (2001). Bouwkunst, stijl, stedebouw : van Eesteren en de avant-garde. Rossem, Vincent van., Somer, Kees. Rotterdam: NAi. p. 83. ISBN 978-9072469625. OCLC 901736960.
  5. ^ Doesburg, Theo van (2000). Theo van Doesburg : oeuvre catalogue. Hoek, Els., Centraal Museum (Utrecht, Netherlands), Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller. Utrecht: Centraal Museum. ISBN 978-9073285736. OCLC 47521108.
  6. ^ "Lier-zang, |toegezongen aan het geselschap, onder de zinspreuk: De zucht voor't vorstlijk huis, voor kerk en vaderland, is hier het schibboleth, de stalen liefdeband. op den 8 maart, anno 1790". doi:10.1163/2214-8264_dutchpamphlets-kb2-kb25700. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ "Archives". (in Dutch). Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  8. ^ van Moorsel, Sofia J. (15 January 2018). "Sofia J. van Moorsel". New Phytologist. 217 (3): 993–994. doi:10.1111/nph.14986. ISSN 0028-646X. PMID 29334599.
  9. ^ a b Wintgens, Doris (2017). Peggy Guggenheim & Nelly van Doesburg - Advocates of De Stijl. nai010 publishers. p. 52. ISBN 9789462084100.

External links[edit]