Elementarism developed some years after Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) propagated and put into artistic practise the strict theoretical principles of Neoplasticism (from c. 1920).
The pioneer of this style was De Stijl artist Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931), who from 1924 altered the formal rules of Neoplasticism, so that they no longer only consisted of individual, strict vertical and horizontal lines, but also incorporated slanting lines as diagonal compositional elements. This was meant to generate an increased dynamic in pictorial composition. As a result, it was possible to include squares and rectangles, tilted into the picture planes from their vertical axes.
The new style was referred to as Elementarism. The style, which was theoretically legitimised in a manifesto in 1926, was well received by many artists who had previously been influenced by Mondrian’s Neoplasticism.
The principles of Elementarism were also carried over into Concrete Art. The debate about the acceptability of the diagonal generated increasing tension between Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg, and led to Mondrian’s split with the De Stijl movement. Although Mondrian was less strictly bound to the rigid rules of Neoplasticism, he rejected the diagonal throughout his entire career.