“For when I construct lines and colour combinations on a flat surface, it is with the aim of portraying universal beauty as consciously as possible. …I want to approach the truth as closely as possible, abstracting everything until I come to the foundation… of things...”
– Letter to Dutch art critic H. P. Bremmer, 29 January 1914 (1)
Considered one of the pioneers of modern art, Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter-theorist and advocate of the De Stijl movement. Combining his personal philosophy of “beautiful geometry” with art, he created a body of work that had a significant impact on abstract art as well as design, advertising and fashion.
Mondrian studied at the Academy for Fine Art in Amsterdam from 1892 to 1894, drawing from the model and copying old masters and genre paintings, but also experimenting with a number of avant-garde styles. While in Amsterdam, he met Jan Toorop, leader of the Luminist movement, whose Neo-Divisionist brushstroke influenced his work. In 1909, he became a member of the Theosophical society. Along with his discovery of Cubism, these events would have a profound impact on him. After moving to Paris in 1912, his painting evolved toward total abstraction, and by 1917, he began producing his grid-based paintings (Composition No. 12 with Blue
, 1936–1942), the style referred to in his writings as Neoplasticism. The term would eventually become synonymous with De Stijl (the style).
In 1940, Mondrian went to New York City to escape World War II and made connections with art dealers such as Peggy Guggenheim. In his last personal exhibition in 1944, he displayed works inspired by the rhythms of jazz music and the city’s architecture and energy. Moving towards a new relationship between coloured areas and lines, Mondrian’s art was still evolving, and contributed to a surging interest in Abstract Expressionist art in America.
(1) From Mondrian’s first letter to the Dutch art critic, H. P. Bremmer, dated 29 January 1914; as cited in Carel Blotkamp, Mondrian, The Art of Destruction (London: Reaktion Books, 2001), 81.