The Modern World During and After the World Wars, C. 1914–1960

Early Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde

Who was Mondrian?

Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) was a Dutch painter who made significant contributions to twentieth-century abstraction, especially geometric abstraction. He was an important part of the De Stijl movement and he is most well known for paintings that depict flat, geometric grids in neutral and primary colors. During his early career, Mondrian’s art was not totally abstract. Paintings such as Still Life with Gin-gerpot (1911) and Grey Tree (1912) show the artist’s early flirtation with Cubism and even earlier works such as Mill at Evening (1905) are linked to the Dutch landscape tradition.

Mondrian’s style changed throughout his career. He was influenced by Cubism, but believed that the goal of painting should be complete abstraction as a vehicle for communicating reality. He supported the idea that color and form could impose pure reality on the viewer in what he called “plastic expression.” According to Mondrian, a work of art needed to balance movement, form, and color in order to achieve this reality, an aesthetic philosophy called “neoplasticism.” Mon-drian’s paintings, such as Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Grey and Blue (1921), are meticulously painted to achieve the utmost in formal balance, and produce dynamic energy, a sense of depth, and a balance between simplicity and complexity.

The modern artist Piet Mondrian experimented with complete abstraction according to the principles of the de Stijl movement. Composition with yellow, blue, and red (1937–1942) is supremely balanced and produces a shifting sense of both flatness and depth. (Art © HCR International. Courtesy Tate Gallery, London / The Art Archive / Eileen Tweedy.)


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