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Netherlands • 1872−1944
Piet Mondrian (born in Amersfoort, Utrecht in 1872, died in New York in 1944), Dutch painter, one of the founders of Neo-Plasticism movement and De Stijl group and periodical, an outstanding figure of 20thcentury modern art, whose work repeatedly occurs as an inspiration to architects, fashion designers, musicians, and even left its mark in coding languages. Mondrian, whose name immediately evokes the black lined grids of empty and filled squares, had a simple, yet provocative idea: he tried to evince the deep inner structures of soul and spirit into precise and almost graphical forms of the utmost certainty. In that way he embodied the philosophical tenets he admired, acquiring a logical and stable structure for something quite fragile and unattainable, and catching the ideal harmony and order of the vibrant universe.

Famous Works of Piet Mondrian

At the very beginning, and right after completing his university studies, Piet Mondrian painted in the traditional style, keeping the impressionistic stroke and palette, or relying on the Academic Realism style. In this period he subsequently painted flowers, with the touch of Symbolism as in Wilting sunflower in 1908, using bright colours and clean shapes in Red gladiolus (1906), or in the convincing Chrysanthemum drawing from 1909. He made more than hundred paintings of flowers, one at the time, never bouquets, which he described as a delicate attempt to express the specific, fleshly structure of the item and deeper beauty within it. He also did a bunch of still lives and landscapes. Still life with jug and ginger I from 1912 recalls the similar painting of Paul Cezanne, and will later that year have its own revival in the cubism manner - Still life with ginger II. His landscape depictions also gradually changed and matured, from the early eclogues Calves in a field bordered by willow trees (1904) to the Little farm in Nistelrode (1904), that evokes his famous squares and colours from his latter abstract artworks. The switch was even more evident comparing the Mahogany from 1908, and the Grey tree and Blooming apple tree he painted in 1911 and 1912. By 1920s, the particular composition method became dominant in Piet Mondrian’s work-the so-called “losangique” paintings such as Composition No.1 (1931), as well as Composition with blue, red, yellow, and black (1922), London inspired Trafalgar square (1943), or Broadway Boogie-woogie, dedicated to his love for dance and music, and his new American settlement.

Neo-Plasticism abstract art

Mondrian moved to Paris in 1911, and became so enthusiastic about the Cubism art movement that he instantly adopted this new, more abstract painting manner. The Cubists broke the boundaries of form and released the rhythm, which was something Piet Mondrian craved for, even in his early paintings. He let go of all the naturalistic references and specific details of the objects, but kept the symbolical meaning of some forms, the trees for instance, which represented the bond between the real, rooted world, and divine heights. Mondrian was joined by the wide group of various artists-architects, painters, sculptors, and poets, most distinguished among them was painter Theo Van Doesburg, who all formed the group De Stijl, and started publishing the periodical by the same name. It was a revelatory issue from 1917 that brought Mondrian’s essay Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art, offering the unique vision of the group, and the style and language of the movement. The plastic label denotes the seizable reality of painting, the pure and simple elements of this new art-the horizontal and vertical lines, clean angles, and the use of strict range of only primary colours and the achromatic ones, in order to create the beat of the painting, as in jazz music, and to have a strict standard, without the intrusion of emotions or subjective and personal components.

The Neo-Plasticism art style had an influence on the broad spectrum of architecture, fashion, and interior design. They were, however, regularly accused of their overtly intellectual attitude, for reducing the painting to a mere scheme of colours and shapes with imposed meanings. The movement lasted until the conflict between Mondrian and Doesburg in 1924, stirred by the Doesburg’s use of diagonal lines, which Mondrian considered to be a brute negation of the balance and composition.

Unusual facts about Piet Mondrian

The famous Dutch painter’s early life was marked by his religiously devout surrounding, and his interests in religion and philosophy have never seized. He later joined the Theosophical Society of Madam Blavacki, a Russian expatriate settled in Paris, whose circle became influential at the beginning of 20th century. He drew his inspiration out of the idea that art should be a vehicle to much grander, more spiritual and harmonious reality. He was also friends with the German philosopher Schoenemaekers, who studied cosmic vibrations and rhythm, and his analysis can be traced in Mondrian’s work as well. But Mondrian’s passion for the rhythmical composition did not exist only as an art motif, for he was known for his great admiration for the new music that had just hit the world-the jazz.

The other thing that Piet Mondrian enjoyed the most was the Snow White Disney cartoon. He saw the movie in Paris in 1938, together with his brother. They kept an unusual correspondence through the years. Piet signed his letters as one of the dwarfs, most often as Sleepy, and described his London adventures as if they were the scenes from this well-known cartoon.

In the sixties, the French designer Yves Saint Laurent made a whole collection inspired by Piet Mondrian, calling Mondrian the essence of purity and the masterpiece of the twentieth century.

Degenerative Art

In 1937 the Nazis arranged the infamous Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich, featuring two of Mondrian’s pieces, among other famous artists like Max Ernst, Emil Nolde, Paul Klee, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, many of them proscribed because of their origin, inappropriate depiction of themes, altogether because they painted in an abstract or expressionistic manner. Piet Mondrian felt the seriousness of the threat and in a letter to a friend wrote: The great danger for us is about our work; might the Nazis come in, what then? He was living in Paris at that time and feared of being imprisoned by Nazis if they invaded France. So soon after the exhibition, Mondrian fled to London, and two years later boarded the ship to the United States.

The American years of Piet Mondrian

With the support from Peggy Guggenheim, Mondrian settled in New York in 1940 and remained there for the rest of his life. His work there evolved to more syncopated rhythm and coloured lines, and a new energy was inserted into his canvasses, reflecting the city’s vibrating life, streets and the whole scenery. Mondrian’s work did not only effect the Bauhaus movement in Germany, with its straight and clear contours, and “less is more” approach, but had direct sprouts in the American Minimalism in the 1960s.

Personal Life of the Artist

Piet Mondrian was brought up in a Calvinist family, and received first drawing lessons from his father and his uncle, who was also a painter, and later attended the renowned Dutch Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. After seeing the first modern art exhibition he decided to move to Paris. It is often believed that Piet Mondrian led very reclusive and uptight life, although he seemed to be quite different-he was a dance enthusiast and frequently visited jazz clubs. He never married, and he took great pride in his meticulously detailed living interiors, and paid attention to clothing details as well.

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