Piet Mondrian a pioneering modernist?

Piet Mondrian a pioneering modernist?

An abstract artist whose work was rooted in the language of landscape, Mondrian pared back his canvases to convey only essential forms — a process which, he said, was ‘not the creation of another reality, but the true vision of reality’

Mondrian’s first job after graduation was drawing bacteria at the Leiden University in the Netherlands

He was never a commercially successful artist. Mondrian’s early works were landscapes in the Hague School tradition: that is, broadly naturalistic scenes of the Dutch countryside, characterised by their subdued colour and muted light. He particularly liked to paint windmills on and near the Gein, a small waterway outside Amsterdam.

For much of his long career, he produced watercolours of flowers as a sideline to support himself.

He only ever had one dedicated collector: Salomon Slijper, a Dutch real estate developer. Slijper acquired work mostly made before the end of the First World War and, on his death in 1971, bequeathed it all to the Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Numbering almost 300 pieces, that museum’s Mondrian collection is today the largest in the world.

He was inspired by Fauvism, Pointillism, Luminism and Van Gogh

The end of the first decade of the 20th century was a noteworthy time for Mondrian. He was beginning to create art that might be called progressive.

Fauvism, Pointillism, Luminism and Vincent van Gogh all proved sources of inspiration — as can be seen in a painting such as 1908’s Windmill in Sunlight (part of Slijper’s bequest to the Kunstmuseum Den Haag).

In these years, Mondrian also paid regular visits to Domburg, a coastal town in the province of Zeeland. He produced numerous paintings of its seaside, sand dunes and piers. His palette had grown markedly lighter and more colourful than before, his brushwork sketchier and more spontaneous, and there was a definite move away from naturalism towards abstraction.

He settled in the French capital and became an adherent of Cubism, the style recently pioneered by Picasso and Georges Braque.

Mondrian’s Cubist work tended to be more abstract than that of the founding duo. His subject (often a tree) is commonly unrecognisable, reduced to interlocking black lines and planes of colour.

He created his most famous work while living in Paris

Refining his previous practice, he now hit upon a signature style: grid paintings consisting of horizontal and vertical black lines, which created rectangles and squares that he filled with passages of a primary colour, white or grey.

The orthogonal structure translates the effervescence of New York.

In New York, architectural gigantism, perpendicular urbanism and frantic traffic have a great impact on exiled European artists, just like Mondrian, who arrives there in 1940. This work is typical of Mondrian’s last research, after his neo-plastic period and black grids. His vertical and horizontal lines vibrate with colour, creating a luminous optical dynamic and an impression of movement. The dense criss-crossing over the entire surface magnifies the USA’s “new energy”, boosted by the discovery of the frantic boogie-woogie beat.

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