“I wish to approach truth as closely as is possible, and therefore I abstract everything until I arrive at the fundamental quality of objects.” This quote by Piet Mondriaan (1872-1944) succinctly expresses the philosophy of art which resulted in his signature style, Neoplasticism, in which grids of black lines on a white background are punctuated by squares and rectangles of primary colors.
For more in-depth coverage of Mondriaan. read issue 29 of Dutch the magazine.
When looking at his pure abstract works, it is hard to imagine that he would have ever painted in a more traditional style, with clearly recognized objects and landscapes. Yet that is how he started out in the late 1800s. His early works depict typical Dutch scenery of trees and windmills, with elements of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, the prevailing styles of the time.
However, by the first decade of the 1900s, he began his shift toward a much more abstract approach, and the paintings he began to create would pave the way for his best-known style. It is enlightening to explore the progression as he moved from representational art to pure abstract.
In 1908 he painted The Red Tree, in which color becomes part of the abstraction. Four years later, in 1912, he would paint The Flowering Apple Tree, in which both color and form become increasingly more abstract. Both paintings combine elements that stand as precursors to his ultimate Neoplasticism style, where primary colors and lines became his method of expressing modern reality.
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