Monday, December 15, 2008

Artist of the Week: Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian

Neo-Plasticism is a Dutch movement founded (and named) by Piet Mondrian. It is a rigid form of Abstraction, whose rules allow only for a canvas subsected into rectangles by horizontal and vertical lines, and colored using a very limited palette. Mondrian is also known as "the father of Geometric Abstraction".

Mondrian's early works were mostly still life and landscapes

Watercolor over pen

View of Winterswijk

Mondrian came into the art world at the tail-end of Impressionism, in which he too dabbled

View from the Dunes with Beach and Piers
oil and pencil on cardboar



Watercolor and ink on paper

Still Life with Ginger pot II
You can see the very beginnings of his abstract style...

which finally led to a canvas whose subject is titled but bears no actual resemblance to it.
Pier and Ocean

By the around 1915, Mondrian was painting entirely in abstract geometric shapes, and in the 1920's through the 40's, he created several series of abstract works for which he is most famous today.

Composition No. III Blanc-Jaune

Oil on Canvas


  1. i must say that i like the abstracts the best- probably why he's best known for them :) but his earlier works are lovely- the vibrancy of the colors seem to move even on the computer screen.

  2. I agree with Betmo about the early works. I studied Mondrian in college art classes, but I am wholly unfamiliar with his earlier, realistic stuff and I like it!

  3. Did we see some of his stuff at MoMA? It looks familiar.

    It's all pretty cool. But really, I'm more inclined to be moved by art which is more overtly representational.

  4. What an enormous leap in style between 1908 and 1912! (I wonder, if there's an artist about to make this same sort of departure, 100 years later?)

    I've seen an association (made somewhere---Bookcovers?) between his later abstract compositions, and Modernism in music (particularly, post-WW2 movements in jazz). It's an interesting comparison.

  5. I love it all. Every painting shown here. This post is perfection. You will probably become my new addiction based on this post alone. One of my favorite painters. So beautifully done. Are you an Art Historian?

    I have a numbered print of a 1920 Klee. Have you ever done a post on Klee? It is my favorite painting. Or my favorite that hangs above my bed.

  6. I want to respond to all of you but I haven't time right now but I HAVE to respond to Utah Savage.

    Firstly, what a treat to have you stop by and comment. You are one of my favorite commenters on other people's blogs! I don't get over to read you nearly enough.

    Oh, dear Utah, I'm absolutely NOT a art historian! I'm so self-taught out of love for art, that it's sometimes embarrassing how little I know! I never even took an art history course in college (but when I'm an old lady, I insist on it!).

    I'm learning every day. The web is a art lover's paradise and I get out to museums whenever I have a chance. I read and I ooooooh and aaaaaah and then I'm fortunate enough to have discovered blogging as an outlet for my art-love. :-)

    I will do a post on Klee and dedicate it to you. Lucky for you to own a Klee print! I'm especially fond of Modern Art. I can't wait to learn more about Klee!

  7. I like it all. Fascinated by the crescent moon over the cow scene, and really love the blue vase.
    His paintings seem so diverse.

  8. Bet: interesting that you like the abstracts. I'll keep that in mind. It will be an incentive to learn and view more of that genre; which isn't my favorite; even among these Modrian's.

    I'm with CR. I tend to like some form of, even if loose, representation.

  9. JCF: Interesting. I don't think of jazz as being compartmentalized the way Modrian's abstracts were. But that's probably because I don't know a lot about jazz. Maybe that era of jazz you speak of...

  10. And Bobbie: that little crescent moon caught my as well. :-)

  11. Wonderful, Pagan. My favorite is the amaryllis. I love the lines of it.

  12. DCup: yes. And the blue stem and vase against the blue background.

  13. I remember just how amazed I was years and years ago to see for myself that Picasso too was an incredibly accomplished artist in the traditional sense at a very young age. It wasn't til that experience that I learned to appreciate the abstracts. Thanks for a great post.

  14. Oh my... First, I just referred to Mondrian in an e-mail not 15 minutes ago. Second, I just recently found and photographed a page of a book that had the Amaryllis painting (I think anyone who has looked at my own painting much will understand the immediate appeal it had for me - no yellow fish in HIS blue, though). Third, I was just thinking, after my e-mail, that what isn't obvious about Mondrian is how emotional the completely abstract final works are. He was always painting something interior, I think - or his emotional response to something. In some cases it may have just been his own response to the bars and colored zones on the canvas, but these are ALL about his feelings. The final piece you posted caused me a sharp intake of breath and then laughter because there is no bar bridging the center of the canvas! The intake was a visceral reaction to the piece, the laughter was when I realized what an abstract language it really is, and that I have no idea what it might mean! It's like hearing a recording of something in a foreign language and understanding none of the words, and not even getting the emotional content, but being able to tell there's lots of emotion there. Am I making any sense?

    As for you not being an art historian... what you are, dear lady, is a natural, true, heartfelt lover of art who is able to convey WHAT it is that you love about it, partly in the choices you make from among the works of the artist, and partly from your captions. We end up seeing what you SEE. That's a rare gift you are using freely and with warm heart. Please continue.

    And to Utah Savage I say that I have loved Paul Klee's work (I just mentioned HIM in that e-mail too!!!) for many many years. A numbered print. Sigh. I would love to see a picture of it - that print that is your favorite.

  15. I prefer the later, abstract work. Through abstraction, the artist has made it easier for me to connect to the emotions he was trying to express.

  16. As much as I've tried, since reading Steve's and Libhom's thoughts about the emotion they see in the Modrian abstracts, I just can't wrap my head around it. That doesn't mean that I don't like his later work just that to me geometry and emotion are mutually exclusive. I can see emotion in a Pollock painting for example but not in blocks and lines. Just me.

  17. Pagan,
    I can see what you mean about it being easier to see the emotions when there is some evidence of the artist's movements, like in a Pollock, or a deKooning. But I can hear emotions just in spacing and lines and colors and shapes - even if they seem dispassionately rendered. That's what I'm hearing in Mondrian's works, I think, though I can't make out the words. Am I making any sense? I don't see/hear it in all abstract work, but I sure do in many Mondrians, and I do in Diebenkorn, as well. Not Albers, though. Ordinary objects do this to me, as well, but then it's usually just noise. Sometimes it's pleasant noise, but it's accidental and not words. I recall a stand of cypress trees in VA that I could hardly be dragged away from because they sang - it was the way they were spaced, and I think it was mostly accidental, though part of whay I couldn't tear myself ways was that I kept looking to see if I could see human intention. Like the word "love" that seems to emerge in the tarnish on a copper roof - is it really a word? I'd keep looking to see if I could detect the hand of someone, so I could know if someone WROTE a word there, or if I was, indeed, just seeing pictures in clouds, so to speak. I did that with those cypresses. Then again, sometimes I see an arrangement of objects by certain very talented people I know, and I hear the words or the music clearly, and they seem to, as well. And it's not just about being pleasing or not - the tolerance points are stretched or played with in ways that vibrate and push at the mind and make words...

    I can't speak it, usually, though a few of my pieces come close, and one or two say a word or two (Sunny Hillside has some parts that speak quietly - I think it's why it's been in my office at work longer than any other piece - I've swapped the other frame three times since then) - but I can hear it when a master speaks it.

  18. I looked at the painting again and I got all worked up all over again.

    I'm not sure emotions is the right word, exactly... Maybe I should say that he FELT these - they're not just mathematical. It sends shivers up my spine to see things like the exact widths of the three vertical sections, and the way the horizontals all correspond across the gap, but the left hand, shorter bars are so much fatter (up and down) than the ones on the right... And that gap, with nothing bridging it. It's like a precipice, and it gives me a pleasant kind of vertigo to see it. He's speaking a language or making a music of the tensions in shapes.

    I'm not sure how else to try and give others an insight into it. This was one of the things that divided me from family and friends, at times, this ability to hear the singing in arrangements of shapes - particularly two dimensional shapes. Then I had even less to say about it - it just took my breath away and friends or family either just didn't get it, or thought I was making it up. But by now I've spent a life looking to hear this kind of thing, and I know I'm not making it up. Especially once I started finding people who could do it over and over again - so I knew it was on purpose. Like Mondrian.

    And I'm not saying I like Mondrian better than others - I actually prefer this game played with real things, not JUST shapes. I prefer art with recognizable things in it AND the music/words. But I'm not sure anyone else speaks the words as clearly as Mondrian. I don't prefer them that stark, but I hear them better in some of his pieces than anywhere else.

    Am I making any sense?

  19. I am trying to process what you are saying. Having just read this today, Sunday, the 21th, I will return to read it again until I can make out something to which I can respond authentically. It may take me weeks, as I try to figure it out...I will respond in email or here but please look for a response! :-)

  20. And I just realized that I consistently misspelled Mondrian throughout the post. (blush) Had to fix it.

  21. I never even noticed the spelling. Too busy looking at the pictures...

    Don't worry too much if you don't understand what I'm talking about; only one or two other people I've ever met seem to understand it as I do. If it weren't for the odds being so stacked (so MANY Modrians, for instance, speak to me - and several other artists do this, too) I'd think I were imagining it.

    But I know I'm not. I'm just tuned in to some frequency most people don't pick up. Or they just see it, while I see AND hear it. Or something like that.

    Robert Motherwell does it, too. In the National Gallery in DC there is a large Motherwell, visible from a number of places in the huge space. I wandered around the spaces, dragging my youngest with me, gaping at it while it sang and sang and sang.

    Morris Louis does it, too.

    Henry Moore almost does it. I have looked at dozens of his pieces, and they seem ABOUT to say something, but then they don't quite. When I had first found his work, in my late teens, and I had not yet found any of the others I now love, I kept coming back over and over to his work, trying to get it to fully satisfy me, and it never could quite. I still love much of his work... but actually I find, in general, that sculpture doesn't lift me the way paintings do.

  22. The Motherwell painting at the National Gallery can be seen in this photo. It's behind the lady posing... His pieces won't stand still, either - and they have their full power only in person (the same for Morris Louis) - some of that is scale, but a lot of it is the subtle stuff in the paint, which gets lost in a photograph. These paintings were carefully composed and planned AND very actively, physically painted, and you can feel ALL of that when you stand in front of one. They knock me over. I love it.

    Franz Klein does the same thing on a smaller scale - paintings that look like accidents, but compositions that were carefully planned and slaved over. Just the kind of painting people say, "My five year old could have painted that!" Nope. Though the five year old might be better able than most adults, because the five year old spontaneity and right brain play are possibly still intact.


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