Piet Mondrian was a Dutch abstract artist who is most famous for his contribution to the De Stijl art movement which advocated pure abstraction by a reduction to the essentials of form and color. Mondrian began as a conventional artist, and experimented with Luminism and Cubism, before forming his unique style which he termed neoplasticism. He moved to New York City in 1940 after spending most of his mature artistic career in Paris. Know about the family, life, career, achievements and works of Piet Mondrian through these 10 interesting facts.
#1 He was named Pieter Cornelius Mondriaan after his father
Pieter Cornelius Mondriaan was born on 7th March 1872 in the city of Amersfoort in central Netherlands. He was the second of five children of Pieter Cornelius Mondriaan, a school teacher, and his wife Johanna Christina de Kok. Mondrian’s father, Pieter, was deeply religious and committed to the Protestant church throughout his life. His mother, Johanna, was frequently ill and at such times the house was governed by his sister Johanna, who was born two years before Piet. Apart from an elder sister, Piet had three younger brothers Louis, Willem and Carel. In April 1880, the Mondriaan family moved to Winterswijk in east Netherlands, where Piet’s father was appointed Head Teacher in a primary school.
#2 He was introduced to art at an early age by his father and uncle
Piet’s father was a domineering parent who he later described as stern. He was fonder of his mother Johanna. Apart from being a teacher, Pieter Mondriaan was also an amateur artist and Piet was introduced to art at an early age. His uncle Fritz Mondriaan was a landscape painter and was also responsible for guiding and instructing Piet. By the age of 14, Mondrian began to draw skilfully. Along with his father, he produced devotional lithographs for the church. In 1892, at the age of 20, Mondrian entered Rijksakademie art school in Amsterdam and he studied there till 1894.
#3 Piet Mondrian’s art was rejected twice by the judges of Prix de Rome
The early paintings of Piet Mondrian followed the representational traditions and were mostly landscape and still-life, the prevailing art trends in Netherlands. His paintings were first exhibited in 1893 and a second time in 1897. In 1898 and in 1901 Mondrian entered for the Prix de Rome, the most prestigious art prize in Netherlands. He failed miserably both times and his report stated that he lacked talent for drawing and that he was unable to portray lively action in a painting. In 1903, Mondrian visited a friend in Brabant, Belgium. His two year stay in the countryside had a profound influence on him and his art took a new direction, though it was still representational.
#4 His art is intimately related to spirituality
After returning from Brabant, Piet Mondrian became involved in the Dutch Luminism movement. Luminists, inspired by French Neo-Impressionists, devoted great attention to light effects and rendered them using the primary colors. In 1909 Mondrian’s Luminist works were exhibited in a group show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which established him as part of the Dutch avant-garde. The same year, he joined the Dutch branch of the Theosophical Society, which had a deep influence on him. Much of Mondrian’s work for the rest of his life was inspired by his search for spiritual knowledge. His art is intimately related to his spiritual and philosophical studies.
#5 Piet Mondrian adopted the Cubist style from 1912 to 1917
In 1911, Piet Mondrian moved to Paris. He also changed his name dropping an ‘a’ from his surname Mondriaan. In Paris, the influence of Cubism appeared almost immediately in his works. Cubism was an influential art movement that was pioneered by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso and which flourished in Paris at the time. Mondrian’s Cubist period lasted from 1912 to 1917. He absorbed the Cubist style and pushed it to its extreme limits. It was during this period that Mondrian’s artistic style began its evolution toward total abstraction.
#6 Mondrian co-founded the art movement De Stijl
In 1914, Mondrian returned to Netherlands to be with his father who was seriously ill; and the outbreak of World War I prevented him from returning to Paris. Mondrian believed that “Cubism hadn’t gone far enough in divorcing form and content“. In 1915, he met like-minded Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg. Mondrian and Doesburg, along with other artists, founded the art movement De Stijl (The Style) and launched a magazine associated with it in 1917. De Stijl advocated pure abstraction and universality by a reduction to the essentials of form and color; they simplified visual compositions to the most basic elements of the straight line, primary colors, and the neutrals of black, white, and gray.
#7 He coined the term Neoplasticism to describe his abstract artistic style
In the De Stijl journal, Mondrian published essays which for the first time defined his theory and coined the term Neoplasticism (the new plastic art) to describe this new artistic style of only using line and color. In 1917–18, he wrote a series of twelve articles called De Nieuwe Beelding in de schilderkunst (Neo-Plasticism in Painting) that were published in the journal and were the first attempts to express his theory in writing. After World War I ended, Piet Mondrian returned to France and he stayed there till 1938. In 1920, he published his theories in a book titled Le Néo-plasticisme (The Neoplasticism) and this began the spread of his ideas throughout Europe.
#8 Two paintings of Mondrian were included in Hitler’s Degenerate Art exhibition
By early 1920s, Piet Mondrian’s art had reached its mature form and he continued the art of pure abstraction throughout his remaining career. In the early 1930s, he became affiliated with the Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square) group and its successor Abstraction-Création. These were influential international groups of artists who promoted and exhibited abstract art. In 1937, two of Mondrian’s paintings were included in the infamous “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich. With the rise of Adolf Hitler, Mondrian left Paris and moved to London in 1938. When Paris fell in 1940 during the Second World War, he left London and moved to Manhattan in New York City, U.S. He remained in Manhattan till his death.
#9 Piet Mondrian was an important pioneer in modern abstract art
Piet Mondrian entered into a new phase in his career in U.S. which was marked by new features like double lines, and substitution of patterns of black line with colored bands. He painted his most famous painting Broadway Boogie Woogie during this period. Piet Mondrian died of pneumonia on February 1, 1944 in Manhattan at the age of 71. He is considered an important leader in the development of modern abstract art. His work inspired two influential movements, the German Bauhaus movement which focused on simplified lines and color theory; and New York’s Minimalism which was based on geometric forms and narrow color palette. Mondrian’s influence can also be seen in other fields. In 1965, French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent designed six cocktail dresses he called the Mondrian Collection.
#10 He never married nor had children
Piet Mondrian never married and didn’t have any children. When asked why, he said he couldn’t afford getting married in his younger years and never found the right person later. Mondrian had compulsive traits like his obsession with orderliness and cleanliness. He was private and secretive, and enjoyed solitude. He was termed by fellow artist Naum Gabo as “not a man with whom you could have personal relationships”. Mondrian lived simply and barely had any possessions. He was dedicated to his work and painted six days a week. He was enthusiastic about dance but was termed a terrible dancer by his dance partners.