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Piet Mondrian

(1872—1944) Dutch painter

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Dutch painter, who was a founder of the De Stijl movement and the chief exponent of neoplasticism, one of the earliest and strictest forms of geometric abstraction.

Mondrian's Calvinist parentage and upbringing may partly account for the purity and single-mindedness of his later artistic life. A strong mystical element in his personality was also well developed by his early twenties. After studying in Amsterdam, his early subdued landscapes soon gave way to brightly coloured pictures, such as The Red Tree (1908); in Paris from 1911 he then went through a symbolist phase and finally a cubist phase. Feeling, however, that cubism was ‘not developing abstraction towards its ultimate goal’, Mondrian progressed from cubist-related works, such as Still Life with Ginger Pot (1912), towards more autonomous compositions consisting of lines and rectangular shapes with virtually no suggestion of depth, such as Composition in Grey, Blue and Pink (1913).

Before the end of World War I, which he spent in the Netherlands, he had, with Theo van Doesburg (1883–1931) and Jacobus Oud, formed the De Stijl group. Its members held that natural forms obscured ‘pure reality’. Thus they ‘denaturalized’ their art by eliminating signs of brushstrokes and personal technique and by limiting themselves to the irreducible elements of form: vertical and horizontal lines, rectangular shapes, and primary colours, which they regarded as symbols of natural forces and underlying universal reality. Their style was also known as neoplasticism. In Paris in the 1920s and 1930s Mondrian's pictures became increasingly sparse. He broke with van Doesburg after the latter had introduced diagonal lines into his pictures. Mondrian left Paris for London in 1938 and moved to New York in 1940. The influence of New York life inspired a less ascetic style in which the vertical and horizontal lines were broken up into small squares of bright colour. He called these pictures the Boogie-Woogie series.

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