A description of the work of Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Pieter Mondrian (alternately spelled “Mondriaan”) at the start of his career and a description of his work from 1913 until his death in 1944 in New York City might seem to be about two different artists. One needs only to compare “Girl with Bonnet Writing” and “Broadway Boogie Woogie” to believe that.
In the years following “Girl with Bonnet Writing” Mondrian painted pastoral scenes and landscapes in the style of the Hague School, with its techniques based on Realism and somewhat gloomy colors. “Gray Tree,” “Amaryllis” and “Evening (Avond); Red Tree” are representative of this phase of his work. Interestingly, “Evening” hints at Mondrian’s evolving fondness for the primary colors — red, blue and yellow.
He gradually became disenchanted with painting landscapes and trees and flowers and so pursued abstract painting, which he believed to be more spiritual. His work from 1907 to about 1912 is somewhat transitional and betrays a Cubist influence (although he did not follow the artistic path of Picasso and Braque). His important works during this cross-over time are “Red Mill” and “Red Cloud,” both somewhat representational but exhibiting more abstract techniques.
Mondrian’s 1913 painting, “Composition No. II; Composition in Line and Color” was the first recognized painting that he considered Neoplasticism: balanced black horizontal and vertical lines — which to him represented eternity because they have no end — forming a simple grid with thoughtful placement of sparse color blocks.
Although Mondrian painted in Holland, London and Paris (where he dropped one “a” from his name to symbolize cutting ties with the Dutch), he moved to New York City in 1940, with the help of American artist Harry Holtzman, to escape the ongoing blitz.
During his time in New York, he used innovative techniques that pleased him very much: double black lines, colored lines, unbounded color blocks and the “lozenge” — or diamond-shaped — format. His 1942 “New York City” used colored, rather than black lines (although he had experimented with the technique when he was in Paris), and finally, his “Broadway Boogie Woogie” was unprecedented in its attention to detail and is considered his masterpiece. He was unable to complete his “Victory Boogie Woogie” before his death from pneumonia in 1944.
As so often happens, Mondrian was not a commercial success during his lifetime. However, his writings on Neo-Plasticism were influential for members of De Stijl, a consortium of avant-garde Dutch painters assembled by Theo Van Doesburg, and his work was likewise influenced by them. Mondrian is credited with being on the vanguard of the Abstract Expressionism style.