Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)


Born March 7, 1872 in Amersfoort in the Netherlands, Piet Mondrian studied art at Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten (State Academy of Fine Arts) in Amsterdam between 1892 and 1895. During this traineeship, he experimented with landscapes and naturalistic works, as attests his work of the youth Au Stadhouderskade Amsterdam. When he discovered Fauvism, Divisionism, and Cubism, his work changed. He was influenced by Jan Toorop, Jan Sluyters, Munch, Seurat and Van Gogh. Aside from painting, the artist was also interested in mathematics and geometry, and joined the Theosophical Society of which the motto was: ‘There is no religion superior to the truth.’
In 1912, he arrived in Paris and began painting still lifes influenced by Cubism (Nature morte au pot de gingembre I et II, 1912). ‘I felt that only the Cubists had discovered the right path, and for a long time, I was very influenced by them’, he explained. He experimented with abstraction, and became more and more interested in structure and in horizontal and vertical lines. In 1913 he invented his own pictorial language and began to call his works Compositions. Alongside artists such as Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, Picabia, and the Delaunays, he became one of the leading figures of abstract art. With his lines and his colours, he sought to achieve ‘the basis of things’. ‘I believe that it is possible, thanks to horizontal and vertical lines constructed in full consciousness, but without calculation, suggested by an acute intuition and born of harmony and rhythm, that these fundamental forms of beauty, supplemented as necessary by other straight or curved lines, could produce a work of art as powerful as it is true’, he analysed in a letter to his friend Bremmer. He returned to the Netherlands in 1915 following the death of his father.
He therefore came to collaborate on Theo van Doesburg’s review De Stijl, of which he became one of the principal contributors. In 1919, he returned to Paris and began to search for perfect equilibrium in his paintings. He reached for ‘total abstraction of form and colour, that is to say … the straight line and primary colour, clearly defined.’ He theorised the founding principles of Neoplasticism, which is defined by three laws: there are neither curves nor diagonals but only vertical and horizontal lines; colours are only pure; and the work must not represent a symmetry. The artist painted the first Neoplastic canvas (Composition avec jaune, rouge, noir, bleu et gris) in 1920. He spent more than twenty years reflecting on these principles.
Mondrian also participated in the European avant-garde groups “Cercle et Carré” (1929) and “Abstraction-Création” (1931), and exhibited at Galerie Jeanne Bucher.
In 1938 as the Second World War approached he sought refuge in London and then in New York. The American city inspired many of his canvases including Broadway Boogie-Woogie, New York City, and Victory Boogie Woogie, which he would never complete. Jazz in particular also encouraged him to introduce the notion of rhythm into his work. He died February 1, 1944.

(Pauline Le Gall)

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