The geometric work of Piet Mondrian is instantly recognizable. It played an important role in the development of modern art.
Mondrian was born in Holland in 1872 and trained as a teacher in order to please his father's wishes. After teaching for a brief period, twenty-year old Mondrian studied painting at the Amsterdam Academy from 1892-95. For the next decade, he spent most of his time in and around Amsterdam. He associated with the Dutch Symbolist circle during this period. Mondrian's early work focused on dark, naturalistic landscapes. These pieces gave way to his later work, which emphasized line and color over direct representation.
In 1911, Mondrian travelled to Paris, where the Cubists had an important effect on his artistic development. Unlike the Cubists, however, Mondrian was more interested in the lines he painted than the shapes they contained. From 1917 until the end of World War I, Mondrian settled in the small artistic centre of Loren, near Amsterdam. Here, he adopted the artistic style for which he is famous. He enclosed spots of bright color within grids of black lines. For the rest of his life, Mondrian would paint only the contrast between horizontal and vertical lines and would use only the three primary colors to fill the spaces between the lines. Mondrian aimed to present universal principles of balance which were not expressed in the natural world. He eliminated personal factors in favor of the universal.
In Loren, Mondrian helped to found 'De Stijl', a review of the arts which attracted many revolutionary spirits in the Netherlands. This group published the 'De Stijl' manifesto, which promoted the 'neoplastic' principle stating that, in all fields, every basic form is rectangle and the basic colors are only primary. While most of the individuals involved in writing this manifesto were interested in architecture and design, Mondrian's paintings influenced the underlying ideology. His ideas concerning structural composition could easily be translated into architectural plans.
After the war, Mondrian returned to Paris. He left the 'De Stijl' group in 1925 when the diagonal lines Mondrian considered impure were introduced into the geometric scheme. In 1938, the artist moved to London and then settled in New York in 1940. Mondrian's later works became more involved; the number of lines increased and the spacing between them varied in order to create further complexity.
In his final works in New York, Mondrian used color as opposed to line as his principle means of expression. He painted small rectangles of primary colors and no longer included black in his work. Despite these changes, his style remained recognizable. Mondrian made a valuable contribution to the world of modern art.