Piet-Mondrian - Composition red canvas museum

Piet Mondrian /   Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan

Netherlands 1872 - 1944


Piet Mondrian
Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan
January 18, 2017
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One of the few true fathers of pictorial abstraction, Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter who devised a way of depicting form that avoids any references to the real world and relies completely on the use of primary colors and their directions, leaving the entire world of modern art in his debt. By working at creating his one of a kind and original visual vocabulary, Mondrian produced abstract paintings that revealed universal harmony and order full of balance. Many of his conceptual ideas were shared by his fellow Dutch painter Theo van Doesburg – the two close friends cofounded the pioneering and highly influential movement De Stijl. However, the incredible importance of Piet’s solo work has been often described as a movement on its own, called Neo-Plasticism. This is one of those rare occurrences in art history in which a movement is solely propelled and developed by a single person. Interestingly, the Neoplastic and non-representational way of creating form is also one of the most pivotal avant-garde moments in all of the 20th-century art[1].

Modern abstract canvas works on view in a museum use gray color to give life
Piet Mondrian – Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red, 1937 (Left) / Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red and Gray, 1921 (Right) – Images via wikipediaorg and pinterest.com

Early Pursuits of Style

Piet Mondrian was born during the year of 1872, in the town of Amersfoort, the second largest city in the province of Utrecht in central Netherlands. He was the second child in a family that lived in Amersfoort until Piet’s father, Pieter Cornelius Mondriaan, was appointed as the Head Teacher at a primary school in Winterswijk, a town in the eastern Netherlands. Young Mondrian was introduced to art from a very early age as his father was a qualified drawing teacher. Additionally, Piet’s uncle, Fritz Mondriaan, was a pupil of Willem Maris of the Hague School of artists and he often painted himself. When the time came for young Piet to choose what he will study, he decided to enroll at the Academy for Fine Art in Amsterdam. At that point, he was already qualified as a teacher due to his father’s line of work, so it came as a surprise to no one when Mondrian began his career as a teacher in primary education[2]. However, besides holding his job of an educator, Piet also never stopped painting on a daily basis. Most of his work from this period is naturalistic, consisting largely of landscape compositions with a strong note of Impressionism popular in Mondrian’s contemporary Hague School. Piet painted depictions of his native country, mostly concentrating on images of windmills, fields and rivers found around the Netherlands. Mondrian went through many pictorial concepts and styles during these years as the painter was obviously searching for a visual form that suited him the most.

Piet Mondrian - Oostzijdse Mill with Extended Blue, Yellow and Purple Sky, 1907-1908 - Image via abstractcriticalcom
Piet Mondrian – Oostzijdse Mill with Extended Blue, Yellow and Purple Sky, 1907 – Image via abstractcritical.com

Piet Mondrian and His Stylistic Experimentation

All of Mondrian’s early paintings were definitely representational and are a perfect indicator of just how influential various artistic movements were on this artist’s style. Besides the aforementioned Impressionism, Piet also found much inspiration in the ideas of pointillism and the wild colors of Fauvism. It appears that Mondrian’s early art was intimately related to his spiritual and philosophical studies – a feature that never truly left his work. A big milestone for the artist came in the year of 1911 when the Moderne Kunstkring exhibition of Cubism arrived at Amsterdam. From that point on, Piet started to search for simplification in his work, adopting some of the ideas Cubist painters established via their artworks. Most of his forms were reduced to a round shape with triangles and rectangles[3]. In 1911, Mondrian moved to Paris, wishing to create a distance between himself and Netherlands – he even went as far as removing the letter a from his Mondriaan family surname. It took him no time to become a part of the avant-garde scene the City of Light is famed for to this day. The influence of the Cubist style commonly found within the art of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque appeared almost immediately in Mondrian’s work as well. However, it’s now common knowledge that Mondrian observed Cubism just as one of his many creative stops and not as a true conceptual destination. Unlike the representatives of this iconic movement, Piet never stopped attempting to reconcile his paintings with his personal, spiritual pursuits. In 1914, Mondrian returned home to visit his family, but as the World War I began, he was forced to remain in the Netherlands for the duration of the conflict and was not able to go back to Paris for years.

One of the most interesting aspects of Piet Mondrian’s art is the way it progressed and developed in a methodical way that saw the artist go from traditional representation to complete abstraction

Canvas Composition with Red, Black, Gray and White Color is among the museum works on view
Piet Mondrian – An untitled composition – Image via aretzandcrafts.com

De Stijl and Neoplasticism

During the period whilst he was banned from returning to Paris due to the continental circumstances, Mondrian met Bart van der Leck and Theo van Doesburg. All three of them were interested in discovering the perfect way of using abstraction in their work. Van der Leck’s characteristic and exclusive use of primary colors greatly influenced Mondrian. Piet wrote the following statement in his journal in 1916: My technique, which was more or less Cubist, and therefore more or less pictorial, came under the influence of this precise method of Bart van der Leck.[4] Alongside Theo van Doesburg, Mondrian co-founded De Stijl (The Style), a unique journal of the De Stijl Group, a magazine in which he first published essays defining his theory concerning visual expression that he called neoplasticism. One of the more famous lines from this theory is the following: I construct lines and color combinations on a flat surface in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness. Nature (or, that which I see) inspires me, puts me, as with any painter, in an emotional state so that an urge comes about to make something, but I want to come as close as possible to the truth and abstract everything from that, until I reach the foundation (still just an external foundation!) of things… I believe it is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true. After the WWI came to a halt, Mondrian returned to France and remained in Paris[5] until the year of 1938.

The work of Piet Mondrian always aimed to find the idyllic and natural balance between the positive and the negative, the dynamic and the static, the masculine and the feminine

Composition without the composition
Piet Mondrian-Composition II in Red, Blue,Yellow, 1930. Image via wikimedia.org

Piet Mondrian’s Grids

Piet flourished in an atmosphere of intellectual freedom of Paris, the freedom that enabled him to embrace an art of pure abstraction for the rest of his life. He began producing grid-based paintings in late 1919, the style that will eventually make him renowned throughout the world of art. Initially, the lines delineating the rectangular forms are relatively thin and were filled with primary colors[6]. However, during late 1921, Mondrian’s paintings arrive at what can easily be described as their definitive and mature form. Thick black lines started to separate the models, lines that were larger and fewer in number than ever before. Many of the forms were starting to be left completely white as well. This was not the conclusive culmination of his artistic evolution, however – Mondrian’s work continued to evolve during all of his years spent in Paris. In the September of the year of 1940, Piet left Europe because of the WWII and set his sails towards New York City. The new pieces on which Mondrian began working on whilst in Manhattan were even more startling than his previous artworks. It’s even reasonable to claim that these works indicated the beginning of a new idiom for Piet, a style[7] that was unfortunately cut short by the artist’s death. Piet Mondrian died from pneumonia on the 1st of February in 1944.

In order to reveal the very essence of the mystical energy behind nature and the universe, Piet Mondrian distilled his representations of the world to their basic vertical and horizontal elements

Black and white artist with a red composition
Piet Mondrian – Composition C No. III with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935 (Left) / Composition No.II, 1920 (Right) – Images via wikiartorg and abstractcritical.com

Piet Mondrian – The True Father of Abstraction

Ultimately, Piet Mondrian, the avant-garde theorist and painter, managed to do what he wanted from the very start of his mature career – to establish a way of creating art that completely reflected the underlying spirituality of nature[8]. He successfully revealed the very essence of the mystical energy in the balance of forces that governed nature and the universe by simplifying the subjects of his paintings down to the most basic elements. A hundred years ago, this seemed like an ambitious and almost impossible task and, in all honesty, it still seems just as impressive and difficult today. However, Mondrian managed to pull it off and, by doing so, cemented his name in all of the art history books as the individual without whom the entire modern era would definitely not be the same by a long shot. As a matter of fact, it’s reasonable to say that the entire outlook on abstraction we have today might not even exist if Piet never abandoned conventional ways of shaping pictorial forms.


  1. Schapiro, M., Mondrian: On the Humanity of Abstract Painting, George Braziller; 1st edition, 1995
  2. de Jong, C. W., Bax, M., Degen, M., Otte, K., Vermeulen, I., Welsh, R. P., Piet Mondrian: Life and Work, Harry N. Abrams, 2015
  3. Jaffe, H. L. C., Piet Mondrian (Masters of Art), Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1985
  4. Mondrian, P., Mondrian Notes, Chronicle Books; Ncr edition, 2016
  5. de Jong, C. W., Piet Mondrian: The Studios: Amsterdam, Laren, Paris, London, New York, Bulfinch Pr; 1st edition, 1995
  6. Bois, Y. A., Rudenstine, A. Z., Joosten, J., Janssen, H., Piet Mondrian: 1872-1944, J. Paul Getty Museum; 1st edition, 2011
  7. Tomassoni, I., Mondrian, Littlehampton Book Services Ltd, 1971
  8. Mondrian, P., Piet Mondrian, Tushita Publishing; 170572 edition, 2016

Featured image: Piet Mondrian – Photo of the artist in his New York studio, 1942 – Image via artblart.com
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2017Against LandscapeThe Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow, Scotland Group
2017Against LandscapeConiston Institute, Cumbria, Coniston Group
2017The Benefactor Who Caused A Stir, Because He Knew That Art Is For Everyone. The Donation From The Art Mentor FoundationKunstareal München, Munich Group
2017Wir Wegbereiter Pioniere der NachkriegsmoderneMuseum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig (MUMOK), Vienna Group
2016Mondrian e o movimento de StijlCentro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB), São Paulo Solo
2016Mondrian E O Movimento De StijlCentro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB), Brasilia Solo
2016Mondrian E O Movimento De StijlCentro Cultural Banco do Brasil, São Paulo, São Paulo Solo
2016Le langage des fleurs et des choses muettes ( Ch. Baudelaire )Galerie Albert Baronian, Brussels Group
2016Excitement: exhibition by Rudi FuchsStedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Amsterdam Group
2016Beckmann, Picasso, Giacometti & more.Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz Group
2016Order & Reorder: Curate Your Own ExhibitionNational Museum of Modern Art Kyoto (MOMAK), Kyoto Group
2016Unfinished: Thoughts Left VisibleMet Breuer, New York City, NY Group
2016The Onward Of Art: American Abstract Artists 80Th Anniversary Exhibition1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery (UBS Gallery), New York City, NY Group
2015Early MondrianDavid Zwirner Gallery, London Solo
2015Piet Mondrian. Die LinieMartin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin Solo
2015Piet Mondrian: Before AbstractionArt Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, ON Solo
2015Picasso to Francis BaconHangaram Art Museum, Seoul Group
2015An Eye for Excellence: Twenty Years of CollectingThe Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA Group
2015I Got Rhythm. Kunst und Jazz seit 1920Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Stuttgart Group
2015Black SunFondation Beyeler, Riehen Group
2015The Mirrored Eye. The Self-Portrait in Dutch ArtMuseum Arnhem, Arnhem Group
2015Future PresentSchaulager, Münchenstein, Basel Group
2015ManifestenMuseum Kranenburgh, Bergen NH Group
2015Les Clefs d'une passionFondation Louis Vuitton, Paris Group
2015Cézanne bis RichterKunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart, Basel Group
2015Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and SocietyWhitechapel Art Gallery, London Group
2014Mondrian and his StudiosTate Liverpool, Liverpool Solo
2014Mondrian and ColourTurner Contemporary, Margate, Kent Solo
2014The Infinite White AbyssK20 Grabbeplatz, Dusseldorf Group
2014Abstractly SpeakingParrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY Group
2014Carte BlanchePace Gallery Chesa Büsin, Zuoz Group
2014Experience 09: SilenceESMoA, El Segundo, CA Group
2014Mauve Tot MondriaanSinger Laren, Laren Group
2014Report on the Construction of a Spaceship ModuleNew Museum of Contemporary Art, New York City, NY Group
2013Mondriaan in AmsterdamAmsterdam Museum, Amsterdam Solo
2013Pieter Cornelis “Piet” Mondrian (1872-1944): The Road to AbstractionThe State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow Solo
2013Piet MondrianPremium Modern Art, Heilbronn Solo
2013Hackordnung # 5 FormfreiheitWilhelm Hack Museum, Ludwigshafen Group
2013Divisionism from Van Gogh and Seurat to MondrianThe National Art Center Tokyo, Tokyo Group
2013Piet Mondrian, Barnett Newman, Dan FlavinKunstmuseum Basel, Basel Group
2013Hollands ImpressionismeSinger Laren, Laren Group
2013Vues d´en hautCentre Pompidou-Metz, MetzGroup
2012Hidden TreasuresFort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, IN Group
2012Correspondences Modern Art and UniversalismMuzeum Sztuki in Lodz, Main Building, Lodz Group
2012Mythos AtelierStaatsgalerie Stuttgart, Stuttgart Group
2012The Geometric Unconscious: A Century of AbstractionSheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE Group
2012Encounters with the 1930sMuseo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid Group
2012These Socks Are Not WhiteStedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven Group
2012Fourteen Modern MastersArt Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, WA Group
2012Mid-Twentieth Centurythe molesworth gallery, Dublin Group
2012Masters Of The Avant-gardePeggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice Group
2012Dreams of Nature. Symbolism from Van Gogh to KandinskyVan Gogh Museum, Amsterdam Group
2012Schilders Aanzee. Van Mondraan Tot MunchSinger Laren, Laren Group
2012The Avant-garde. From Picasso To PollockPeggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice Group
2011Piet MondrianJames Goodman Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2011'Kan met Uijen'Het Mondriaanhuis, Amersfoort Solo
2011Mondrian Und De StijlStädtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus & Kunstbau, Munich Solo
2011Gli anni folli. La Parigi di Modigliani, Picasso, Dalí 1918-1933Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara, FE Group
2011From Classical To ContemporaryGalerie Miro, Prague Group
2010Mondrian: De StijlMusée National d´Art Moderne, Paris Solo
2010Peggy Guggenheim: A Collection in VeniceArt Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, WA Group
2010ganz konkret Folge 1Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich Group
2010Paths to abstractionArt Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW Group
2010Art Always Has Its ConsequencesMuzeum Sztuki in Lodz, Main Building, Lodz Group
2010Umjetnost uvijek ima posljediceGallery Nova, Zagreb Group
2010Utopia Matters: From Brotherhoods to BauhausPeggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice Group
2010Utopia Matters: From Brotherhoods to BauhausDeutsche Guggenheim, Berlin Group
2010Gipfeltreffen der Moderne. Das Kunstmuseum WinterthurMuseum der Moderne Salzburg Rupertinum, Salzburg Group
2010Farbwelten. Von Monet bis Yves Klein. Werke der klassischen Moderne aus den Kunstmuseen KrefeldKunsthalle Erfurt, Erfurt Group
2010Van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde: Constructing a New WorldTate Modern, London Group
2010Modern Times: responding to chaosKettle's Yard, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire Group
2008MondriaanGemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague Solo
2007Piet Mondrian: Vom Abbild zum BildMuseum Ludwig, Cologne Solo
2007Light of Zeeland: Mondrian in DomburgGemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague Solo
2005Piet MondriaanAlbertina, Vienna Solo
2004Mondrian and De StijlGemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague Solo
2001New Mondrian presentationGemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague Solo
2001Mondrian: The Transatlantic PaintingsHarvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA Solo
1998Mondrian ExhibitionTokyu Bunkamura Inc., Tokyo Solo
1997De vroege Mondriaan: 150 schilderijen, tekeningen en aquarellen van Piet MondriaanKunsthal Rotterdam, Rotterdam Solo
1996Piet MondrianSara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere Solo
1995Piet Mondrian: 1872-1944Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY Solo
1995Piet Mondrian: 1872-1944The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC Solo
1994Piet MondrianGemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague Solo
1991Mondrian Flowers in American CollectionsThe Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX Solo
1988Mondrian from figuration to abstractionGemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague Solo
1988MondrianSidney Janis Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1987Mondrian: from figuration to abstractionMiyagi Museum of Art, Sendai Solo
1987Mondrian: from figuration to abstractionThe Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo Solo
1985Piet Mondrian e la figuration à l'abstraction : œuvres du Haags Gemeentemuseum de La HayeFondation Maeght, Saint-Paul Solo
1983Mondrian: New York Studio CompositionsMuseum of Modern Art, New York City, NY Solo
1983Piet MondrianMusée d'art contemporain, Bordeaux Solo
1982Piet Mondrian: La VirreinaCentre de la Imatge, Barcelona Solo
1982Piet MondrianFundación Juan March, Madrid Solo
1981Mondrian: drawings, watercolours, New York paintingsThe Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD Solo
1981Mondrian: tekeningen, aquarellen, New Yorkse schilderijenGemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague Solo
1980Mondrian: Zeichnungen, Aquarelle, New Yorker BilderStaatsgalerie Stuttgart, Stuttgart Solo
1980P. MondrianSidney Janis Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1979Mondrian: The Diamond CompositionsThe National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC Solo
1979Mondrian and De StijlGalerie Gmurzynska, Köln, Cologne Solo
1974MondrianSidney Janis Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1972A Piet MondrianMuseo Nacional de Bellas Artes Santiago Chile, Santiago Solo
1971Mondrian EnvironmentCincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH Solo
1970Piet Mondrian: The Process WorksThe Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL Solo
1970Piet Mondrian: The Process WorksPace Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1968Piet MondrianNeue Nationalgalerie, Berlin Solo
1966Piet MondriaanGemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague Solo
1966Piet MondriaanPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA Solo
1966Piet MondriaanArt Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, ON Solo
1965Piet MondrianGalerie Beyeler, Basel Solo
1965The Art of Piet MondrianDallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX Solo
1963Piet MondrianSidney Janis Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1962Piet MondrianSidney Janis Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1958Piet Mondrian: the Earlier YearsSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA Solo
1957MondrianGalerie Denise René, Rive Gauche, Paris Solo
1955Piet MondriaanWhitechapel Art Gallery, London Solo
1955Piet MondrianKunsthaus Zürich, Zurich Solo
1955MondriaanGemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague Solo
1946Piet MondriaanStedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Amsterdam Solo
1946Mondrian paintingsValentine Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1945Piet MondrianMuseum of Modern Art, New York City, NY Solo
1943Mondrian: New paintingsValentine Gallery, New York City, NY Solo