An Appreciative Review of Mondrian’s Red, Yellow and Blue

Pieter CornelisPietMondrian, was born on 7 March, 1872, in Amersfoort, The Netherlands. Although originally a qualified primary teacher, Mondrian entered the Academy for Fine Art in Amsterdam. His early paintings were of a naturalistic or Dutch Impressionistic style, consisting largely of landscapes. His art began to move into the pointillism style and later, favoured the vivid colours of Fauvism.

  • In 1911, after visiting the Moderne Kunstkring exhibition of Cubism in Amsterdam, Mondrian became a fan of the Cubist art movement. This was further influenced when later that year, he moved to Paris; and became enamoured by the work of both Picasso and Georges Braque.

Three years later, while Mondrian was visiting home in 1914, World War I (WWI) began, forcing him to remain in The Netherlands for the duration of the conflict. During this time, Mondrian stayed at the Laren artist’s colony, where he met Bart van der Leck and Theo van Doesburg, who were each undergoing their personal journeys toward abstraction. Mondrian was impressed with Van der Leck’s use of only primary colours in his art. As a consequence, he became a member of the De Stijl (The Style) art movement and group, which was founded by van Doesburg. Mondrian contributed to De Stijl’s art journal publishing his essays defining his theory of a non-representational art form which he called Neoplasticism.

  • Neoplasticism involved the asymmetrical division of a canvas into bands or grids of horizontal and vertical black paint into flat planes and the colouring of the blocks using only the primary colours of red, blue and yellow; and the non-colours, white, black and grey.

After WWI, Mondrian returned to France. Immersed in the post-war Paris art innovation, he flourished in an atmosphere of intellectual freedom. During late 1920 and 1921, Mondrian’s paintings reached a mature form.

  • Mondrian stopped giving his works titles. Instead, he called his paintings “Compositions” and often assigned them a number; such as Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow (1930) featured above.

As the years passed, Mondrian began to use fewer coloured forms, favouring white instead. These are noticeable in the “Lozenge” works which use square canvases tilted 45 degrees, so that they have a diamond shape. [As shown above –  Tableau I – Lozenge With Four Lines and Grey; and Composition in Red, Blue and Yellow (both from the MoMA collection).

In September, 1938, Mondrian left Paris in the face of advancing fascism and moved to London. After The Netherlands were invaded and Paris fell in 1940, Mondrian decided to leave England and head for New York. On 23 September, 1940, he boarded the Cunard White Star Line’s RMS Samaria, which departed from Liverpool. On arrival in New York, Mondrian moved to Manhattan, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

  • In the autumn of 1943, Mondrian moved into his second and final Manhattan studio at 15 East 59th Street. Tragically, he was there for only a few months, as he died of pneumonia on February 1, 1944, aged 71. Mondrian was interred at the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Since then, there have been many artists and designers who have been influenced by Mondrian’s famous works. Two examples featured here include:

  • Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Mondrian dresses‘ which featured in his autumn 1965 collection. This collection included  6 wool jersey and silk A line shift dresses in blocks of primary colour with black bordering, inspired by Mondrian. The collection proved so popular, it inspired a range of imitations that encompassed garments from coats to boots.
  • The original Mondrian dresses can be found in several museums around the world, including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York [such as the image featured above which is from the MoMA collection as a gift of Mrs. William Rand (1969)].

Also included is a humerous take entitled: Mrs Mondrian Mops the Floor by Australian artist and illustrator, Sally Swain as featured in her Great Housewives of Art exhibition in 1988.

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