piet mondrian -- 5/12/23

Today's selection -- from Mondrian and Photography by Piet Mondrian (Editor), Wietse Coppes (Editor), Leo Jansen (Editor), Chris Stolwijk (Contributor). The art of Piet Mondrian:
"The artist Piet Mondrian, who would play a key role in 20th-century modern art, was born Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan in Amersfoort, near Utrecht, on 7 March 1872. When he was eight years old, his family moved to Winters­wijk in the province of Guelders. His formal schooling was limited to just eight years of primary education at schools headed by his father in those same two Dutch towns. This was followed by years of self-study in prepara­tion for the lower and intermediate drawing certificate (tekenakte), which he attained in 1889 and 1892 respectively. The idea was to earn his living as a drawing teacher. He inherited his talent in this regard from his father. During the same period, he was given painting lessons by his uncle, Frits Mondriaan, who lived in The Hague and is best known as a landscape painter. From time to time, Frits visited his brother's family to paint en plein air. The young Mondrian also received guidance in drawing and painting from Jan Braet von Überfeldt -- an artist who had trained at the Rijksacademie in Amster­dam and was living at the time in Deventer. Work by Mondrian was shown as early as 1890 in an exhibition of 'living masters' in The Hague.

"He moved to Amsterdam in the autumn of 1892 and embarked on a two-year course at the Rijksacademie van Beeldende Kunsten (National Aca­demy of Fine Arts), supported financially by an annual allowance of 100 guilders from Queen-Regent Emma. Mondrian also took an evening course in life-drawing in 1894-95 and another to learn etching techniques in 1896-97. Amsterdam was rapidly developing into a major national centre of the arts at that time, which saw the opening of the Rijksmuseum (1885), the Concertgebouw (1888) and the Stedelijk Museum (1895). Mondrian quickly found his way into artistic circles, via his membership of artists' associations at which he regularly showed his work and friendships with fellow students and colleagues, including Simon Maris, who came from a famous family of painters. He paid his way chiefly through portrait commissions, while also making copies of paintings in museums and painting still lifes for the art trade. There were occasional book illustrations and designs for decorations too, and he had a small number of pupils. The main motifs in his independ­ent work, rooted in the Dutch tradition of the previous century, were land­scapes, country villages and cottages, cityscapes (mostly industrial) and still lifes. The rural subject matter that began to dominate after the turn of the century was mostly drawn from Amsterdam and the surrounding area.

"Mondrian fled Amsterdam in early 1904, due to unspecified problems. He spent almost the entire year in the Brabant village of Uden, close to his lifelong friend Albert van den Briel, who was employed there as an agricul­tural engineer. Van den Briel later recalled that Mondrian was experiencing an existential crisis and that they had had numerous conversations about philosophical and religious subjects.

Piet Mondrian, Evening; Red Tree(Avond; De rode boom), 1908–1910, oil on canvas, 70 × 99 cm, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

"The character of his work altered after Mondrian returned to Amster­dam. The colours grew brighter and his landscapes became charged with a tranquil, timeless atmosphere. He was looking for a spiritual art, which would allow the inner essence of things to be perceived beneath their outer mani­festation. Mondrian had probably been drawn to Theosophy for a while, but his interest intensified during this period. In May 1909 he joined the Theo­sophical Society, of which he would remain a member for the rest of his life.

"Mondrian's use of colour in his work changed around 1908-9. The colours of nature gave way to highly saturated shades of blue, purple and orange, applied with a divisionist touch. Together with Jan Sluijters, Jan Toorop and Leo Gestel, Mondrian formed part of a 'luminist' avant-garde that attracted considerable attention from both the public and art critics. He found the conservative artistic climate in the Netherlands less and less con­ducive. From 1908 to 1915, he spent several weeks each summer at an art­ists' colony in Domburg, where Jan Toorop was at the centre of a circle of painters searching for renewal. Mondrian was among the founders in 1910 of the Moderne Kunstkring (Modern Art Circle) -- an initiative to create more opportunities in the Netherlands for the most progressive artists to show their work. He followed up in 1911 by cancelling his membership of the Arti et Amicitiae and Sint Lucas artists' associations in Amsterdam, which he now considered overly conventional. When it came to showing his own work, Mondrian also looked abroad. He exhibited in Brussels (1909 and 1910), in Nantes (1911) and, in what was a personal milestone for him, at the Societe des Artistes lndependants in Paris (1911).

"Mondrian spent ten days in Paris in May 1911 to see his work at the latter exhibition and to prepare for his first show at the Moderne Kunstkring. He recognized the importance of the new cubist movement and for the remainder of his life would acknowledge his debt to Pablo Picasso. The impact of this experience can already be detected in several of his works as early as the summer of 1911. So inspiring were these contacts that he decided in early 1912 to move to Paris, after first breaking off a betrothal he later described as 'merely an illusion'. His entry into the art scene in the world capital of modernism was smoothed by other Dutch avant-garde artists working there.

"Mondrian's Paris years -- 1912-14, interspersed by summers in the Netherlands, including visits to Domburg -- marked a turning point in his work. By studying a restricted number of motifs (most notably trees, facades and the sea), he set out to unite cubist principles with his own vision. Motifs became less and less of a subject as such: they were reduced instead to the prompt for a painterly quest for their essence. These were Mondrian's first steps towards abstraction.

"He planned his summer visit in 1914 so that he was just able to see the solo exhibition of his recent work at the Willem Walrecht art gallery in The Hague. Remarkably, he sold no fewer than six of the sixteen works, which were entirely out of the ordinary for the Netherlands. Three of them went to the collector Hendrik van Assendelft from Gouda, who would become a close friend of Mondrian.

"The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 meant that Mondrian was unable to return to his Paris studio to continue his work. After one or two detours, he found his way in the summer of 1915 to the artists' village of Laren in the Dutch countryside. The writers, poets, artists and thinkers he met there turned out -- for a while at least -- to be kindred spirits: the philosopher Mathieu Schoenmaekers, for instance, and the artist Bart van der Leck. He also befriended broker Sal Slijper, who would go on to buy a large number of Mondrian's works in the years that followed. Although he missed Paris, the war years spent in the Netherlands proved to be a crucial phase in the development of his work and in his thinking about the nature and function of his art.

"In the autumn of 1915, Mondrian's work was spotted at an exhibition by Theo van Doesburg, an artist, critic, poet, magazine editor, agitator and net­worker. He devoted an article to Mondrian, bringing the two into direct con­tact. This marked the beginning of a ten-year friendship that would prove highly significant for both men. They were joint founders of De Stijl maga­zine -- edited by Van Doesburg -- and became the figureheads of modern art in the Netherlands, with a broad network in the European avant-garde. It was in a long series of articles in the early volumes of De Stijl (1917-18) that Mondrian first published the principles underpinning his artistic thinking and a practice, which he gave the name 'nieuwe beelding' or neo-plasticism. It served as the foundation for numerous other art-theoretical articles subsequently published both there and in a whole series of international journals.

"By 1917, Mondrian's art had reached the stage of full abstraction. His painterly experiments led to what he considered the essential pictorial ele­ments of the new art of painting that would bring him international fame: the horizontal and vertical black lines, between which lie coloured rectangles in variations of primary colours and black, white and grey. Mondrian viewed these elements as the logical consequence of cubism: the spatial effect was destroyed and every reference to visible reality abandoned. What's more, colour had been reduced in his eyes to its purest manifestation." 

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Piet Mondrian (Editor), Wietse Coppes (Editor), Leo Jansen (Editor), and Chris Stolwijk (Contributor)


Mondrian and Photography


Hatje Cantz


March 28, 2023


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