Piet Mondrian Biography

Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian was a quiet, shy person. He never married, never had children, and often seemed quiet and preoccupied around people he didn't know well. He often reminded strangers of a scientist or a priest, hard at work in his head on his own quiet thoughts. Mondrian paintings, on the other hand, were anything but quiet and easy to ignore. Whether they were often Cubist or purely abstract, Piet Mondrian compositions were always thought-provoking, bold and recognizable. While the Piet Mondrian biography isn't filled with lurid details, it is a story of a man obsessed with color and line, who worked to express his inner vision throughout his life.


Mondrian was born in the Netherlands in 1872. His father, who was the headmaster of a Calvinist school, encouraged young Piet to follow in his footsteps and become a teacher as well, although the boy didn't find this career choice inspiring. In 1892, Mondrian entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam and began studying art on a full-time basis. Here, he learned to paint landscapes in a traditional, realistic style. He painted the surrounding fields, farm animals and windmills he encountered on his walks. In Mill, the mill and water are rendered realistically, but the cropping of the image is slightly non-conventional. While Mondrian did achieve some success with these paintings, Mondrian yearned for more recognition and wealth.


In 1907, Mondrian began to experiment with painting styles, moving away from sheer recordings of objects and into more and more abstract works. He began to place large drops of contrasting paint colors next to one another, in a blurring of Impressionist and Pointillism techniques. In 1910, Mondrian visited a Cubist art exhibition, where he was shown paintings by Braque and Picasso. Mondrian had never seen art like this before, and was so intrigued by the possibilities, that he moved to Paris to be closer to the source of this emerging art movement.

Beginning in 1911, the Piet Mondrian Trees series was generated. There are many paintings in this series, all generated within a few years of one another. Here, Mondrian is expelling the curved line and the realistic background from his paintings. For Piet Mondrian, trees float above the ground, in front of a completely abstract background. Paint is applied quickly, heavily, all accentuating the lines and planes of the tree.

During this period of experimentation, Mondrian was unable to support himself through the generation of original works of art. Instead, he spent his days in the Louve, generating copies of famous paintings. He then sold these paintings to tourists. In 1914, Mondrian returned to the Netherlands.

De Stijl

In 1915, Mondrian met and joined with the artist Theo van Doesburg to create the art association De Stijl. Through this movement, the artists hoped to create a new universal art language that focused on simplicity, line and color to express beauty. In part, this was a rejection of the excesses of the Art Nouveau style, full of ornamentation and curvature. De Stijl sought to replace that excessive ornamentation with a more abstract, Cubist reality based solely on geometry, color and negative space.

Mondrian applied this movement to his own painting, adopting a style he termed "neo plasticism." In these Piet Mondrian paintings, geometric forms would dominate and define the images, while all unneeded detail would be stripped away. In Piet Mondrian's Composition With Large Blue Plane, Red, Black, Yellow and Gray, black lines demarcate the entire canvas, with many squares filled in with color. Piet Mondrian's Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow from nearly 10 years later, seems much the same, with multiple black lines and tiny squares of color. To stop at this level of analysis is do to paintings by Mondrian a great disservice. Piet Mondrian paintings were evolving and developing during this time, in subtle, but profound, ways. Early Mondrian paintings in this style have thin, grey lines that stop at a small distance from the edge of the canvas. Nearly all boxes are filled with color. In later Mondrian paintings, the lines become darker and more bold. White space dominates, and color is banished to the edge of the canvas. In 1919, Mondrian returned to Paris. At this time, he also withdrew from De Stijl, as some artists were incorporating diagonal lines into their works.

Fame and Death

In the mid-1920s, Mondrian began turning his canvases at a 45 degree angle and painting his grid line upon this twisted shape. These so-called Lozenge paintings were particularly exciting to Mondrian, as he felt they had more movement and dynamism than square canvases.

In 1922, on the occasion of his 50th birthday, an exhibition of Mondrian paintings was held in Amsterdam. His works also became popular with American and European collectors, and Mondrian no longer struggled to make a living. Mondrian was forced to leave Paris in 1938 due to war, and moved to New York in 1940.

The move to New York would prove to be a fateful one for Mondrian. Piet was nearly 70 years old at this time, but still working to stretch and grow as an artist. He was mesmerized by the speed and light of the city and began to incorporate this into his works. The Piet Mondrian Broadway Boogie Woogie painting, generated in 1942-1943 contains black lines punctuated by bright dots and squares of color. The contrast of light and dark makes the painting seem to pulse and glow. Mondrian was so fond of this painting he began another, entitled Victory Boogie Woogie, although he wasn't able to complete it before his death in 1944.

Mondrian was fond of beginning paintings in one location, and finishing them in other locations months or even years later. This makes dating Mondrian paintings particularly difficult for collectors. Mondrian often decorated his studio with large placards of white and colored paper. He would move the placement of the paper when he felt he needed inspiration. After Mondrian's death, painter friends took photographs of the studio and the paper components, and have recreated the artist's studio at many art galleries around the world.