Piet Mondrian

Dutch Painter

Movement: De Stijl

Born: March 7, 1872 - Amersfoort, The Netherlands

Died: February 1, 1944 - New York, New York

Important Art by Piet Mondrian

The below artworks are the most important by Piet Mondrian - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Gray Tree (1912)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Gray Tree exemplifies Mondrian's early transition toward abstraction, and his application of Cubist principles to represent the landscape. The three-dimensional tree has been reduced to lines and planes using a limited palette of grays and black. This painting is one in a series of works Mondrian created, in which the early trees are naturalistically represented, while the later works have become progressively more abstract. In the later paintings, the lines of the tree are reduced until the form of the tree is barely discernable and becomes secondary to the overall composition of vertical and horizontal lines. Here, there is still an allusion to the tree as it appears in nature, but one can already see Mondrian's interest in reducing the form to a structured organization of lines. This step was invaluable to Mondrian's development of his mature style of pure abstraction.

Oil on canvas - Gemeentemuseum, The Hague

Pier and Ocean (Composition No. 10) (1915)

Artwork description & Analysis: Pier and Ocean marks a definitive step in Mondrian's path toward pure abstraction. Here he has eliminated diagonal and curved lines as well as color; the only true reference to nature is found within the title and the horizontal lines that allude to the horizon and the verticals that evoke the pilings of the pier. The rhythms created by the alternating lines and their varying lengths presages Mondrian's mature dynamic, depicting an asymmetrical balance as well as the pulse of the ocean waves. Reviewing this work, Theo van Doesburg wrote: "Spiritually, this work is more important than the others. It conveys the impression of peace; the stillness of the soul." Mondrian had begun to translate what he saw as the underlying ordered patterns of nature into a pure abstract language.

Oil on canvas - State Museum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo

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Composition with Color Planes (1917)

Artwork description & Analysis: While still in Holland during World War I, Mondrian helped found the group of artists and architects called De Stijl, and it was during this period he refined his style of abstraction even further. Composition with Color Planes shows his break with Analytic Cubism and exemplifies the principles he expressed in his essay "The New Plastic in Painting." Here, Mondrian has moved away from the Cubist palette of ochres, grays, and browns, opting instead for muted reds, yellows and blues - a clear precursor to his mature palette that focused on primary colors. The blocks of color float on a white ground and no longer reference a physical object in nature such as a tree or building, while all reference to illusionistic depth has been eliminated. The composition is based on color and balance and gives even weight to all areas of the picture surface, moving toward the precise balance of his mature canvases.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue (1921)

Artwork description & Analysis: In the 1920s, Mondrian began to create the definitive abstract paintings for which he is best known. He limited his palette to white, black, gray, and the three primary colors, with the composition constructed from thick, black horizontal and vertical lines that delineated the outlines of the various rectangles of color or reserve. The simplification of the pictorial elements was essential for Mondrian's creation of a new abstract art, distinct from Cubism and Futurism. The assorted blocks of color and lines of differing width create rhythms that ebb and flow across the surface of the canvas, echoing the varied rhythm of modern life. The composition is asymmetrical, as in all of his mature paintings, with one large dominant block of color, here red, balanced by distribution of the smaller blocks of yellow, blue gray, and white around it. This style has been quoted by many artists and designers in all aspects of culture since the 1920s.

Oil on canvas - Gemeentemuseum, The Hague

Tableau I: Lozenge with Four Lines and Gray (1926)

Artwork description & Analysis: Following the development of his mature Neo-Plastic style, Mondrian sought to express a more dynamic rhythm in his abstractions. He began producing "lozenge" paintings (as early as 1919) in order to create a more vibrant tension on the picture plane. The "lozenge" paintings are known as such because of their diamond-shape that results from Mondrian using an unconventional orientation for his square canvases, turning them on a forty-five degree angle with a corner at the top. His innovation introduced the diagonal line of the canvas edge into his grid of horizontal and vertical lines. In this particular composition, the lines appear to extend beyond the edges of the canvas as they intersect with the diagonals at varied intervals. This particular example relies upon only four lines of varied thickness, bisecting the gray picture plane in order to express Mondrian's ideal of active balance. By shifting the orientation of the canvas, Mondrian provided an important precedent for the shaped canvases of the Minimalists in the 1960s. With the complete absence of color in this painting, Mondrian has also prefigured the Minimalists' interest in pure form and favoring of gray, white, and other muted colors.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1942-43)

Artwork description & Analysis: This canvas presents the viewer with the culmination in Mondrian's life-long pursuit of conveying the order that underlies the natural world through purely abstract forms on a flat picture plane. Broadening the use of his basic pictorial vocabulary of lines, squares and primary colors, the black grid has been replaced by lines of color interspersed with blocks of solid color. This, and his other late abstract paintings, show a new, revitalized energy that was directly inspired by the vitality of New York City and the tempo of jazz music. The asymmetrical distribution of the brightly colored squares within the yellow lines echoes the varied pace of life in the bustling metropolis, one can almost see the people hurrying down the sidewalk as taxi cabs hustle from stop-light to stop-light. Broadway Boogie-Woogie not only alludes to life within the city, but also heralds New York's developing role as the new center of modern art after World War II. Mondrian's last complete painting demonstrates his continued stylistic innovation while remaining true to his theories and format.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

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Related Art and Artists

Starry Night (1889)

Artist: Vincent van Gogh

Artwork description & Analysis: Starry Night is often considered to be Van Gogh's pinnacle achievement. Unlike most of his works, Starry Night was painted from memory, and not out in the landscape. The emphasis on interior, emotional life is clear in his swirling, tumultuous depiction of the sky - a radical departure from his previous, more naturalistic landscapes. Here, Van Gogh followed a strict principal of structure and composition in which the forms are distributed across the surface of the canvas in an exact order to create balance and tension amidst the swirling torsion of the cypress trees and the night sky. The result is a landscape rendered through curves and lines, its seeming chaos subverted by a rigorous formal arrangement. Evocative of the spirituality Van Gogh found in nature, Starry Night is famous for advancing the act of painting beyond the representation of the physical world.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art

Table, Napkin, and Fruit (A Corner of the Table) (1895-1900)

Artist: Paul Cézanne

Artwork description & Analysis: After studying Dutch and French Old Master still life painting at the Musée du Louvre and other Paris galleries, Cézanne formulated his own semi-sculptural approach to still lifes. Typically strewn across an upturned tabletop, Cézanne's pears, peaches, and other pictorial elements seem at once to rest on a solid, wooden plank and yet float across the surface of the canvas like a new kind of calligraphy. As if to press home that point, Cézanne typically includes chairs, wooden screens, water pitchers, and wine bottles to suggest that the gaze of the viewer rise vertically up the canvas, rather than plunge deep within any implied corner of a real kitchen.

Oil on canvas, 47 x 56 cm (18 1/4 x 22 in) - The Barnes Foundation, Pennsylvania

Artwork Images

Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle (1914)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Artwork description & Analysis: Picasso's Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle is typical of his Synthetic Cubism, in which he uses various means - painted dots, silhouettes, grains of sand - to allude to the depicted objects. This combination of painting and mixed media is an example of the way Picasso "synthesized" color and texture - synthesizing new wholes after mentally dissecting the objects at hand. During his Analytic Cubist phase Picasso had suppressed color, so as to concentrate more on the forms and volumes of the objects, and this rationale also no doubt guided his preference for still life throughout this phase. The life of the café certainly summed up modern Parisian life for the artists - it was where he spent a good deal of time talking with other artists - but the simple array of objects also ensured that questions of symbolism and allusion might be kept under control.

Oil on canvas - National Gallery, London

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