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Piet Mondrian - Color Block Harmony

The Rise Art team is doing a deep dive on beloved Dutch artist, Piet Mondrian! A revolutionary in the world of painting, he gave his own radical vision of abstraction and had a profound impact on the art world, so much so that his signature style has become a real graphic design in and of itself. But who really was this artistic genius?

By Cécile Martet | 11 Aug 2023

Piet Mondrian is... of the fathers of abstraction

Born in 1872 and died in 1944, Piet Mondrian is well known for his geometric paintings structured by black lines and red, yellow, and blue rectangles.

Mondrian is one of the very first artists to embark on the path of abstraction in the 1910s, alongside Kandinsky, Delaunay, and Malevich. He delves into abstraction in 1914, after going through an increasingly simplified cubist phase in his series of paintings.

However, the artist takes a very different path from Kandinsky's lyrical and expressive abstraction. From 1916, his streamlined paintings seek to move away from nature, eliminating curves and the color green. Mondrian ultimately retains only the three primary colors and the right angle.

Towards the end of his life, his style changes again when he lives in New York, and color infiltrates the lines themselves.

...a spiritual painter

The son of a pastor, Mondrian was raised in a very religious family. Although he was not a practicing believer during his adult life, he was interested in Theosophy, a philosophical movement developed in the 19th century.

Piet Mondrian, lines and colors purist
Piet Mondrian, “Evolution”, 1911

The Theosophical Society, which Mondrian joined, believes in a synthesis of major religions and the existence of a higher, encompassing Truth. Mondrian chose to apply his Theosophical beliefs to art and his works.

The artist tried to create a universal art. In this continuity, he retains only pure colours (the three primaries: red, blue, yellow). Not to mention the right angle, which has a universal meaning for him, the relationship between vertical and horizontal representing the duality present in the universe, as well as in the laws of nature.

...the origin of a style

Piet Mondrian is the originator of Neo-Plasticism, disseminated in the Dutch magazine "De Stijl" by Theo Van Desburg. "De Stijl" thus became an artistic movement based on Mondrian's theories and the use of pure colors and forms starting from 1917. Many Dutch artists then became followers, such as Gerrit Rietveld and Theo Van Doesburg.

Subsequently, architects also joined the movement. Mondrian's lines and colors are then found on furniture or even buildings. Gerrit Rietveld notably created the famous "Red and Blue Chair" in 1923. This work is a true three-dimensional application of Neo-Plasticism theories.

Piet Mondrian, lines and colors purist
Piet Mondrian, lines and colors purist

In 1965, the "Mondrian style" also found its place in the world of fashion thanks to Yves Saint-Laurent, who created a collection of "Mondrian dresses." This design became an iconic piece of the 1960s! Since then, Mondrian's works have been regularly used in various fields, from design to advertising...

One day he said...

"To approach the spiritual in art, one will use reality as little as possible, because reality is opposed to the spiritual."

Piet Mondrian

Did you know?

Piet Mondrian, lines and colors purist
Piet Mondrian's Snow White postcard to his brother, 1938, Tate, London

Mondrian had seen Walt Disney's cartoon "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in 1938 in Paris with his brother. Fascinated by the film and its animation technique, he developed a passion for the characters. He regularly sent Snow White postcards to his brother, drawing parallels between the characters and his surroundings. The artist, known for his introverted nature, reveals a playful personality... For example, Piet nicknamed his brother "Sneezy" and signed as "Sleepy."

His greatest works

Piet Mondrian, lines and colors purist
Piet Mondrian, “The Silver Tree”, 1911, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Piet Mondrian, lines and colors purist
Piet Mondrian, “Composition in Red, Yellow, Blue, and Black”, 1921, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Piet Mondrian, lines and colors purist
Piet Mondrian, “Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue”, 1942, Tate Modern, London
Piet Mondrian, lines and colors purist
Piet Mondrian, “Broadway Boogie-Woogie”, 1942, MoMA New York

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