Piet Mondrian, 1871-1944
By Anna Niederlander
These are the words of Piet Mondrian. Mondrian’s desire to find the spiritual meaning behind the visible world was conveyed through a technique of radical simplification and abstraction. Most know him for his paintings composed of straight lines and primary colors, and thus the thought that he started as an impressionistic landscape painter is quite bizarre. Possibly no artist underwent such a great transition in artistic style as Mondrian.
He was born on March 7th, 1872, in Amersfoort, Netherlands and lived in a positive environment where his family encouraged him to be creative from a very young age. In 1892 to 1897 he studied fine art at the Amsterdam Academy where he became friends with Simon Mans, a Hague School traditional landscape painter. In light of this, it can be seen that his artistic career started with a very classical approach.
A simple visit to see a friend in Brabant, Belgium in 1903 turned into a year-long stay. Here Mondrian studied landscape in terms of line and color and how this could result in harmony. In combination with the rising influence of Vincent van Gogh’s post-Impressionistic style and Edvard Munch’s Expressionism Mondrian was pushed away from the traditions of Dutch landscape painting. In 1908 he would break into a whole new artistic realm as shown in his painting Woods near Oele.
Dutch artist, Jan Toorop led the Luminist movement that Mondrian joined shortly after; a movement that arose from French Neo-Impressionism. The Luminists explored pointillism and short lines of primary colors, demonstrated in Mondrian’s Windmill in Sunlight, 1908, which is composed of only yellow, red and blue hues.
He resided in Paris from 1912 to 1914, where ultimately the direct influence of Cubism was the final push to transform his work to abstraction. After this he returned to Holland and further reduced his abstraction into a style that he called Neo-Plasticism. This style was composed of the three primary colors structured with only vertical and horizontal lines.
In Paris he also met a theosophical teacher, M.H.J. Schoenmaekers, whose studies on how the universe is constructed through mathematics, as well as the symbolism behind lines, was the last source of inspiration that allowed him to create his signature style.
Together with three other artists he founded the new artistic movement; De Stijl. Their goal was to break down an image so much that the artistic vocabulary of the work was reduced to only geometric elements and primary colors. Mondrian would say the following of this reduction:
Mondrian spent the last stages of his life in New York City, where the fast and vibrant lifestyle added excitement to his work, shown most obviously in his replacing of black lines with colored bands. From the Mondrian Dress made in 1965 by the luxury brand Yves Saint Laurent to the German Bauhaus movement and Minimalism, his influence was and is widespread. His unique style made him a household name, and deservingly so.
"Dress | Yves Saint Laurent | C.I.69.23 | Work of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Accessed March 01, 2018. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/C.I.69.23/.
Jaffé, Hans L.C. . "Piet Mondrian." Encyclopedia britannica. February 2, 2018. Accessed March 1, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Piet-Mondrian.
"Piet Mondrian Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works." The Art Story. Accessed March 01, 2018. http://www.theartstory.org/artist-mondrian-piet.htm.