Piet Mondrian is one of the most prolific modern artists of all time. He was a leading figure of the De Stijl art movement, developed an iconic approach to painting and inspired generations of future artists and designers. Learn about his life, his inspiration and his greatest works.
- Come face to face with the largest Mondrian collection in the world at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag, which is home to 300 of his works.
- Visit the house in Amersfoort where Piet Mondrian was born in 1872.
- Delve deeper into Mondrian’s early life and artistic inspiration at his family’s former home in Winterswijk.
The great innovator of modern art was born Pieter Cornelius Mondriaan in Amersfoort in 1872. Later in life he adopted a simpler spelling, becoming known internationally as Piet Mondrian.
At the age of eight, his family moved to the rural town of Winterswijk, where he learned the basics of drawing and painting from his uncle and father, who was headmaster at the local school. His family encouraged creativity and the young artist never stopped experimenting with his own artistic style. After first obtaining a teaching degree, he followed his passion at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. He spent 20 years working as an artist in the city.
In 1912 Mondrian moved to Paris, where he became inspired by Cubist artists like Picasso and Braque. He returned to Holland during the First World War and continued to develop his own artistic style. Mondrian enjoyed writing about the theory behind his work and found the perfect platform for this in De Stijl, an artistic journal founded in 1917 by Theo van Doesburg – also featuring contributions by Bart van der Leck and Vilmos Huszár.
De Stijl quickly evolved from the title of the journal into an art movement that made a global impact. Its aesthetic, consisting of pared-back shapes and primary colours, was applied to painting, graphic design, furniture, architecture and other disciplines. However, Mondrian eventually distanced himself from the group when he disagreed with Van Doesburg over the use of diagonal lines.
Mondrian spent a brief period in London – fleeing from the threat of WWII – and finally settled in New York, where influential art collectors such as Peggy Guggenheim were receptive to him. His final piece, ‘Victory Boogie Woogie’, remained unfinished when he died of pneumonia in 1944. However, it is one of his most famous works, and today can be seen at the Kunstmuseum in The Hague.
Mondrian’s early work involved landscapes and still lifes that were typical of the Dutch impressionist movement known as the Hague School, the prevailing art trend at this time. Works such as ‘Oostzijdse molen’ (1907) and ‘Veld met bomen bij avond’ (1907) – now in the collection of the Kunstmuseum Den Haag – were praised by his tutors. However, it didn’t take long before he moved away from this style and started painting more expressively, reducing his colour palette and introducing more angular strokes. ‘The Gray Tree’ (‘De Grijze Boom’, 1911) demonstrates one of his cubist-inspired experiments.
Mondrian developed a unique style as he became increasingly more abstract, distilling his paintings right down to flat planes of primary colour and precise black lines. It was this style that he developed during his involvement with De Stijl and it served as an example to many of the movement’s other artists. After eventually distancing himself from De Stijl, Mondrian continued to develop this aesthetic further, becoming known around the world as ‘neo-plasticism’. Many of his works from this period, including ‘Composition with Red, Yellow, Black, Blue and Gray’ (1921), are exhibited permanently at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag.
Mondrian first became a fan of jazz music during his time in Paris. The rhythms and improvisation of this new music served as great inspiration to him when creating art. And from the moment he arrived in New York, the impact of jazz is reflected in his work through the rhythm of the primary colours, areas and lines. For Mondrian his paintings were the equivalent of a swinging jazz composition, with his precise black lines eventually evolving to consist of coloured cubes. This can be observed in paintings like ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie’ (1942-1944).
To this day, Mondrian is one of the most celebrated instigators of modern art. His works have inspired countless artists across varying genres, from Gerrit Rietveld’s ‘Red and Blue Chair’ (1923) to Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian collection (1965). Examples of each are displayed at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag.
Visit Villa Mondrian in Winterswijk
Mondrian’s former family home in Winterswijk has also been transformed into a fascinating museum called Villa Mondrian. It is well worth taking the opportunity to tread in his footsteps, see where he learned to paint, understand his first influences and admire the landscapes that inspired his early works.