Piet Mondrian

1872, Amersfoort (Netherlands) – 1944, New York (USA)

Art historians claim a variety of names as the inventor of Abstraction, one of the major turning points in 20th century art. This competition is often won by the Dutchman Piet Mondrian. Not only did he invent abstract painting, he practised it continuously throughout his long and productive career.

– 1892 to 1895: Piet Mondrian is a student at the Academy of Fine Art in Amsterdam where he starts painting academic landscapes. He then discovers Jan Toorop, a central figure in Dutch Symbolism, Jan Sluyters with his arbitrary use of colour, and Van Dongen and his intense Fauvism. He displays an interest in mathematics and geometry.

– 1909: he joins the Theosophical Society, an organisation based on a belief in a cosmic order beyond the known and the visible. Piet Mondrian adopts a more spiritual and universal approach to painting and his works become increasingly abstract.

– 1912: he moves to Paris and becomes interested in the analytical Cubism of Braque, Cézanne and Picasso, but rejects their expression of volumes in his canvasses, preferring a flatness achieved by adopting a frontal viewpoint. The simplification of forms in his landscapes with the pared-back representation of trees leads naturally to the exclusive use of lines – which from 1913 onwards cease to represent reality. This approach reaches its maturity in 1917 and Composition avec lignes noires is the culmination of this quest.
He then pursues his studies on Neoplasticism, incorporating into his compositions the notion of rhythm following his discovery of jazz, limiting and then accentuating the role of colour.

– 1940: he moves to New York. The colours, always primary colours, are no longer held within cells defined by black lines but now themselves form the grid, always on a white background, thus acquiring a new dynamic.

Mondrian was guided by a set of entirely new rules, which still have the power to inspire nearly a century later. On his death, he left Victory Boogie Woogie unfinished. Today, his work is represented in leading modern art collections around the world.