Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter, who, along with Kazimir Malevich, is considered to be one of the founders of abstraction. He had deeply influenced the development of contemporary western painting with his works and theoretical pieces.


Pieter Cornelius Mondrian was born on March 7, 1872, in the city of Amersfoot. Being raised in the artistic family (his father was a teacher of drawing in a local school and uncle studied at the Hague School of artists), the boy from early on decided to dedicate himself to painting. Initially he wanted to follow in the track of the father, so in 1892 the young man set off for the Academy for Fine Art in Amsterdam, where he studied under the guidance of August Allebe.

In 1895 – 1897 financial difficulties forced Mondrian to switch to the evening classes, as he painted portraits and copied pieces of old masters in museums. Apart from that work to earn money for living, Piet found time to practice en plein air on a riverbank or in a field; yet his landscapes still had a significant flavor of academism (“Haystack with willow trees”, 1897 – 1898).

Upbrought in the Calvinistic family, Piet Mondrian had been hesitating between profession of an artist and a preacher, before entering the Academy. His inclination to mysticism were supported by a young adherent of theosophy Albert van den Briel, he met in 1899. It was him, who prompted the artist to enter a theosophical society. Hence, subjects of that kind occupied a major place in his art.

Early works

After a short journey to Spain, the master travels across Brabant, where decided to settle down. In January 1904 he moved to Uden – a small village. It was a period, when first true signs of changes in his paintings appeared. Later in “Natural Reality and Abstract Reality” Mondrian wrote that he was impressed by the architectonity of space organization in the farms of Brabant (leveling and “refraining” of similar forms in nature and buildings). This harmony he underlined in his pictures with expressionistic usage of color (“Small farm on nistelrode”, 1904).

In 1905 Piet Mondrian returned to Amsterdam and started selling some of his paintings and gave private lessons. In 1908 he spent summer in Domburg in Zeeland. There, after such important compositions as “The red cloud” (1907 – 1909) and “Woods near Oele” (1908), he painted sceneries with churches, dunes and sea. Besides, the artist got acquainted with Jan Toorp and his circle, who had inspired Mondrian to experiment with Pointillistic technique (“Lighthouse in Westkapelle”, 1910). However, it’s important to notice that during all that period the author didn’t limit himself with one style – he was preoccupied with the problem of stylization and schematization of forms in general (“Dune V”, 1909).

The triptych “Evolution” (1910 – 1911) demonstrates combination of theosophical symbolism with roughness of forms and lines. Anyway, gradually the master rejects from figurative images: the first signs of that transformation we can see in his “Gray tree” (1912), which, despite curvy lines, give us a hint at future Mondrian’s passion to lucid geometric forms.

Parisian period

After participating at the exhibition of the Circle of Modern Art together with Sluyters, Toorp and Klickert at the municipal museum in Amsterdam, in January 1912 Piet Mondrian left for Paris. And though he led here quite isolated life in his studio on rue du Départ, works of 1912 – 1913 were marked by influence of Picasso and Cubism. In parallel, the artist continued the series of variations of the tree motif (“The Flowering Apple Tree”, 1912).

The master preferred graphism, making color only a secondary mean. “Nude”, “Female figure”, “Still life with ginger pot” (1912) witness the growing attention of Mondrian to right angles. After that Piet rejected three-dimensional modeling of objects, which seemed to be only a pretense for the images that consisted solely of lines (“Composition 7”, 1913, “Oval composition”, 1913). Shortly before his departing from Paris, the author returned color to his canvases again (“Composition No.9, Blue Façade”, 1913). Since that time Mondrian considered two issues – painting surface and allocation of color plans. The reached stage of abstract art didn’t satisfy him anymore.

Return to Netherlands. Approaching to abstraction

Called back to Netherlands to his dying father, Piet Mondrian stayed there and began his searches for universal painting language. After returning to Domburg, the master completed his old serieses, interpreting them with symbos of “+” and “‑” that tine. This combination of vertical and horizontal rhythms represented the spiritual and material unity of female and male origins (“Composition No. 10 Pier and Ocean”, 1914).

Mondrian’s meeting with Bart van der Leck, who painted in one plane with pure colors, in 1916 played a great role. The master confessed recognized der Leck’s considerable impact, so after finish his series with pluses and minuses (“Composition with lines”, 1917), the artist started painting flatly with rectangles with pure colors (“Composition III with Color Planes”, 1917), often superimposed and with clearly outlines edges (“Composition with Color Planes and Gray Lines”, 1918). Those images seem to be the fragment of a bigger ensemble.

Meanwhile, Piet Mondrian got acquainted with Theo van Doesburg, who was the founder of “De Stijl” magazine; the latter had been published in October 1917 for the first time. Painter Vilmos Huszár, architects Gerrit Rietveld and Robert van’t Hoff actively participated in its creation. Mondrian used “De Stijl” as a platform for declaring his theoretical conceptions, explained in the articles, published between 1917 and 1922.

In 19118 the artist rendered a series of images with diamonds, in which the system of perpendicular lines forms modules (“Composition with Grid 3: Lozenge composition”, 1918). The idea of splitting the surface into modules was developed further in such paintings as “Composition light color planes with grey contours” (1919). The author tried to reach the balance not with symmetry but with oppositions of color (primal red, blue and yellow) and not-color (black, white, gray), horizonatal and vertical lines, of scales. Piet Mondrian called that concept “Neoplasticism”.

Between wars

In July 1919 Piet Mondrian returned to Paris. That year he elaborated principles of Neoplasticism and embodied them in canvases with a system of perpendicular black lines, which bounded the areas of pure color. He made around 70 pieces in that style during 12 years, sometimes moving color areas to the edges of canvas (“Composition with Red Yellow Blue and Black”, 1921), using non-colors and varying the width of the divisions between forms (“Composition No.1: Lozenge with Four Lines”, 1930). Each of the innovations was repeated and transformed in the painter’s later works.

After presenting his book “Neoplasticism” in 1920, Mondrian took part in various group shows in Paris, Hague, Amsterdam and London. In 1922 the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam organized Piet’s retrospective exhibiton, dedicate to the master’s 50th birthday. In 1924 after a conflict with van Doesburg, he distanced from the “De Stijl” group. In five years he was accepted to the “Circle and square” association, established by one of Mondrian’s first biogrpahers Michele Seuphor and Joaquín Torres-García, and later – to the Abstraction-Creation group in 1931.

Works of that period reveal tendency towards dominating of white spaces and thinning of the lines (“Composition No. I with Red and Black”, 1929). In 1933 Piet Mondrian producec “Lozenge Composition with Four Yellow Lines”, where he used for the first time colored divisions for the areas of white space. It was a new stage in his artistic system, which had been shaped up for nine years. Around the middle 1930s the master started using double lines, accenting the idea of grate as the base of his paintings (“Composition in Black and White with Double Lines”, 1934).

Last decade

In September 1938, probably having a presentiment of the approaching war, Piet Mondrian moved from Paris to London, where worked over large-scale compositions with numerous parallel and perpendicular line and colored spacespushed off to the perimeter of canvas. They were called after the locations of the city, like “Trafalgar Square” (1939 – 1943) or “Place de la Concorde” (1938 – 1943). Most of those pieces he completed in New York, where he refuged in September 1940 after bombings of London. Mondrian was warmly greeted there and in January 1942 he had his first solo exhibition at the Valentine Dudensing Gallery.

In New York the artist shifted from black gates of lines in his compositions to the colored ones (“New York I”, 1942). Finally Piet split those dividing lines into colored sections, sometimes merging them with colored planes of the similar hues (“Broadway Boogie Woogie”, 1942). This way the painting’s structure became less austere. All in all, in his last unfinished work “Victory Boogie Woogie” (1944) Mondrian completely “ruined” the compositional grid.

Piet Mondrian died on February 1 from pneumonia. He was one of the most sensitive to then-contemporary pulse of life artists, who tried to capture the rhythm and atmosphere of urban life, where he saw the echoes of universal music and harmony.

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