piet mondrian tate
Piet Mondrian is a Dutch artist best known for his abstract paintings. Art that is abstract does not show things that are recognisable such as people, objects or landscapes. Instead artists use colours, shapes and textures to achieve their effect
This is the Piet Mondrian in his Paris studio.
On 23 September 1940 Mondrian left Europe for New York aboard the Cunard White Star Lines ship RMS Samaria, departing from Liverpool.  The new canvases that Mondrian began in Manhattan are even more startling, and indicate the beginning of a new idiom that was cut short by the artist’s death. New York City (1942) is a complex lattice of red, blue, and yellow lines, occasionally interlacing to create a greater sense of depth than his previous works. An unfinished 1941 version of this work uses strips of painted paper tape, which the artist could rearrange at will to experiment with different designs.
Although one’s view of the painting is hampered by the glass protecting it, and by the toll that age and handling have obviously taken on the canvas, a close examination of this painting begins to reveal something of the artist’s method. The painting is not composed of perfectly flat planes of color, as one might expect. Subtle brush strokes are evident throughout. The artist appears to have used different techniques for the various elements. [ citation needed ] The black lines are the flattest elements, with the least amount of depth. The colored forms have the most obvious brush strokes, all running in one direction. Most interesting, however, are the white forms, which clearly have been painted in layers, using brush strokes running in different directions. This generates a greater sense of depth in the white forms so that they appear to overwhelm the lines and the colors, which indeed they were doing, as Mondrian’s paintings of this period came to be increasingly dominated by white space.
Now we have two, concurrent and complementary (if geographically distant) surveys. Yet even if you put them both together they’d fail to provide anything like a complete picture of this most rigorous and austere of modernist artists.
The smaller exhibition, at Turner Contemporary in Margate, features some wonderfully luminous painting. It looks at Mondrian’s early figurative canvases and the beginnings of his grid motif, and yet it never adequately explores that transition. The second, at Tate Liverpool, recreates his studios in Amsterdam, Paris and New York, and gives us, fully formed, the Mondrian that’s instantly recognisable to all: the black intersecting horizontal and vertical lines containing blue, yellow and red rectangles, against a white (initially grey) surface, in tautly balanced compositions. (Pictured below: Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red, 1937-42)
Mondrian was an ardent dancer. He disdained the sentimental Tango but was keen on jazz and adored the Charleston – famous for its high energy. ‘All modern dances look feeble against such powerfully maintained concentration of speed,’ he commented.
Piet Mondrian is often seen as a rather distanced character, inhuman even. His paintings don’t appear to be very expressive – and people often say they’re ‘emotionless’ or ‘calculated’. But the years I’ve spent studying his art and his career lead me to be believe that this is far from the truth. Tate Liverpool’s Mondrian and his Studios is the first exhibition to concentrate closely on the artist’s working environment – and curating it has convinced me that, if we look at Mondrian’s practices carefully, we can not only come to a better understanding of him, but we can take a few lessons away ourselves.
Mondrian’s pursuit of a new spirituality and a new art for the modern world was fundamental to the modernist art movement. Here he reduces his colour to a single red rectangle, giving the black lines greater importance as compositional elements. The structure is slightly off-set, reflecting his opposition to the ‘false ease’ of symmetry in favour of ‘the dynamic equilibrium of true life’, for which he sought a pictorial equivalent.
Of the three paintings by Mondrian in Abstract & Concrete, Nicolette Gray bought the smallest, Composition C with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935, also known as Composition with Red and Blue (Tate L00097) after the show had ended. Helen Sutherland (1881-1965), a friend and wealthy patron of the arts, bought Composition B with Red from the exhibition in London. Sutherland was a close friend of Winifred and Ben Nicholson, and gave precious financial and moral support to many artists. On her death she bequeathed her collection, including Composition B with Red, to Nicolette Gray.