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Piet Mondrian. Works Comparison From Naturalistic to Neo-Plastic

Art is an essential part of people’s life. Art relaxes and fills our souls with feelings of beauty and peace. There are a lot of artists whose masterpieces people have been admiring for many years and continue to admire now. Artist is a part of his painting. We may see the artist’s character, feelings, and emotions when we look at this or that masterpiece. Mondrian Piet is a Netherland painter who put the beginning to abstract painting.

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Two works of art of Piet Mondrian: “The Red Tree” (1909-1910) and “Boogie Woogie Broadway” (1942-1943) will be our main consideration in this paper. These two paintings were created in different periods of his career, so their initial characteristics would be different. Mondrian’s spiritual beliefs and love of music profoundly influenced his work as he became an abstract artist due to ultimately finding greater freedom in defining his own artistic and technical parameters than he did as a naturalist.

Mondrian paintings are dynamic and smooth simultaneously. The first period of Mondrian painting is characterized by abounding landscapes and predominance of red, yellow and blue. Then the artist found out for himself that there are much more colors, which he continued to use in his further works. His art was clear and perfect. During the second, neo-plastic, period of his works, he began to break his own rules and painted colorful and happy pictures. (Elder and Thomas 2005)

Piet Mondrian was born in Amersfoort, Amsterdam in 1872. He lived almost till 72 and died in 1944 in New York from pneumonia. He was an abstract artist and theorist of “Neo-Plasticism”, which was the style of geometric construction. This style became dominant in his future works. (Henkels 1987)

The whole period of Mondrian’s career can be separated into two periods: Naturalistic and Neo-Plastic. The first period, Naturalistic, continued till the 1910s. The period of Naturalistic paintings may be characterized by the nature depiction. The examples of the works of this period are the following, “Evening Landscape”, “Landscape at Sunset”, “Farm in Evening” and others. The group of these works is known as “Evening and Night Landscapes”. Mondrian paid much attention to flowers, trees, clouds, and other items of nature. The other examples of his works are “Windmill by the Water”, “Chrysanthemum”, “Tiger Lily” and others. As all his pieces of works are abstract, every picture brings a lot of meanings and symbols. (Henkels 1987)

Mondrian paid too much attention to every piece in nature. He has lots of groups of works related to landscapes, flowers, seas, trees, portraits and others. When he was interested in something, he wanted to represent the viewers with it as much as he could.

Mondrian explored nature in his own way and gradually began to simplify the colors and shapes; he saw that his style evolved from his expressive and naturalistic semi-impressionist style into Luminism. His naturalistic art “was considered as end in itself” (Gilmore 2000). Naturalistic art is a movement that has come through a long history, which continues to develop and progress. (Gilmore 2000)

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Cubism was the starting spot of the abstract direction of the painting’s development in Mondrian’s works. “Mondrian’s artistic personality is marked by a strong degree of continuity” (Henkels 1987, 38). There are a lot of works where trees are depicted. The theme of “trees” plays a methodological role in the Winterswijk period of the artist. The tension between trees and buildings culture in Mondrian’s works of art was significant. The symbolism of trees was one of the main reasons why Mondrian treated this theme frequently and intensively. (Henkels 1987)

His work of art “The Red Tree” (1909-1910) is a huge branchy tree without leaves. The tree is red-brown on the blue background. The leaves have already fallen – we may see them on the ground. The blue background is of different shades, the tree is very big and the branches are interwoven. The impression is that the painting represents autumn with the rain. The huge and powerful tree is standing alone. The blue background gives an impression of rain and wind, but the tree is standing unmoved, which underlines its grandeur.

The work is very expressive. While creating it Mondrian was fully inspired by the works of Van Gogh. The ability to combine lots of details in one piece of work in the best possible coherence was one of the main goals of Mondrian, while he created his “The Red Tree” (1909-1910). Looking at the painting, we have a feeling that the artist wanted to represent the viewers with the “pure essence of ‘treeness’” (Solso 2000, 265).

Mondrian joined a theosophical society, around the time he started painting “The Red Tree” (1909-1910) and became the founder of the thinking and intellectual side of art. The history of this painting is rather significant. The real surname of the artist is Mondriaan. He said once that when he would be able to discover his pure personality, he would change his surname into Mondrian. “The Red Tree” (1909-1910) was the first canvas that he signed as Mondrian. (McDonald 2007)

The rise of Cubism gave Mondrian the means to segment and reduce objects down to their most basic forms. The last finished work of this artist is “Boogie Woogie Broadway” (1942-1943). The choice of such a name to the picture was rather symbolic, the artist wanted to tell the viewers that his works “are the genuine plastic expression of the pulsing vitality of Life” (Henkels 1987, 40). Mondrian loved New York. “Boogie Woogie Broadway” (1942-1943) is the abstract geographical vision of New York, the “geometry of the lighted windows” (McDonald 2007, 501). The work represents lots of colors of different shades and the geometric figures are of different shapes and sizes.

Mondrian developed a theory of Neo-Plasticism which became his guiding philosophy and led to the embodiment of the male/female principle in the vertical/horizontal lines of his paintings. “Boogie Woogie Broadway” (1942-1943) was the artist’s intention to adopt the principles of neoplasticism for depicting dynamic effects.

The neo-Plastic style of art takes its roots in cubism. We may also call the Neo-plastic movement a real-abstract painting. The reason for this is very simple: abstraction in painting can be expressed through plastic means. The reality and relations may be achieved in the neo-plastic painting. (Emmer 2005)

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Mondrian was a theoretical artist for a Neo-Plastic theory. He represented the “De Stijl”, a journal, where he wrote a review of modern visual art. The text is divided into several parts: Neo-Plasticism as a Style, Neo-Plasticism as Abstract Realistic Painting, and the Rationality of Neo-Plasticism. The text is very difficult to read and understand because of two reasons. The first is that the text is very abstract by its nature, and the second is that the author of the article wanted to say too much at once and his thoughts were confused (Blotkamp 2001).

Mondrian understood Neo-plastic style as an absolute harmony of straight lines and pure color. The works of the artist of this period, including “Boogie Woogie Broadway” (1942-1943), were reduced to simple blocks, lines and geographical shapes.

The optical mixing in “Boogie Woogie Broadway” (1942-1943) is omnipresent. In “Boogie Woogie Broadway” (1942-1943), the artist “attempts to integrate the oscillation as a given into his composition”, but this effect, this attempt is “reinforced at once, rather than suppressed the hollowing out” (Bois 2001, 176).

The two paintings which we have described, “Boogie Woogie Broadway” (1942-1943) and “The Red Tree” (1909-1910) are easy to contrast as they were painted in different periods of Mondrian’s life and have lots of differences. At the same time, these paintings have some common features, as they were painted by one artist.

The similarities may be defined as follows. Mondrian’s use of brush strokes themselves forms horizontal lines, almost small rectangles along the bottom of “The Red Tree” (1909-1910). The “Boogie Woogie Broadway” (1942-1943) is a painting created with the help of horizontal and vertical lines. Both paintings use the three basic primary colors: red, yellow and blue, as the color scheme. There is no shade in both paintings. These works of art seem to be very simple in creation and perception, but at the same time, they are very symbolic and difficult to understand if a person does not know the history of their creation, the artist’s biography, and the style of painting.

One of the main differences, which is seen at once, is the Organic nature of “The Red Tree” (1909-1910) and the Geometric Nature of “Boogie Woogie Broadway” (1942-1943). These two natures contradict each other. This difference appears because “The Red Tree” was painted in the naturalistic period of Mondrian’s career, and “Boogie Woogie Broadway” (1942-1943) was created in the Neo-Plastic period of his painting when he became to experiment with geographical abstraction.

Mondrian left his old values behind in Holland and looked to his new home. This new home appeared to be New York City. The influence of this big and magnificent city with lots of motifs pushed him to the creation of “Boogie Woogie Broadway” (1942-1943), while the pure nature was the muse for Mondrian while creation “The Red Tree” (1909-1910).

These two paintings represent two different periods of a painting of Mondrian and at the same time two of his periods of life. The naturalism period (“The Red Tree”, 1909-1910) lasted till 1917 when Mondrian wrote his article on the essence of Neo-Plastic. The next period lasted till his death. New York was the city where Mondrian found some new inspiration for painting and at the same time the place, where he died, and did not finish his last painting.

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Mondrian was a great artist, who managed to have time to paint so many works of art, to have time to become a theorist of Neo-Plasticism, and he managed to create in this new direction of art. Mondrian’s life may be divided into periods, Naturalistic and Neo-Plastic, and Naturalism smoothly came into Neo-Plasticism, without any danger and damage to his paintings.

Mondrian began to free the objects depicted in his paintings from naturalistic representation: these objects became formal components of the overall harmony of his paintings, or, in other words, the material elements began to merge with the overall spiritual message of his work, and here Mondrian found his personal voice that he had been searching for.

Neo-Plasticism is a direction of art where Mondrian had found himself, his nature. It is the direction of art that he wanted to develop and continue but could not because of his illness. His last unfinished picture was “Victory Boogie Woogie” which should have been of the same theme and nature as “Boogie Woogie Broadway”.

Reference List

Blotkamp, C. 2001. Mondrian: the art of destruction. Reaction Books.

Bois, Y. 2001. Painting as model. MIT Press.

Elder, J. and M. Thomas. 2005. Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Emmer, M. 2005. The visual mind II. MIT Press.

Gilmore, J. 2000. The life of a style. Cornell University Press.

Henkels, H. 1987. Plastic art and pure plastic art. The Tokyo Shimbun.

McDonald, G. and Inc NetLibrary. 2007. Frommer’s Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. Frommer’s.

Solso, L. R. 2000. Cognition and the visual arts. MIT Press.

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