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The Netherlands 1883 – Switzerland 1931

Space-time construction #3 1923 drawings, drawing
Technique: gouache, graphite, ink
Impression: unique
sheet 44.0 h x 31.0 w cm
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program by Penelope Seidler AM in memory of Harry Seidler AC, 2010
Accession No: NGA 2010.14
Subject: Art style: De Stijl


  • Space-time construction #3 is a 1923 painting in gouache on paper by the renowned leader of De Stijl, Theo van Doesburg. It remained a constant inspiration for the extraordinarily gifted architect the late Harry Seidler AC during his years of practice. Seidler’s work, in turn, has had a great influence on architectural developments in Australia. Penelope Seidler has now generously donated Space-time construction #3 to the Gallery in memory of her husband.

    Harry Seidler first saw the work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the 1940s, when it was owned by American collectors Mr and Mrs Burton Tremaine. The impact of the van Doesburg work on Seidler was profound—something he outlined on numerous occasions in lectures and interviews. Its influence was evident in his designs for the Rose Seidler House in 1949–50. Seidler also mentioned van Doesburg’s importance for his Rushcutters Bay apartments of 1963–65 and the family home in Killara of 1966–67. In a lecture to the Royal Australian Institute of Architects on 8 October 1980, copies of which are held at the universities of Melbourne and South Australia, Seidler noted:

    [Concerning] the space that is implicit in this arrangement of divorced structural trays that carry floors, one can only recall the paintings of the 1920s such as this one [Space-time construction #3] by Theo van Doesburg, a remarkable man who seemed to have predicted what would/will concern twentieth-century man’s eyes about what he feels to express this spaciousness, this continuum [of space]. His painting reflects this continuum of being able to look down and being able to look above from any one space, sensing that there is something beyond, having an illusion of something more, that the space keeps on going. It is not ever restricted or confined. And this is particularly exploited later in my work of the 1960s in multistorey buildings. It makes sense both in terms of planning and expresses a visual quality that underlies my interpretation of modern architecture.


    The significance of the van Doesburg is outlined by Peter Blake and brilliantly captured in Max Dupain’s photographs in the 1973 publication Architecture for the new world: the work of Harry Seidler, which included an illustration and analysis of the van Doesburg. Seidler generously gave a group of Dupain’s photographs of his work to the National Gallery of Australia in 2001.

    Space-time construction #3 became a valued possession of the Seidlers after they acquired it from Berlin dealer J�rgen Holstein. Holstein had bought the van Doesburg at an auction of the Tremaine collection and had contacted Harry Seidler, having seen its importance to the architect in Blake’s book. The work was also coincidently created in the year of Seidler’s birth, 1923. As Penelope Seidler recently recalled, Harry was ‘thrilled’ to own ‘his most favourite artwork’. In turn, this most influential work in the recent history of architecture in Australia is now in the national collection for all Australians to own.

    Along with this van Doesburg gouache, Penelope Seidler has also generously donated a group of early European Modernist works on paper by artists associated with the Bauhaus. The gift includes postcards by Paul Klee, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, which were created to promote the Bauhaus exhibition in 1923 (again coinciding with the year of Harry Seidler’s birth). Penelope Seidler gave these to her husband on his birthday. They provide wonderful examples of the aesthetic and the passion the Seidlers shared as collectors over the years.

    Jane Kinsman
    Senior Curator, International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books
    in artonview, issue 62, winter 2010

    in artonview, issue 62, winter 2010