Piet Mondrian

Dutch painter, born at Amersfoort and trained at the Amsterdam Academy.

He first followed the naturalism of the Haguc school but awareness of new tendencies and also an interest in Theosophy led him to become more selective from among the form’s before him and the colors on his palette.

By 1908, he was using the bright colors of fauvism, though in a flat and controlled manner, for paintings of isolated motifs’ church tower, windmill, tree. His Evolution triptych (1910-11) is a triple image of a woman’s spiritual development, close in pose and style to his Red Windmill (1910) Simplification led him to Cubism. The two versions of Still Life with a Ginger Pot (1911) are Cezannist and Cubist, but his Cubism is to do with structure, not with ambiguities of representation.

Early in 1912, he moved to Paris, where he dropped one of the ‘a’s from his original name, Mondriaan. In his new paintings, Cubism becomes a means of structuring and of recording degrees of visibility in observing buildings and trees.

By 1914, they appear abstract though still derived from seen motifs. That summer he visited Holland and was kept there by the outbreak of war. While it ran its course, he sought further clarification. The Tier and Ocean’ series of 1914, short vertical and horizontal black lines on white grounds, conveys UK scene by minimal means that still suggest observation.

In the years that followed he tried dispositions of soft and firm color rectangles with and without grids of grey or black lines, also diamond-shaped (square but hung so that their sides are diagonal) paintings of such grids alone, all now without a specific visual motif: he was searching for a universal language, capable of expressing experience through dynamic relationships of its elements.

In 1915, he had met Van Doesburg; in 1916 he met Van der Leck and began to write the essays that were published in De Stijl in 1917+, and brought together in Paris as neo-plasticism in 1920.

A 50th birthday exhibition in Amsterdam had little succees; a 1922-3 De Stijl exhibition shown in Paris brought art-world notice but little money. He had returned to Paris in 1919. In 1921 he attained his pictorial languuage asymmetrical arrangements of rectangles of primary color held by a structure of black bands on a white ground, using rectangular or square canvases mounted so as to project rather than be contained in a frame. Some of these are diamond-shaped again, and he wanted them hung higher than normal, according them a quasi-religious status. That cannot describe the visual force of all these icon-like paintings, the patiently worked density of his paint surface, the attention given to the location and varying breadth of the bands, also to hues and intensities of his primaries and whites, the amazing range of expression they carry.

Reduction led to discoveries, and it was also in accord with philosophical ideas, partly derived from those of the Theosophical thinker M.H.J. Schocnmaekers along with the Dutch term Nieuwe Bedding (neoplasticism). Art’s task is to teach mankind its potential for true harmony, not to promote greed and patriotism or stir longings. It offers models for a better world; when this exists art will no longer be needed.

From 1921, on he explored the vein he had opened up, in Paris until 1938, in London 1938-40, then in New York.

In 1925, he withdrew from De Stijl because of Van Doesburg’s call for the use of diagonal structures. Mondrian held to the vertical/horizontal but again demonstrated the use of the diamond format. In the mid-1920s his art began to find purchasers, mostly American and German.

He showed with Cercle et Carre and joined Abstraction-Creation. Acquainted with Ben Nicholson, he contributed to Circle. He lived an austere, disciplined life in rooms arranged in the manner of his paintings.

He had a passion for the latest dances and their music, and was perhaps the first painter to work to music from a gramophone.

New York evoked a late style of great virtuosity. He began to use bands of color which, weaving over and under each other, imply space. He interrupted the bands with little squares of color and placed larger color areas outside the bands’ control.

Popular music and city sensations contributed to this new dynamism, sensed as exaltation in Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1942-43) and in the unfinished diamond-format Victory Boogie-Woogie (1942).

Mondrian’s influence on European painters was marked in the 1920s, and on American painters in the 1940s. He is a major figure in constructive art. Moreover, he has been a model to artists intent on researching a particular area on the edges of art and design or art and ideas. The best collections of his work are in the Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo, and in the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague.

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