Piet Mondriaan: Farm near Duivendrecht ( c. 1916); Art Institute Chicago

Mondriaan - Landscape painter par excellence

As 2017 is the year in which the 100th anniversary of the Stijl movement is celebrated, it's a good time to take a closer look at the work of its greatest artist: Piet Mondriaan. This painter, outside of the Netherlands usually simply referred to as 'Mondrian', is widely regarded as one of the quintessential avant-garde artists of the 20th century. To the general public he is the man who crafted carefully calculated grid patterns on white surfaces with black lines and primary colours. That he was also a magnificent landscape painter is slightly less well known.
Mondriaan started his artistic career as a member of the movement that specialized in Dutch landscapes that was known as the Hague School. His uncle, Frits Mondriaan, whom himself was a respected and talented painter, had introduced Piet to this group and its stylistic ideals. Mondriaan and his uncle often made trips to the Dutch countryside together to capture its specific characteristics on canvas.
In the last decade of the 19th century work associated to the Hague School began to sell exceptionally well and it was thus an almost inevitable style to adapt for any aspiring young Dutch artist. Mondriaan made rapid progress, yet he felt constrained in this tried idiom. Influenced by Neoplatonic and esoteric theories he began to experiment with colour schemes – a process that eventually led to his hypermodern grid patterns. Before he got there Mondriaan's art went through all sorts of experimental phases, yet the Dutch landscape always remained his main source of inspiration. This is still clearly the case in Farm near Duivendrecht (1916), one of his last works that is not completely abstract. It shows a farm next to the river Gein, a place he had visited and depicted dozens of times since he first visited it as a teenager with his uncle Frits. In this version the colours are no longer realistic; they are reminiscent of the colours used by the French Post-Impressionists. The almost abstract patterns of the tree branches and the flattening of the picture surface hinted at what was soon to come.
(Edgar Foley)


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