Piet Mondrian: life and works


Piet Mondrian

Pieter Cornelis «Piet» Mondriaan, after 1906 Mondrian (7 March 1872 – 1 February 1944), was a Dutch painter.

Mondrian was a contributor to the De Stijl art movement and group, which was founded by Theo van Doesburg. He evolved a non-representational form which he termed neoplasticism. This consisted of white ground, upon which he painted a grid of vertical and horizontal black lines and the three primary colors.

Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan, famously known as Piet Mondrian, was a Dutch painter who produced revolutionary artistic works in The Netherlands, France, England and United States, in the course of his lifetime. He is known to be a pioneer in the development of the modern abstract art — the form of art that was only just beginning to take its form while Mondrian was experimenting with different expressions.

Content

Piet Mondrian biography

Piet Mondrian art

Piet Mondrian facts

Piet Mondrian paintings

Piet Mondrian   quotes

Piet Mondrian biography

He was a chief proponent of the newly formed Dutch abstract art movement known as the De Stijl (The Style) art movement; the movement was founded by another great Dutch artist named Theo van Doesburg—Mondrian was highly influenced by him, while he was still searching the right spiritual expression for his artistic endeavors. In his paintings, he played with the simplest amalgamation of straight lines, right angles, primary colors, and black, white, and gray. The work produced as an effect of this possessed an intense ceremonial wholesomeness that exemplified his spiritual belief in a harmonious cosmos. A lot of work that Mondrian had left undone in Paris and London because he had to move to United States due to the threat of growing fascism in Europe, he finished it in Manhattan.

Childhood & Early Life

Mondrian was born in Amersfoort, Netherlands, to Pieter Cornelius Mondriaan. His father was a Head Teacher at a local school; he was also a qualified drawing teacher and was responsible in initiating his son into the world of art.

Mondrian attended the Academy for Fine Art, Amsterdam, in 1892 and later became a Primary Education teacher while practicing painting side by side. There are number of his paintings that are displayed in the Gemeente museum, Hauge, belonging to this period.

Career

Mondrian got himself deeply involved in the theosophical movement in 1908, launched by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and, in the following year, he joined the Dutch branch of the Theosophical Society. All of this influenced his paintings very much.

The Moderne Kunstkring exhibition of Cubism, Amsterdam in 1911 also made a deep impact on his paintings. His quest to find artistic simplification is clear with the two versions of his famous painting ‘Still Life with Ginger Pot’.

In 1911, he went to settle in Paris and also changed his name from ‘Mondriaan’ to ‘Mondrian’. During this time, his work also showed some influence of painters like, Picasso and Georges Braque.
Mondrian treated his art and paintings as his ultimate spiritual detections and in 1913, he increasingly started to merge his artistic pursuits and his theosophical studies into a theory, which symbolized his ultimate split from the representational painting.

In 1914, he visited The Netherlands but around this time the tension because of the impending World War I was brewing up, which forced him to stay. During this time he started a journal ‘De Stijl’ with Van Doesburg.

After publishing his essays in ‘De Stijl’, Mondrian published ‘De Nieuwe Beelding in de schilderkunst’ during 1917 and 1918. Through this book he tried to communicate his artistic theory, influences and justifications in writing rather than in painting.

After the war ended, he went back to France and it was here that he realized his love towards abstraction in art. From 1919, he started making grid-based paintings—a style that he still remains very renowned for.

In between 1920-1921, his painting style transformed and started taking a mature form. His paintings now had thick black lines delineating and separating the forms, which were larger and fewer in number.

During the 1920s, Mondrian started to produce the ‘lozenge’ works and his tendency to include abstract art in his painting technique is visible in these works. Lozenge paintings are square canvases tilted 45 degrees—hanging in a diamond shape.

‘Schilderij No. 1: Lozenge With Two Lines and Blue (1926)’ (also known as Composition With Blue and Composition in White and Blue), is currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—is the most minimalistic of his watercolors.

Because of growing fascism in Paris, Mondrian left for London in 1938 and after The Netherlands’ invasion, he moved to Manhattan, United States. A lot of work that he began in Paris and London, he finally finished in Manhattan.

He produced works in Manhattan, like: ‘Lozenge Composition With Four Yellow Lines (1933)’, a simple painting that portrayed something that Mondrian did not ever experiment with before — thick, colored lines instead of black ones.

His art took a new direction in Manhattan — his ‘Composition (1938)’ and ‘Place de la Concorde (1943)’ portrays how he took fragmentary black-line paintings from Paris and finished them in Manhattan by introducing lines of different colors.

Major Works

Mondrian evolved in his artistry over the years; he started with representational paintings but influenced with the De Stijl movement, he evolved into a non-representational painter—a form of art that he named neoplasticism and majorly contributed to it.

Personal Life & Legacy

Mondrian died in New York in 1944 because of pneumonia. He was buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Trivia

His memorial service was attended by artists like: Alexander Archipenko, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, etc.

At the age of 71, Mondrian moved into his second and final Manhattan studio at 15 East 59th Street—according to him it was the best space he had ever acquired for a studio.

His friends, artist Harry Holtzman, and another painter friend, Fritz Glarner, documented the studio on video and photographs before the studio was made available for a six-week exhibition.

In 2008, the Dutch television program ‘Andere Tijden’ telecast the only known movie footage with Mondrian.

Piet Mondrian art

Piet Mondrian was a famous abstract painter, born in the Netherlands in 1872. His most recognized works are abstract paintings of colored squares, rectangles, and thick black lines, some of which you’ll see farther down.

Of course Mondrian didn’t start out painting squares and rectangles—growing up during the tail end of Impressionism, Piet Mondrian’s first paintings were consistent with that time period, as well as the Post-impressionism of Van Gogh.

Later on he also took cues from Braque and Picasso, although he soon formed a very distinct style all his own.

In his early paintings, there are several instances of a definite Post-impressionist, emotive use of color. 

Molen (Mill); Mill in Sunlight, 1908, Oil on canvas, 114 x 87 cm, Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague.

But as Mondrian explored nature his own way, he gradually began to simplify and abstract the colors and shapes that he saw.

This process of simplification and reduction would continue until he wasn’t even painting from nature at all.

Avond (Evening); Red Tree by Piet Mondrian

The rise of Cubism also gave Mondrian a means to segment and reduce objects to their most basic forms.

Notice the brush strokes in this next painting—it’s about as expressive that way as he’d ever be.

Even so, you can see how he’s already using the strokes themselves to form horizontal rectangles and lines near the bottom of the painting.

And at this early stage of his artistic development there’s even an inkling of his future geometric abstracts in the dark black lines and almost completely non-representational images.

Trees by Piet Mondrian

With additional experimentation, a sense of structure began to assert itself through his paintings.

More horizontal and vertical lines appeared, with the occasional curves and diagonals. Later on, of course, Mondrian wouldn’t have anything to do with lines that weren’t straight.

Tableau No. 2 Composition No

By this time, Mondrian’s work was fully non-representational, and any abstracting he’d done from nature was in the past.

He began to create all of his paintings using a grid-like format, painting squares and rectangles of mostly solid colors.

At the same time he began to shift away from neutral and intermediate colors to primary hues, especially avoiding green.

Mondrian’s most famous works are his paintings made up of pure red, yellow, and blue, as well as black and white, but for a while he used shades of gray as well, and even his lines were dark gray instead of pure black.

Composition A by Piet Mondrian

Over time, though, his artwork became cleaner and more simple.

Strong fields of color dominated his paintings, separated by thick black lines and sections of pure white.

Then white itself became the focus, along with a judicious use of accent colors (still primaries, however) and the same black lines to break up the space.

Composition with Yellow Patch by Piet Mondrian

Mondrian then began experimenting with double and triple lines, criss-crossing his canvases with more black than ever before.

That experimentation eventually led to a major adjustment on his part — do you see anything different in the next painting?

Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow by Piet Mondrian

It’s fairly subtle in that piece, actually. Mondrian painted smaller squares of color in between a few of his double lines, without any black bounding their edges.

And although it might not jump off the screen to us, unbounded color was a serious departure for Mondrian, indicating a big change of direction for him.

It actually culminated in Mondrian’s last and greatest works, which he made near the end of his life after moving to New York.

This final piece, entitled Broadway Boogie Woogie, reflected not only the bustling sights and sounds of New York City, but also one last leap forward in his evolution as an artist.

Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian

As you can see, Mondrian completely emptied his canvas of any black lines, using instead squares of pure color to separate and delineate the larger blocks of white in the painting.

It would have been interesting to see Mondrian’s style continue to evolve, especially since he’d just made such a big stylistic change—but unfortunately he died shortly after completing Broadway Boogie Woogie, in 1944.

Piet Mondrian left behind about 250 paintings, many of which are compositional masterpieces in their own right. The most fascinating thing to me about Mondrian’s work, though, is his single-minded devotion to his art.

Through the entire first half of the 20th century, while art movements came and went, Mondrian stayed true to his path, ever searching for the purest form of abstract art.

Piet Mondrian facts

1. Mondrian considered his studio more than just a “workshop”

The artist was always looking for creating his own private comfort zone. Besides using his studio as his workshops, as artists tend to do, Mondrian also moved out his social life into the sphere of his atelier. That’s where he always entertained his guests, be it friends, clients, collectors and even the press. It was in fact very unusual to see photographs of the artist not taken inside one of his studios.

2. Mondrian was a private but Social person

Maybe not surprisingly after reading the previous point, Mondrian was a very private person who liked to have control over his day-to-day life. He wasn’t a fan of surprises and, therefore, he refused to get a telephone for as long as possible. Also for visiting him you needed to send a letter first instead of just showing up unannounced. But at the same time he liked to entertain people, was a fantastic host, very friendly and he loved jazz and dancing (although many accounts say that he was terrible at it, as also testified by Peggy Guggenheim). You just had to know when was the right time for each and every activity.

3. Mondrian Turning Abstract Created Conflicts

Mondrian – born in 1872 in Amersfoort in Central Netherlands – was under the patronage of his Uncle Frits for a long time, who also sponsored his art studies. Frits Mondriaan was a self-thought and fairly successful artist himself. During the first decades of his career, while travelling back and forth through the country, Piet Mondrian painted almost exclusively landscapes. But soon after he turned thirty he started his experiments with abstract art. His uncle and the rest of the family, being strong traditionalists and devout Calvinists, disapproved with this move, at the end resulting in a conflict that never got solved again.

4. Mondrian or Mondriaan?

Among the facts about Piet Mondrian that most often gets asked is about the spelling of his name. The artist’s original Dutch name is spelled with double ‘a’: Mondriaan. However, he officially changed his name in 1912 when he moved to Paris, although he started signing his paintings as Mondrian already prior to that. When the change actually happened isn’t precisely documented (as far as we know) and not known what was the major driving force behind it. Nonetheless, it coincided with the conflict described above with his uncle, but it’s more likely that it was mainly driven by his desire to break lose from the past and be regarded an international artist.

5. Mondrian’s Vertical and HoriZontal Lines from the theophysical belief

The style developed by Mondrian, neoplasticism, is characterised by the use of the three primary colours red, blue and yellow (black and white are not considered as colours). What might be less known is that the lines are in fact the driving force in the composition and his aim was to create a balance between the vertical and horizontal lines: the horizontal lines represent femininity and worldly qualities, while the vertical lines are the symbol for masculinity and spiritual. An important fact to know; he never-ever used a ruler for getting the lines straight and what seems the work of quick execution usually could take several months to get finished.

6. Mondrian Was a Theosophical Believer

The interpretation of the lines were not just a pure artistic whim of Mondrian’s. The interpretation was the result of his spirituality and his involvement in the theosophical movement. The main characteristics of theosophy is the idea to understand the mysteries of the universe and the bonds that unite it with humanity, and the divine. Mondrian’s involvement in the Theosophical Society got strong in 1908, not surprisingly coinciding with his move towards more and more abstract art.

7. Mondrian Never married

Mondrian was seemingly most of all interested in his art – and himself. Although there are many accounts witnessing to his ardent interest for women, he never married. In fact the closest he was seems to be during his final years in the Netherlands, prior to moving to Paris. While his change in style turned into the abstract, likely heavily influenced by his admiration for the cubists Picasso and Braque, he decided to move to Paris. When he jumped on a train right before Christmas 1911, not only did he turn his back on his established career in his home country, but also to his fiancee. Scholars later speculated that his complicated upbringing with stern family circumstances might have contributed to this, but he notoriously remained very private about it and there are no testimonies of his own thoughts on the subject.

8. Mondrian and de Stijl – Not Without the War

Mondrian moved to Paris in 1912, but already in 1914 he ended up being back in the Netherlands because of the dreaded First World War. While his time back in the country was in general characterised by reluctance and little joy, he came in contact with the Dutch avant-garde movement and especially Theo van Doesburg. Van Doesburg founded the art magazine ‘de Stijl’ and the movement that followed took the art-world by storm. Mondrian got strongly involved by writing several articles for the magazine and although not being the main face of the movement at the time, his neoplasticism – the red, blue and yellow composition – soon became the symbol for the movement.

9. “I paint Modern”

If it is faith, destiny or the intention of some higher forces, but the name Piet Mondrian is a perfect anagram for the very appropriate phrase of “I Paint Modern”. One of the small but curious mysteries of life.

10. The Final: Victory Boogie-Woogie

The last painting that Mondrian worked on is the unfinished Victory Boogie-Woogie, painted in New York and nowadays to be found at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. Mondrian fled from Europe to New York in 1940, strongly fearing the Nazis who condemned his style. In New York the artist changed his style to a more vital one, influenced by real-life new York and the jazz music scene. He called this style boogie-woogie. His famous Broadway Boogie-Woogie, today at MoMa, is the most famous work from that era. Mondrian passed away on February 1st 1944 after a short struggle with pneumonia.

Piet Mondrian quotes

«I believe it is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true.»

«Art is not made for anybody and is, at the same time, for everybody.»

«Every true artist has been inspired more by the beauty of lines and color and the relationships between them than by the concrete subject of the picture.»

«The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel.»

«The emotion of beauty is always obscured by the appearance of the object. Therefore the object must be eliminated from the picture.»

«To approach the spiritual in art, one will make as little use as possible of reality, because reality is opposed to the spiritual.»

«I construct lines and color combinations on a flat surface, in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness. Nature (or, that which I see) inspires me, puts me, as with any painter, in an emotional state so that an urge comes about to make something, but I want to come as close as possible to the truth and abstract everything from that, until I reach the foundation (still just an external foundation) of things.»

«This new plastic idea will ignore the particulars of appearance, that is to say, natural form and colour. On the contrary, it should find its expression in the abstraction of form and colour, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary color.»

«The new plastic idea thus correctly represents actual aesthetic relationships. To the modern artist, it is a natural consequence of all the plastic ideas of the past. This is particularly true for painting, which is the art least bounded to contingencies. The picture can be a pure reflection of life, in its deepest essence.»

«Observing sea, sky and stars, I sought to indicate their plastic function through a multiplicity of crossing verticals and horizontals. Impressed by the vastness of Nature, I was trying to express its expansion, rest and unity.»

«In past times when one lived in contact with nature, abstraction was easy; it was done unconsciously. Now in our denaturalized age abstraction becomes an effort.»

«The colored planes, as much by position and dimension as by the greater value given to color, plastically express only relationships and not forms.»

«To approach the spiritual in art, one will make as little use as possible of reality, because reality is opposed to the spiritual.»

«Masculine and feminime, vertical and horizontal.»

«By the unification of architecture, sculpture and painting a new plastic reality will be created.»

«Art will become the product of another duality in man: the product of cultivated externality and of inwardness deepened and more conscious. As a pure representation of the human mind, art will express itself in an aesthetically purified, that is to say, abstract form.»

«Every true artist has been inspired more by the beauty of lines and color and the relationships between them than by the concrete subject of the picture.»

«Vertical and horizontal lines are the expression of two opposing forces; they exist everywhere and dominate everything; their reciprocal action constitutes ‘life’. I recognized that the equilibrium of any particular aspect of nature rests on the equivalence of its opposites.»

References and useful Resources

  1. thefamouspeople.com
  2. emptyeasel.com
  3. blog.artweekenders.com
  4. artquotes.net
Piet Mondrian: life and works
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