Piet Mondrian, Fine Artist of the Early 20th Century
Piet Mondrian was born Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan on March 7, 1872 in Amersfoort, Netherlands. He was a Dutch painter who lived and worked in Amsterdam, Paris and New York, throughout a long and fairly checkered career.
Mr. Mondrian was educated at the Ritjksakademie, a fairly well-renowned Dutch academy of fine art, and was qualified as a teacher. He taught as he painted in his early years.
His early work was impressionistic: some of his most early work could be mistaken for Monet. He didn't really develop a signature style of his own until later in life. All of his early work was fairly standard art of the Hague school of art: misty landscapes and pastel river views; windmills stretching dark arms to a roiling sky...
Piet Mondrian was brought up in a strict, Protestant household. Part of the radical change in his art after 1908, when he became interested in the theosophical movement headed up by Helena Blavatsky (more on her and her spiritual movement in a separate article), was attributed to his spiritual quest.
Was Mr. Mondrian looking for spiritual simplicity? Something even more basic, more elemental and closer to nature than the strict Protestantism he was brought up with?
Mr. Mondrian was on a spiritual quest, and his art reflects that, profoundly.
His early pieces represent a conformity that his later (and more significant to the art world) pieces break away from, completely.
Mondrian's early art was, in a word, bland and not very remarkable.
His later art was the spearhead of the Cubist movement in art, and a move toward more geometrical shapes and a certain spatial simplicity.
Mondrian's later art was so distinctive: he used a grid, of bold black lines on a white background, and filled in squares with three primary colors: red, blue and yellow.
The results are astonishingly eye-catching, considering how basic and simple the design of the whole painting is.
Mondrian's art has been imitated, and indeed inspired certain interior decorators and makers of designer purses and so forth: his work is certainly commercially viable, in ways he could not have foreseen and probably wouldn't like!
Mondrian's minimalist, abstract, geometrical, cubist approach to art has often been duplicated or imitated or parodied unkindly. Indeed, my own personal response to Mondrian's art was unappreciative, at first.
Then I noticed the brush strokes.
Unfortunately, you can't really decipher the brush strokes on these canvasses from the pictures on the web. If you go to the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York City, however, you'll be able to see these pictures in person.
When you do, you'll see that the white squares are painted, also, in tiny little strokes all going in all directions. You'll see that the bold black lines consist of more tiny, even brush strokes, all going in the same direction; likewise all the colored squares.
Mr. Mondrian put some work into these canvasses. The paint wasn't slapped on with a roller. He didn't use a magic marker and ruler to get the black lines. I found out later that he would work on these paintings until his hands blistered and he was in tears. He often made himself sick in his endeavors to capture the essence of the simplicity of beauty in his artistic and spiritual quest.
His paintings have a lasting resonance, and that, in the end is the final mark of the artist.
Mondrian's life was entirely the life of an artist. He never married. He had no children. He spent hours upon hours on his canvasses, and his work as a painter.
Mondrian fled wars; he had immigrated to Paris in 1911, to enjoy the avant-guard movements and the interaction with all the other great artists of his day: Picasso, and Georges Braque were some of his early influences. Mondrian fled that city and moved back to Amsterdam in 1914, at the outbreak of World War I.
Mondrian went back to Paris in 1918, after the end of World War I, only to flee the encroaching Nazi occupation of France in 1938; Mondrian then moved first to London in 1938, then to New York City in 1940.
The man only wanted a peaceful place to work!
He created an artist's studio in a loft in New York, decorating it along the lines of his paintings. The walls were off-white; he put up squares of different primary colors, moving them around at will to get inspiration for his paintings.
His furniture was made from fruit crates; the atmosphere of the whole was very eclectic and also strangely soothing, his friends said.
Mr. Mondrian said it was the best place he ever had to work: he only got to enjoy it until February of 1944, when he died at the age of 71 from pneumonia.