Piet Mondrian, born in 1872 in the Netherlands, studied the fine arts of figure drawing and genre panting from an early age. As he progressed as an artist, his work began to exhibit influences of post-impressionism and pointillism, especially evident in his landscape compositions. However, a major turning point in Mondrian’s career came with his move to Paris in 1912, where he became intimately acquainted with the Analytic Cubist works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. It was at this time when his style shifted from representational to modern abstraction. For a time, Mondrian adopted the Cubist reduction of images and its muted color palette; however, he soon challenged Cubist thought and sought to completely eliminate any sort of illusionistic depth from his paintings, highlighting the flatness of the canvas. This push towards complete reductive geometric abstraction ultimately culminated in the founding of the De Stijl movement with fellow compatriot Theo van Doesburg. The movement sought a universal style that erased all nationalistic identity, a response to the egotistic nationalism that De Stijl members believed fueled the conflict of the First World War. Mondrian referred to his own aesthetic as ‘Neo-Plasticism’, which rejected decorative excess and emotional complexity.
I fine example of this style is evident in Mondrian’s painting “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” created in 1942-43. This composition exemplifies Mondrian’s goal of revealing the harmony and order that exists in the natural world through abstract lines and shapes, distilling everything down to blocks of primary colors. At this time, Mondrian was living in New York City. The influence of the energetic metropolis can be seen in the intersecting yellow lines populated by brightly colored squares, reminiscent of bustling city streets. The asymmetry of the composition also alludes to the varied rhythm of urban life. Even while reflecting the vitality of New York City, Mondrian still highlights the inherent order and harmony that he believed underlies the universe through the orthogonal composition and simple palette of primary colors.
Mondrian’s work, as well as the utopian ideals of universal harmony promoted by the De Stijl movement had a lasting impact on the development of modern art. Mondrian’s simplified lines and austere color palette influenced both the Bauhaus aesthetic as well as the works of the Minimalists in the late 1960s. Mondrian’s paintings also permeated popular culture, as seen in the color-blocking design of Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Mondrian’ day dress.
Eskilson, Stephen. Graphic Design: A New History. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.
“Piet Mondrian Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story Modern Art Insight. The Art Story Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.