Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.292
Theo van Doesburg was a founding member of the Dutch art movement De Stijl (The Style), formed in 1917. The group, which included artist Piet Mondrian, sought to express ideal spiritual harmony by radically simplifying form and color. This idea led to compositions based exclusively on vertical and horizontal elements and a palette limited to the three primary colors, as well as black and white. “Interior” appears more relaxed and painterly than many De Stijl works, and includes diagonals and curves, as well as strong earth tones. These features have led some scholars to date the work earlier than its 1919 inscription (which would place it in the period just prior to the self-imposed restrictions of full-fledged De Stijl).
“Interior” is one of only two works of the important De Stijl movement in the BMA’s holdings. Both were purchased by Saidie May in the late 1940s, proving her foresight as a collector of modernism.
The maid knew what “this guy” was all about. Research at the museum and libraries made her think the painting was real. There was no way to know for sure. She told her kids it was a copy of a corner of a real Renoir. They took crayons to paper to make their own replicas, thereby, in the maid’s opinion, leaving a trail. Uneasily she wiped it clean of fingerprints figuring otherwise her great grandkids would get themselves into trouble selling it thinking they were trying to pass it off as real.