“I think that the destructive element is too much neglected in art.” Piet Mondrian.
Mondrian was born in Amersfoort and grew up with his older sister and three younger brothers in a Calvinist family. In 1892 Mondrian moved to Amsterdam to study art at the Rijksacademie. Five years later he was submitting still-lifes and landscapes to membership-only shows at Arti et Amicitiae and at Sint Lucas, two artists’ groups in Amsterdam. During this time he made a living by painting portraits and copying museum art, alongside occasional commissioned work. In 1898 his landscape painting began to develop as he moved away from the Hague School-type and started focusing on structure and rhythm. In the way he concentrated on composition this early work can be seen to prefigure his abstract work. For example, ‘Village Church’ (c.1898). Between 1907 and 1910, influenced by Symbolism he produced work such as ‘Devotion’ (1908) and ‘Passion-flower’ (1908) portraying women with sad expressions and flowers next to their heads. He alternated between figurative and landscape work, experimenting with many different styles.
In 1911 he moved to Paris where he encountered Cubism for the first time, a movement that was to lead him to produce a series of paintings revolving around trees, for example ‘Flowering Apple Tree’ (1912). In 1914 Mondrian returned to Holland and continued his study of abstraction. Three years later he founded De Stijl with Theo van Doesburg, a movement searching for laws of balance in both art and life. The abstract style they developed became known as Neo-Plasticism. The technique restricted the use of shapes purely to rectangles and with a limited colour palette of black, white and grey, plus the primaries. In 1919 Mondrian moved to Paris where he remained for 19 years. In 1931 he joined a group of abstract painters and sculptors known as Abstraction-Création. The group arranged exhibitions and published an annual of their works which generally centred on geometrical abstraction. By 1938 with the outbreak of the Second World War, Mondrian fled to London then two years later to New York. It was here that he developed a more energetic style inspired by his passion for jazz and dancing, as can be seen in the colourful ‘Broadway Boogie-Woogie’ (1942-1943).
Piet Mondrian was expert in conveying emotion with the bare minimum of detail. His minimal style of abstraction can be seen in relation to his study of Theosophy in his quest for the ‘Absolute’. His influence can be seen not only on other artists but also on the media of industrial design and advertisements from the 1930s onwards.