Blog post

Inspiring movement: Piet Mondrian, painting and migration

Celebrated Dutch artist Piet Mondrian is a pioneer of 20th century abstract art who lived in Paris, London and New York, with his art reflecting his migrations.

Europeana Foundation

Piet Mondrian is a celebrated Dutch artist, a pioneer of 20th century abstract art that the Netherlands are rightly proud of. But, in addition to being lauded as Dutch, Mondrian could also be celebrated as a Paris, London or New York artist.

Mondrian migrated several times. His style of art changed throughout his life, growing more abstract, coinciding with his movements and migrations to cities across Europe and the USA. This blog will look at the life of Piet Mondrian with a special focus on his migration and his artworks.

Pieter Mondriaan was born in Amersfoort in 1872. In his early years, he was inspired by his creative family. His uncle Frits was a landscape artist and designer who taught him painting, while his father encourages him to become a drawing teacher.

In 1892, Mondrian moved to Amsterdam to study at the Rijksacademie where he produced his first works as an artist. He often painted scenery around Amsterdam, and became known as a landcape painter.

In 1911, Mondrian moved to Paris, dropping an 'a' from his surnmame Mondriaan, to signal his departure from the Netherlands.

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While in Paris, Mondrian became more aware of modern artists, including Diego Rivera and the Cubist style of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. These inspired him to change his painting style. He began to paint with a more limited colour palette.

During 1914, Mondrian returned to the Netherlands to visit his ill father. Mondrian could not return to Paris because World War I broke out. He was forced stay in the Netherlands for the duration of the war.

During this period, Mondrian, along with a number of other artists including Theo van Doesburg, founded De Stijl (The Style), an artistic movement promoting abstraction. De Stijl artworks were simplified to vertical and horizontal compositions, using only black, white and primary colors.

Mondrian returned to Paris in 1919. By 1920, Mondrian's now-famous grid paintings began to appear.

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However, his paintings were not popular and did not initially sell well.

By the late 1930s, however, abstract art has become more accepted, and Mondrian was considered one of the foremost abstract artists.

In 1938, with Nazi Germany on the rise, Mondrian left Paris for London. After the invasion of the Netherlands and Paris fell in 1940, he left London for Manhattan. Mondrian and his work became much more famous after his arrival in New York.

Since his days in Paris, Mondrian collected jazz records. In New York, Mondrian embraced the city's life to the full. Victory Boogie Woogie, often considered his unfinished masterpiece, reflects the vibrancy of New York life, Manhattan's grid-like street structure and the rhythms of jazz music.

Mondrian died in New York in 1944, aged 71. Since his death, his paintings have become more famous, inspiring further artworks and Mondrian's place as a master of modernist art has been secured.

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By Adrian Murphy, Europeana Foundation

Feature image: The Red Tree, Piet Mondrian, Kunstmuseum Den Haag, CC BY