Piet Mondrian: Tableau with Large Red Plane, Blue, Black, Light Green and Greyish Blue, 1921

By Paul, Stella | School Arts, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Piet Mondrian: Tableau with Large Red Plane, Blue, Black, Light Green and Greyish Blue, 1921


Paul, Stella, School Arts


About the Artist

Piet Mondrian pioneered an abstract art of distilled structure based on ideas of harmonic perfection. Mondrian grew up in a small town in the Netherlands, the son of a school teacher. His development as an artist was a long search. His early work--notable for landscapes--is realistic and somber in character. The art became increasingly abstract even though Mondrian's subjects were drawn from the natural world. Eventually, he developed a style that was completely abstract, with no links to realistic motifs.

As an adult, Mondrian lived on and off in the Netherlands and Paris. In 1938, he relocated to London and eventually to New York, where he died in 1944.

About the Art

The art looks deceptively simple. In fact, it is constructed around subtle properties of form and color arranged in dynamic equilibrium, and it reflects Mondrian's complex theory. This artist was striving for an expression of complete harmony; he dreamed of a future in which all humankind might live in perfect synchronization (universal cosmic order) with the forces of the universe.

While the art is not simple, it is fundamental: a distillation of artistic structure. Mondrian wanted to "paint the universal." This art is based on absolute essence, and the result is exacting, orderly, and pared down. Compositions are based on verticals and horizontals intersecting only at right angles. There are no diagonals. Color, too, is radically reduced to the fundamentals. Mondrian said, "I forsook natural color for pure color."

Aware of color theory, he understood that all colors could be derived from the three primary hues: red, blue, and yellow. He also allowed black, gray, and white as "non-colors."

Mondrian called his art Neoplasticism and he wrote about its meaning in a manifesto. It was first published in Dutch (1917-1920), and later republished in other languages, including English (1937). He wrote that a work of art needs to be self-sufficient and not simply a copy or an illusion of something: "the task of art is to express a clear vision of reality." He used the term "abstract-real" to reinforce the idea that the art was a real thing, wholly complete in itself, and not derived from nature. For Mondrian, the artwork's essential reality would express the elemental, underlying force of nature. Mondrian was seeking an art of stability and balance in contrast to what he considered ever-changing surface appearances.

A Closer Look

Tableau with Large Red Plane, Blue, Black, Light Green and Greyish Blue (1921) is a perfect square within which Mondrian has positioned eleven rectangles of varying sizes. The parts are organized in a framework of black lines that seem to "lock" everything in place. No curves, no diagonals disturb the basic clarity of expression.

The closer we look, the more subtle the composition becomes. It is not based on any calculated mathematical formula. For Mondrian, the structure emerges from intuition and from careful, reflective working and reworking of the interrelationships between the elements. There is a sense of dynamic tension in which every element seems to be at maximum intensity.

No one part takes on a greater importance than any other. …

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