An explanation of Mondrian's oeuvre by Michael Sciam

A quiet revolution..

Piet Mondrian, 1943
Piet Mondrian around 1943

Piet Corneljis Mondriaan (changed his name to Mondrian) was born on 7 March 1872 in the small town of Amersfoort in the Netherlands. At the age of forty he moved to Paris where he lived and worked until 1938 when, after a short stay in London, he finally moved to New York City where he died on 1 February 1944.


Mondrian’s oeuvre has introduced radical changes in the way painting represents reality. From images that reproduce the outward appearance of things, to which we are accustomed, to compositions of lines and planes of colors, a space that no longer seems to have anything in common with our immediate perception of reality.

Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43, Piet Mondrian
Broadway Boogie Woogie
1942-43 Oil on Canvas
cm. 127 x 127

One of the aims of these pages is to explain the reasons for this evolution by showing how to read and interpret abstract painting in relation to everyday life and the universal themes of the human condition. 

In a world where the parts have grown superabundantly, where the firm points of reference and age-old certainties have been lost, the capacity for abstraction becomes indispensable in rediscovering a certain essence of things.

A certain way of understanding art can contribute today toward recasting the vision of greater breadth that has been lacking on the frenzied and fragmentary cultural scene over the last few decades.

From figuration to abstraction

A short insight into the transition from a realistic to a real depiction of nature.

Study of Trees 1 , 1912 with Diagram
Composition II, 1913 with Diagram

An overview of the entire oeuvre

Mondrian’s oeuvre has been an evolutionary process which has revealed itself as an organic structure in which one canvas cannot be separated from another without losing sight of the deeper meaning of the whole. That vision is encapsulated in Broadway Boogie Woogie, his last work, completed in 1943. It really is a most fascinating trajectory:

Piet Mondrian condensed into three paintings

The overall evolution and substantial meaning of Piet Mondrian’s oeuvre can be condensed into three fundamental paintings:

The Red Tree, Evening, 1908-10, Piet Mondrian
The Red Tree (Evening),
Pier and Ocean 5, 1915, Piet Mondrian
Pier and Ocean 5 (Starry Night),
Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43, Piet Mondrian
Broadway Boogie Woogie,


This section develops further reflections on the relationships between neoplastic space and philosophy, science, urban space, individual and social life. A page reflects on today’s official artistic scene.

Zen, Matisse, Mondrian

A comparison between Broadway Boogie Woogie and two paintings, respectively by an unknown Zen painter of the 18th century and by Henri Matisse, suggests different ways to see reality in abstract terms, that is, at a universal level.

“Every human being is born with a natural vocation towards the universal and those who believe that painting means using only brushes and not the head are incapacitated who would like to reduce man to less than what he really is.” (Michel Seuphor)

Zen Painting, Anonymous, XIX Century
L’Escargot, Henri Matisse, 1953
Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43, Piet Mondrian
Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1943

Past and present

A comparison of works by Raffaello Sanzio and a painting by Piet Mondrian highlights commonalities between such distant works showing, mutatis mutandis, an unexpected and compelling continuity between past and present:

La Scuola di Atene, 1508-10 and Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43

The author of these studies


..about to come

Copyright 1989 – 2023 Michael (Michele) Sciam All Rights Reserved