Report About Mondrians Art Art Essay


Mondrian's art is characterized by different styles. He is best known for the constructive abstract art. In Holland he had an impressionistic style. He moved from Holland to Paris and later to London and New York. He reacted to each new environment with a quite enthusiasm, inventing new features that transformed the face of his art. One could say that the time that Mondrian spent in Paris was the most crucial of his carrier since after Paris his art takes a new turn. Paris in the beginning of the century was the most important centre of the Modernist art. There Mondrian, in the years of 1912 to 1914 engaged with the cubist style of Picasso and Braque, absorbed the most recent stage of their rapidly evolving art, and was soon able to move on to more strictly abstract forms of was the more surprising since he was forty then, with a long- matured practice that would have seemed to discourage the change to a style so different in principle form his own. [1]

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In this essay my aim is to observe the influence of Parisian art in Mondrian's art. The Cubists began to reshape the problem of representation. They tried to solve problems created, like, by the Impressionists. They observed the structure and the composition that inspired the illustrations of Art Nouveau; stressed the ' decorative-simplification as the conservatory Seurat and Cezanne; attempting to use the paradox of painting for the sake of their own new impressions. They started from the point that Cezanne stopped. The most important for the Cubists was to find new solutions for the problems of ‘form'. For them the ‘form' comes first and then the ‘subject'.

Before going to live in Paris, Mondrian had already submitted a painting, Sun, to the Salon des Independents. The Moderne Kunstkring,of which he was a founder-member, its first exhibition, from 6 October to 10 November 1911, gives an insight into Mondrian's potentially extensive knowledge of recent French painting before his arrival in Paris. The exhibition included works by Picasso and Braque (up to 1908-09) among other Cubists. Mondrian exhibited pointillist paintings and Evolution,but the core of the exhibition was devoted to twenty- eight paintings by Cezanne; Toorop discussed Cezanne at the opening. It is scarcely surprising that Mondrian's new Parisian paintings responded precisely to Cubist practice approached first and foremost via a study of Cezanne. [2]

Mondrian before Parisone of the most crucial Mondrian's paintings before going to Paris is the Evolution (1910-1911). In the triptych Evolution,the style of that Symbolist triptych may be regarded as an example of Mondrian's growing interest in geometric elements of drawing, which led him perhaps to the curious, whimsical rendering of the nipples and navels as triangles and lozenges.[3]

In Evolution Mondrian attempts to make a universal statement about life - a task of dimension traditionally only accomplished through the agency of Biblical subjects and Antique mythology. The fact that this whole sphere of representation was no longer available had been an essential mainspring in the formation of Modern art in the 19th century. Mondrian had to discover for himself that literary symbolism and personal invention could not make up for this loss. The creation of a common social language does not lie within the scope of an individual and the lack of such a basis has to be accepted by Modern painting.

It would have been almost impossible for a young artist to deal with this gigantic problem of his own, particularly when living in a provincial context. Soon after Evolution was completed Mondrian left for Paris where, through the daring and brilliance of its pioneers, the Modern movement had already begun to make its response to this crisis. Just as van Gogh had found liberation in the Diversionist approach to colour that 19th century Paris offered him, Mondrian, following a similar pattern of emancipation, found a key to spatial organisation trough Cubism in 20th century Paris. His interpretation of Cubism was clearly very much his own. [4]

Evolution 1910-1911

Oil on canvas, triptych/l side panels 178x 85 cm,

Centre panel 183x 87.5 cm

Gemeentemuseum, Slijper Collection, The Hague

Mondrian, Paris & Cubism

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Paris in 1911 was in the throes of artistic revolution, and the duration of Mondrian's visit, 1911-1914, witnessed the most diverse and international maelstrom of artistic talent and theory that the city had ever seen. Central to all of this was Cubist painting.

With a few years Mondrian had absorbed influences from three seminal movements of Modern art- Divisionism, Fauvism and Cubism. The impact was clearly very strong. To sort out this experience he needed time, and reduced exposure to the Parisian art scene.[5]

If Mondrian's step to Cubism was prepared by his quest for a metaphysical absolute in paintings that were so far from the radical new art of Picasso and Braque in method and idea, it is all the more remarkable that he grasped their aims so surely at the rapidly changing stage of their work when he first encountered it. More pertinent, in Mondrian's quick response was his earlier practice of Neo-Impressionist and Fauvist styles, with the brushstroke as the discrete unit of painting, whether as a small regular touch or a large emphatic spotting. But in assimilating the Cubist approach he turned away for good from the Expressionist pathos and the Fauvist intensity as well as from Symbolism.

Mondrian experienced Cubism as an art that freed him from overt symbolic imagery, as well as from lyrical rendering of nature, and turned his mind to a conception of his art as, in essence, a constructive operation with elementary, nonmimetic forms. It was an astonishing conversion for an accomplished painter of nature at the age of forty. [6]

Still Life with Ginger Jar was a new start in a new context, and his first painting that he signed ‘Mondrian' instead of ‘Mondriaan'. This piece is a total contrast to the mystical world of Evolution in favour of an intellectual study of pictorial structure. Probably it referred in Cezanne's still lifes with ginger jars. It is a composition that owes more to the French precedent than to his Dutch background. Even the spatial device of the diagonal line of the foreground table edge has its origins in the knife used in this way by Chardin, Manet and Cezanne. On the other hand, Mondrian wrested a firm structure from a seemingly casual assemblage of objects, and the contours of objects are emphasized throughout the painting to provide this structure. In a sense they are the heirs to Cezanne's technique of linking foreground and background through conjunctions of lines. In order to reassess the conventions of French pictorial construction, Mondrian responses to Paris and appears to have jettisoned his recent achievements completely. His newly adopted techniques reveal him tuning in to current Parisian theory and practice, with nothing ostensibly symbolic in his subject.

This sudden change of priorities led to wholly new developments. In Ginger Jar I the planes are simplified. They interlock in a structure which effectively unifies the heterogeneous mass of detail. While there are indications that Mondrian was reassessing conventions employed by Chardin, Manet amd Cezanne, he was also simplifying his painting into broad planes of colour demarcated by a network of firm lines. In this the Parisian Cubists' own development of these conventions is visible. Mondrian was becoming less and less isolated as a painter. Working in Paris he rapidly responded to the current debate on the nature of painting and representation.

Still Life with Ginger Jar I, 1911-12

Oil on canvas, 65.5x75cm

Gemeentemuseum, Slijper Collection, The Hague

Still Life Ginger Jar II, which is larger than its forerunner, reveals both Mondrian's debt to Cubism and his independence. The subject is substantially repeated, but the artist's method of depicting it has radically changed. The round jar remains central and the foreground fold is preserved. Now, however, the surfaces and planes of objects abut side by side across the painting. Only the clear blue of the jar and the white of the cloth are easily recognized as objects. Around them in subdued, grayed colours of similar tones different objects become indistinguishable and are reduced to a series of simplified interconnecting contours. The triagular forms at right of centre and the structure at left are now unidentifiable. Mondrian's concern for the frontal view and the flattened picture space is much in evidence, and his colour emerges from grey into areas of blue, red and yellow. The lines which in the previous painting clearly defined the edges of separate objects now lock into a mosaic of closed flat shapes dominated, except in the central jar, by the vertical and horizontal.

Still Life with Ginger Jar II, 1912

Oil on canvas, 91.5x120 cm

Gemeentemuseum, Slijper Collection, The Hague

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The novel influences and highly-charged ambience of the French capital may well have contributed to the changes that Mondrian wrought in his personal appearance around this time. He shaved off his beard and wore his hair shorter. A certain simple elegance began to emerge. He now appeared as an urban, well- groomed figure of distinction, an image he continued to cultivate throughout his career.

The Nude, a subject rarely attempted by Mondrian, is a whitish figure emerging from surrounding planed of dull grey-green. The structure of lines resolutely adheres to the picture plane; only tone suggests emergence and depth. There is little comparison possible with the female figures of Evolution until the face is considered. Although Mondrian had ruthlessly divided the face vertically into the lit and shaded halves, the deep, wide eye which stares out from the shadow is recognizable as the eye of the central figure in Evolution.

Mondrian embraces Cubism to develop new techniques. Painting as a window upon the world seems to have been abandoned in favour of painting which stressed technique at the expense of image, asserting that painting was an object in itself. But the image in Nude still has considerable force through the figure's gaze and through the dark, framing planes which present the glowing pale torso.

The tension between the powerful images of the period 1908-1910 and the new period of Cubist experiment in 1911 was resolved by Mondrian the following year. The strategy he employed was to return to the potent images of his earlier work, to the motifs of the single tree and the facades of buildings- images of nature and also of man-made structures, which in Paris meant the high blocks of apartments near his studio in Montparnasse.

The result of this synthesis was to realign Mondrian's new work with his earlier long development. Continuity was re-established. His evolution embraced both change and continuity. It also made him a Cubist of real originality, reasserting a meticulous independence amongst the deluge of innovations that characterized Cubist Paris at the height of its activity. [7]

Nude 1911-12

Oil on canvas, 140x98 cm

Gemeentemuseum, Slijper Collection, The Hague

The Red Tree, 1908-10

Oil on canvas,70x99cm

Gemeentemuseum, The Hague

The Trees of 1912-1913 relate directly to the earlier painting The Red Tree(1909-1910)-the drawing was expressive, the colour non-naturalistic[8]. The new impact of Cubism is evident but so, too, is Mondrian's originality. These trees have a trunk which now arches to the left but essentially Mondrian is addressing the same image. Tree of 1911-1912 makes a revealing comparison with The Red Tree. The faceting of the background is not dissimilar to that of Ginger Jar II, while the tree itself is handled differently, retaining the curvilinear branches evident earlier- thought now the individual detail, described branch by branch in Red Tree, has given way to lines which provide, above all, the tree's rhythmic extension into surrounding space, curving in a taut arc across the painting. Mondrian also retained the upward thrust at top centre. Compositionally there are close similarities, but Cubism had led him to relinquish detail and to isolate rhythm. The curved, organic cross motif is clearer as a result, and reveals an implied circle of lines around the centre of the painting and the core of its image. This hints at a cross within a circle central to the canvas, a form with theosophical significance: divinity divided into the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, produced by the complementary duality of male (vertical, spirit) and female (horizontal, matter).

Tree 1911-12

Oil on canvas, 65x81cm

Munson-Williams- Proctor Institute, Museum of Art,

Utica, New York

Although Mondrian's composition and imagery are no longer explicitly theosophical in inspiration, his continued fascination with growth and interaction forces remains apparent. A close study of Cubism permitted him to step away from depiction in detail to manipulate more freely the mechanics of this painting. In this process of generalizing and simplifying, he found a way to depict rhythm as an underlying structure in what he saw. The rhythms of the painting viewed as an independent object that allowed him to isolate his chief concern. In other words, he used Cubism to his own ends and what linked his tree to the real tree.

This process of refinement made the image more difficult for the viewer to recognize. Grey Tree rehearses the Read Tree's entanglement of foreground and background, and its reduced colour range, a topical device amongst other Cubists, further emphasizes its linear rhythms. The examination of the role of the image, characteristic of much Cubist debate and experiment, here centered upon a living object which, expanding upwards and sideways, began to establish an oval form, leaving the corners of the canvas less busy and less worked. In this, too, Mondrian was following Cubist practice in a format employed by Picasso, Braque and others.

Grey Tree 1912

Oil on canvas, 78x 107.5cm

Gemeentemuseum, Slijper Collection, The Hague

This development culminates in Oval Composition with Trees of 1913. It is possible that Mondrian adopted the oval format from Picasso or Braque who used it frequently, but it was also emerging as a compositional feature of his own paintings, as Grey Tree revealed. The oval also had a theosophical purport signifying the original cosmic energy. Here the oval is upright and contains a myriad of muted, yellow ochre lines and planes which constantly interrupt each other forming, uniquely, a kind of zigzag passage across the canvas. There is little trace of the tree. Undoubtedly the image was important- it is preserved in the title- but where it is embedded in the painting is difficult to indicate with certainty. If this painting began with the observation of trees in Paris, then by the time that it was resolved and completed, Mondrian was observing the interaction of the lines and planes of his painting more intensively than the particular branches of a living tree. [9]

Oval Composition with Trees 1913

Oil on canvas, 94x 78 cm

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

In his study of buildings Mondrian found a counterpoint to his contemplation of nature. Both grew and decayed. The tree was a single image composed of many parts, and so, too, in its different way was the city. Both revealed an evolving life cycle: neither was static. The rhythms refined by Mondrian reveal their differences and similarities. He was still concerns with man's dual identity: a part of nature and yet separate from it, making his own constructions of buildings and cities, to produce an environment that is artificial and not natural.[10]

Mondrian admires Picasso's Cubism, and evidently Cubist techniques helped him to establish a painting as an object with a visual structure of its own which could refer to recognizable imagery without illustrating it. But although Mondrian's restricted colours and oval format find precedents in the Cubist works of Picasso and Braque, there are nevertheless important differences: he did not pursues lettering or collage; His frontally presented planes rely increasingly upon the vertical and horizontal; And he excluded all suggestions of depth in the cellular structure of his painting, which was unified by the similarity of its parts and its underlying rhythm. In the facades the rhythms are urban but they are still compatible with a continuing interest in Theosophy. The theme of man's place in nature is quite distinct from many Cubists' concerns, but its converse, the celebration of the dynamitic city, was enthusiastically embraced by many contemporaries (from Italian futurists to Leger and Delaunay) among adherents of Parisian Cubist painting.[11]

His paintings appeared to seek a basic a language a set of primary devices with which everything he wished to study could be approached. This reduction, evident in the paring down of detailed drawings, was a search for a fundamental means to describe the rhythms of the world around him. This was how he related observation to composition. He recorded the observations of his eyes in studies and drawings; His contemplative mind sought harmony and rhythmic vitality in composition. [12]

By 1914 Mondrian had made a thorough study of Cubism in Paris. His independence and his originality of view, practice, and achievement were note evolved in isolation. He had become a contributor to the Cubist debate. His recognition of the painting as an independent man-made object, with a significant relationship to the city he observed, freed him form depiction of what was specific and detailed, to take up an art of relationships based upon rhythm, and therefore movement, embodied in paint. The life of the city became his particular study.

Seeking to refine the rhythms of what he says, Mondrian began with matter-of-fact drawings of the area in which he lived. From these he evolved compositions by sustained, slow effort and many adjustments. These compositions, at their most complex by 1914, cheek by jowl across the painting- a flat plane of interlocked rectangles. This entailed reducing his means to the minimum to force relationships. With straight horizontal and vertical lines he gave irregular but balanced vitality to his geometrical planes, adjusting them by intuition and experience into a new kind of image of the active city, an underlying image of its man-made artificial life.

Composition No.6 shows the elaboration of relationships and the accompanying simplicity of Mondrian's means. Observation and image play their role but the result is paintings of independent coherence, derived from the image but not bound by it. His observed drawings, by comparison, are unremarkable, except in one respect. They had a purpose: they were the start of the process that began with a detail of a street and ended in paintings of the city's own vitality.

This was a new kind of image requiring a new means, as Mondrian noted: ‘For in nature the surface of things is beautiful but its imitation is lifeless. Theobjects give us everything, buttheir depiction fives us nothing.'[13]

Composition No.6, 1914

Oil on canvas, 88x 61cm

Gemeentemuseum , The Hague


As we have seen earlier, Mondrian's permanent in Paris was crucial for the development of his style. In this essay I examined the evolution of Mondrian's style and the way he adopted the notions of Cubism. Mondrian saw and interpreted Cubism with his own way.

Stepping on the lessons that took from Paris, he moved later back to Holland. His painting has alerted decisively in the international milieu of Cubist Paris.[14] He reached to the point that he is best known: the constructive abstract art. Paris of the first decade of the 20th century gave him the new turn. After five years in Holland he returned to Paris to develop a more mature style; and from there to London and New York.

Apollinaire, poet and apologist of Cubism, seeing work by Mondrian in the 29th Salon de Intependants noted:

‘The highly abstract Cubism of Mondrian... Although Mondrian takes his inspiration from Cubism, he does no imitatethe Cubists... he is influenced by Picasso, and yet his personality remains entirely his intellectualism.That form of Cubism appears to me to take a different direction from that of Picasso and Braque.'[15]


  • Elgar Frank, Mondrian, THAMES AND HUDCON-LONDON, 1968
  • Milner John, Mondrian,New York Phaidon,2002
  • Riley Bridget, Mondrian Nature to Abstraction, TATE Gallery, 1997
  • Schapiro Meyer, Mondrian: ON THE HUMANITY OF ABSTRACT PAINTING, George Braziller, 1995


[1] Schapiro Meyer, Mondrian: ON THE HUMANITY OF ABSTRACT PAINTING, 'Order and Randomness in abstract painting', George Braziller, 1995, pp 26-27

[2]Riley Bridget, Mondrian Nature to Abstraction, ‘Mondrian Perceived' TATE Gallery, 1997, pp 9

[3] Schapiro Meyer, Mondrian: ON THE HUMANITY OF ABSTRACT PAINTING, 'Order and Randomness in abstract painting', George Braziller, 1995, pp50-52

[4] Riley Bridget, Mondrian Nature to Abstraction, ‘Mondrian Perceived' TATE Gallery, 1997, pp.9

[5] Riley Bridget, Mondrian Nature to Abstraction, ‘Mondrian Perceived' TATE Gallery, 1997,' pp11

[6] Schapiro Meyer, Mondrian: ON THE HUMANITY OF ABSTRACT PAINTING, 'Order and Randomness in abstract painting', George Braziller, 1995,pp48

[7] Milner John, Mondrian, A Cubist in Montparnasse ,New York Phaidon,2002 pp93

[8] Elgar Frank, Mondrian, THAMES AND HUDCON-LONDON, 1968, pp46

9] Milner John, Mondrian, A Cubist in Montparnasse ,New York Phaidon,2002, pp. 96-99

[10] Milner John, Mondrian, A Cubist in Montparnasse ,New York Phaidon,2002, pp106

[11] Schapiro Meyer, Mondrian: ON THE HUMANITY OF ABSTRACT PAINTING, 'Order and Randomness in abstract painting', George Braziller, 1995, pp20

[12] Milner John, Mondrian, A Cubist in Montparnasse ,New York Phaidon,2002, pp. 114

[13] Milner John, Mondrian, A Cubist in Montparnasse ,New York Phaidon,2002, pp. 117

[14] Milner John, Mondrian, Holland: the art of balance,New York Phaidon,2002 Pp118

[15] Seuphor Michel ,Piet Mondrian Life and Work, , IV: First stay in Paris 1912-1914. An article by Apollinaire. Slow development from figurative art to abstraction, Harry N. Abrams. Inc. New York, pp. 98