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Who Was Piet Mondrian? Biography and Artwork

Learning about artists that came before us is a fun and important part of understanding art. It lets us become inspired by past artists and learn from their skills. Piet Mondrian is known as the father of abstract art and has played a large role in what art means today.. His art process developed and changed throughout his life from realism to the abstract art that he is known for today.

Not a reader? That’s okay! We have a quick YouTube video that breaks down Piet Mondrian’s life and artwork.

Who was Piet Mondrian?

Piet Mondrian was born on March 7th 1872 in Amersfoort, Netherlands. He’s best known as one of the key leaders in the Dutch abstract art movement known as, De Stijl, or The Style. You may recognize his simple, yet iconic famous paintings featuring the primary colours, straight lines with flat squares and rectangles.

Piet Mondrian’s Education

Mill of Heeswijk Sun by Piet Mondrian

When Mondrian was 14 years old, he started to study drawing. His uncle and his father both guided and taught him what they knew, while his uncle attended The Hague School, a group formed for landscape painters at the time. Mondrian was determined to be a painter, but his family insisted that he should get a degree in teaching first.

In 1892, Mondrian moved to Amsterdam and attended the Academy of Fine Arts to become a teacher. This is where he exhibited his first painting in 1893. All the while, he still took night classes for drawing, and would often impress his teachers with his effort and self regulation.

Piet Mondrian’s Art Evolution

Early Artwork

Farm Near Duivendrecht by Piet Mondrian

For a long time, Mondrian didn’t paint the abstract art that he’s known for today. At the beginning of his career, he often painted traditional landscapes and still lifes, where his subjects were usually the meadows and polders around Amsterdam. Often, he used slightly duller colours and very picture-perfect lighting effects.

In 1903, Mondrian experienced a period of artistic discovery -- his art had changed when he returned to Amsterdam in 1905. He painted the Gein River in Amsterdam, which now looked more structured and geometric compared to his previous artwork. However, his paintings at this time still looked like typical landscapes.

Mondrian’s Experimental Period

Red Cloud by Piet Mondrian

In 1907, the Quadrennial Exhibition took place in Amsterdam and featured many famous post-impressionist painters. They were known for using bold and bright colours that didn’t look exactly like the ones you’d see in real life. Mondrian was inspired by their use of colour, and quickly sketched Red Cloud as a study the same year. In 1908, his work started to resemble expressionist painters with bright yellows, oranges, blues, violets, and reds, breaking free from traditional landscape art.

Windmill in Sunlight: Mondrian and the Luminists

Windmill in Sunlight by Piet Mondrian

Mondrian was also heavily inspired by the Luminists, a neo-impressionist group of artists who painted light by using dots or short lines of primary colours. Mondrian did the same, and limited the colours he used to only primary colours. One of his best artworks that was done with this style was Windmill in Sunlight.

In May of that year, Mondrian joined the Theosophical Society, a group that believed that the spiritual world and the physical world were connected. Mondrian was inspired by this, and created paintings that started to paint less from life, and more from the feelings that objects gave him. This started a trend, where he began to paint more forms than actual objects.

In 1910, Mondrian’s Luminist-style paintings were exhibited at the St. Lucas Exhibition in Amsterdam, and attracted a lot of attention.

Piet Mondrian and Cubism

Composition in Brown and Grey by Piet Mondrian (left), Girl with Mandolin by Pablo Picasso (right)

Mondrian was also inspired by the Cubist movement. In 1911, he saw the artwork of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque for the first time, and was so impressed that he moved to Paris in 1912 to study the style and adapt it into his own paintings. His Cubist period lasted from 1912 to 1917, and his use of geometry would become very influential for his later artwork.

The development of Piet Mondrian’s Abstract Art Style

Pier and Ocean by Piet Mondrian

In the summer of 1914, Mondrian met the philosopher M.H.J. Schoenmaekers. His philosophy on how to interpret lines and how the universe was made inspired Mondrian’s artwork. With Schoenmaekers ideas, he created a “set of rules” for his artwork, and the tipping point for the abstract style he’s most known for was created with Composition No. 10, Pier and Ocean.

The Creation of De Stijl/Neoplasticism

Composition with Red, Blue, Yellow, and Black (left) and Composition in Color A (right) by Piet Mondrian

In 1917, Mondrian and three other painters, Theo van Doesburg, Bart van der Leck, and Vilmos Huszar, founded the De Stijl movement. This art movement was about using the most basic elements possible to depict subjects instead of actually drawing them, such as straight lines, primary colours, black, white and grey. This concept was given the name neoplasticism by Mondrian. This meant that the artist would present to viewers what they felt was a “true vision of reality”

At first, Mondrian didn’t use any lines for his neoplasticism artwork, and instead just painted rectangles and squares of colour on a white canvas. But in 1918, he began to use lines, painting strips of straight horizontal black lines to separate the blocks of colour. Piet Mondrian is most known for his red, blue, and yellow compositions. During this time, his art was no longer given titles that represented the artwork, but were merely called ‘compositions.’

Piet Mondrian’s Final Artistic Phase

Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian

His artwork reached its final phase in the 1940s, when he moved to New York City and became inspired by the interlocking buildings and city life. He stopped using just black lines, and began to use coloured lines instead. Once he grew bored with this, he began to paint smaller squares and rectangles of colour, forming horizontal and vertical lines when put together. New York City I and Broadway Boogie Woogie were two incredibly popular pieces, exhibited in 1943 and 1944. Some interpret the yellow dotted lines as the yellow taxi cabs that were iconic in New York City.

Piet Mondrian passed away on February 1, 1944 due to pneumonia. His abstract art had a huge impact on the art world as well as fashion and popular culture. His artwork is still celebrated to this day in schools and art museums around the world.

Piet Mondrian-Inspired Abstract Art Project for Kids

Student Artwork by Gabriel S.

Explore Piet Mondrian’s artistic style with this easy step-by-step abstract art project for beginners that’s kid-friendly!

  1. Gather pencil crayons/markers/paint in the colours red, blue, yellow, and black

  2. Find a ruler and a white sheet of paper

  3. Using the ruler and the black applicator, make horizontal and vertical lines across the page. Some lines should cross over each other to make boxes

  4. Try to make each box a different size for an interesting composition!

  5. Use the red, yellow, and blue to colour in individual boxes, while leaving other ones white

  6. Enjoy your own version of a Piet Mondrian painting!

Teacher Resources

If you’re a teacher that’s interested in Piet Mondrian content for your classroom, visit these easy and accessible resources!

If you’d like more worksheets related to art, check out our teachers pay teachers page where you can get worksheets and lesson plans for your classroom! More classroom resources like this can be found on our art resources for teachers page, where we cover art history and more!

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If you'd like to learn more about Piet Mondrian's artwork and career, check out more of his history here!

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