Piet Mondrian: Breaking it Down
Piet Mondrian, is known for his paintings featuring black lines and blocks of primary colors. However, he actually began his artistic career as a landscape artist.
By: Andrea Mulder-Slater
Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan was born in 1872, at the Kortegracht in Amersfoort.
The man who was later called Piet Mondrian, is best known for his stark modern compositions featuring black lines and blocks of primary colors. However, this Dutch painter actually began his artistic career as a landscape artist.
The move Mondrian made away from realistic ideals towards Cubist beliefs placed him among the most highly influential artists of all time.
In the beginning, Mondrian painted the fields, farms and canals around Amsterdam and his works at this time reveal a great love of trees and nature. This can be seen in the 1910 watercolor painting “Amaryllis,” in which bold colored flowers are beautifully arranged on the paper.
Another painting, “Avond; Red Tree” of 1908 is a strong image of an autumn tree – more realistic than abstract.
Mondrian then began to move toward a more linear style, as seen in the 1912 painting “Gray Tree.” Here, the form of a tree is evident, but the viewer is required to work just a little harder in order to see the branches through the many planes and abstract slices of paint.
In 1915, the Dutch Magazine De Stijl (born of the friendship between Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg) was established. During that time, Mondrian could be found spending his time painting canvases where the colors were applied in patches and the horizontal and vertical lines became absolutely straight. Although these paintings were not readily accepted by the public, Mondrian did not abandon the style he termed Neo-Plasticism. He was one to always stick firmly to his beliefs and was not above saying things like, “The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel.”
An example of Mondrian’s Neo-plastic style can be seen in the 1921 painting, “Composition with Large Blue Plane, Red, Black, Yellow and Gray,” in which black lines create different sections on the canvas which in turn are painted in the primary colors in their purest forms.
Now, it should also be mentioned that in various works created by Mondrian, influences from other artists can be seen and felt. In “Mill in Sunlight” an almost pointillist technique (ala Georges Seurat or Alfred Sisley) was used.
In addition, some might say that Mondrian’s “Still Life with Ginger Pot” is entirely similar to the work of Paul Cezanne, further confirming the fact that Mondrian went through a number of progressions before arriving at the style of painting he is so well known for today.
This is perhaps why I enjoy Mondrian’s work. Even though he could have easily continued creating realistic landscapes that were pleasing to the general public, he subjected himself to ridicule and lived with very minimal means in order to paint the way he felt he should. Bottom line, he practiced what he preached – and for that he is held in high esteem.
Mondrian’s cleverness was not fully recognized or appreciated until after his death in 1944. Now, his works are highly sought after and numerous exhibitions of his art have been held in cities worldwide. This modest man was one of the great artists of the first half of the 20th century, influencing architectural, painting and sculptural movements.
Kathleen Dreier – American Theatrical Producer (and a patron of Mondrian) – expressed grand feelings when she wrote,
“Holland has given the world three great painters who, through typical products of the country, have transcended all National boundaries by the vigor of their personalities. The first was Rembrandt, the second was Van Gogh. The third is Mondrian.”
Piet Mondrian: A Quick Timeline
1872: Piet Mondrian is born Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan at the Kortegracht in Amersfoort
1892-1897: Mondrian studies intermittently at the Amsterdam Academy and briefly considers becoming a minister of religion
1905: Mondrian is creating naturalistic paintings
1907-1910: Mondrian’s work takes on a symbolist character as he is influenced by Jan Toorop and the ideas of Theosophy. He also begins experimenting with a loose Neo-Impressionistic technique using blobs, rather than dots of color.
1912: Mondrian moves to Paris where he is later influenced by Cubism.
1914: The War makes it impossible for Mondrian to continue working exclusively in Paris so he divides his time between the Netherlands and Paris. At this point he had virtually eliminated curved lines from his work
1915: Mondrian meets Theo van Doesburg and later helps him found the De Stijl association. Mondrian begins working in what he calls the Neo-Plastic style.
1920: By this time, Mondrian has reduced all images and colors down to solid black lines (horizontal or vertical) and the primary colors.
1919-1938: Mondrian lives in Paris and in 1931 joins the Abstraction Creation group.
Early 1920s: Mondrian struggles to make end meet and sometimes paints watercolor flowers to make money.
Late 1920s: Mondrian becomes known to a group of International admirers.
1922: A retrospective of his work is organized at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam
1938: Mondrian leaves Paris for London
1940: Mondrian moves to New York to escape WWII. While in New York he develops a more colorful style.
1944: Mondrian dies in New York City leaving behind no wife and no children.