Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian

Dutch Painter

Born: March 7, 1872 - Amersfoort, The Netherlands
Died: February 1, 1944 - New York, New York
"I wish to approach truth as closely as is possible, and therefore I abstract everything until I arrive at the fundamental quality of objects."
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Piet Mondrian Signature
"The emotion of beauty is always obscured by the appearance of the object. Therefore, the object must be eliminated from the picture."
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Piet Mondrian Signature
"To approach the spiritual in art, one will make as little use as possible of reality, because reality is opposed to the spiritual."
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Piet Mondrian Signature
"I don't want pictures, I want to find things out."
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Piet Mondrian Signature
"Even where the elements are perfectly regular, the order of the whole may be extremely elisuve. The precise grid of black lines in a painting by Mondrian, so firmly ordered, is an open and unpredictable whole without symmetry or commensurable parts. The example of his austere art has educated a younger generation in the force and niceties of variation with the minimum of elements."
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Meyer Schapiro

Summary of Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian, one of the founders of the Dutch modern movement De Stijl, is recognized for the purity of his abstractions and methodical practice by which he arrived at them. He radically simplified the elements of his paintings to reflect what he saw as the spiritual order underlying the visible world, creating a clear, universal aesthetic language within his canvases. In his best known paintings from the 1920s, Mondrian reduced his shapes to lines and rectangles and his palette to fundamental basics pushing past references to the outside world toward pure abstraction. His use of asymmetrical balance and a simplified pictorial vocabulary were crucial in the development of modern art, and his iconic abstract works remain influential in design and familiar in popular culture to this day.

Accomplishments

  • A theorist and writer, Mondrian believed that art reflected the underlying spirituality of nature. He simplified the subjects of his paintings down to the most basic elements, in order to reveal the essence of the mystical energy in the balance of forces that governed nature and the universe.
  • Mondrian chose to distill his representations of the world to their basic vertical and horizontal elements, which represented the two essential opposing forces: the positive and the negative, the dynamic and the static, the masculine and the feminine. The dynamic balance of his compositions reflect what he saw as the universal balance of these forces.
  • Mondrian's singular vision for modern art is clearly demonstrated in the methodical progression of his artistic style from traditional representation to complete abstraction. His paintings evolve in a logical manner, and clearly convey the influence of various modern art movements such as Luminism, Impressionism, and most importantly, Cubism.
  • Mondrian, and the artists of De Stijl, advocated pure abstraction and a pared down palette in order to express a utopian ideal of universal harmony in all of the arts. By using basic forms and colors, Mondrian believed that his vision of modern art would transcend divisions in culture and become a new common language based in the pure primary colors, flatness of forms, and dynamic tension in his canvases.
  • Mondrian's development of Neo-Plasticism became one of the key documents of abstract art. In the movement he detailed his vision of artistic expression in which "plasticism" referred to the action of forms and colors on the surface of the canvas as a new method for representing modern reality.

Biography of Piet Mondrian

Detail of <i>Victory Boogie</i> (1942-44) by Piet Mondrian

Mondrian said: "The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel." and thus, he led a life of modernist experimentation, augmenting existing trends and later, defining his own language.

Important Art by Piet Mondrian

Progression of Art
The Gray Tree (1912)
1912

The Gray Tree

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)
1915

Pier and Ocean (Composition No. 10)

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

Composition with Color Planes (1917)
1917

Composition with Color Planes

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 - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

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

Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue

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)
1926

Tableau I: Lozenge with Four Lines and Gray

Following the development of his mature Neoplastic 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 - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1942-43)
1942-43

Broadway Boogie-Woogie

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 - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Piet Mondrian Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 15 Oct 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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