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 two-year stay in London, he finally moved to New York City where he died on 1 February 1944.

Oeuvre

Piet Mondrian’s oeuvre is rightly associated with the concept of “evolution” as explained in detail in the following pages. The works of other artists show evolution processes as well. In Mondrian’s case, however, the evolution has revolutionized the fundamental rules of plastic space which have been the basis of European painting for over five centuries. A revolution that, in my opinion, has not been fully understood yet.

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.

Piet MOndrian, Neoplasticism, Victory Boogie Woogie, 1942-44 (Unfinished), Oil and Paper on Canvas, cm 126 x 126
Victory Boogie Woogie, 1942-44 (Unfinished),
Oil and Paper on Canvas, cm 126 x 126

Victory Boogie Woogie Mondrian’s last composition which has remained unfinished, is a sort of spiritual testament containing an exhortation addressed to future artists and mankind in general: art must be able to transform the discords of the real world into plastic harmonies serving as a model for the future developments of life; art must be able to improve the world.

Victory Boogie Woogie remains incomplete because every human action aimed at improving the world will necessarily be left unfinished. It is an open process that will never come to an end. 

Horizontal and vertical

How does the Dutch painter come to a space based on a relationship between horizontal and vertical straight lines?

Seascape, 1909 with Diagram
Church Tower at Domburg, 1911, Piet Mondrian, with Diagram
Lighthouse at Westkapelle, 1909 with Diagram
Study of Trees 1, 1912, Piet Mondrian
Study of Trees 1, 1912 with Diagram

From figuration to abstraction

A short insight into the transition from realism to reality.

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.

Mondrian condensed into three key paintings

The evolution and substantial meaning of Mondrian’s entire oeuvre can be condensed into three fundamental works.
This page also explains why Neoplasticism is a very effective way to visualize today’s reality.
We usually see the boundless horizon of the sea as a straight line, whereas it is actually curved. Is what we see true reality?

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

Reflections

This section develops further reflections on the relationships between neoplastic space, 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 two frescoes 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

Downloadables

The following documents are presented for nonprofit educational purpose:

How To See Mondrian

This is an essay in between a book and a virtual exhibition. It consists of six plates and sixteen pages. The six plates can be printed and mounted on a wall to visualize an evolutionary process within Mondrian’s complete oeuvre which offers a sort of exhibition route similar to that of an actual show.

For easier reading, it is recommended to print the plates and the pages. This can be easily done at any suitable printing center.

Past and Present

News

Additional news will be soon published