Piet Mondrian’s name is linked to the Dutch Neo-Plasticist group associated with the periodical De Stijl. His conception that art should be represented through the straight line and pure colours as a symbol of the expression of the cosmic order made him one of the major advocates of abstraction and one of the most admired and influential artists of the twentieth century. Mondrian trained as a compulsory education drawing teacher and in 1892 enrolled at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam, where he began to mix with the art groups of the day. His first works were serene landscapes painted in delicate shades of grey, mauve and dark green, and in 1908, influenced by the painter Jan Toorop, he began to experiment with brighter colours.
In 1912 Mondrian moved to Paris, where he met Fernand Léger and Georges Braque, among others. His spell in the French capital prompted him to adopt the Cubist style, from which he gradually turned towards abstraction. The outbreak of the First World War forced him to remain in the Netherlands, where he met Bart van der Leck and Theo van Doesburg. In 1917, along with the two painters and a group of young architects and artists, he founded the De Stijl magazine, which until 1924 provided him with a vehicle for disseminating Neo-Plasticism, an art that sought to represent the absolute truths of the universe. From this point onwards Mondrian’s painting was expressed solely through planes of primary colours and straight lines. When Van Doesburg introduced the diagonal into his compositions in 1925, Mondrian left the group for good.
Mondrian later collaborated with the Cercle et Carré group established by Michel Seuphor in 1929 and joined August Herbin’s group Abstraction-Création in 1931. In 1938 he emigrated to London and in the autumn of 1940, after the air raids on the city and the German occupation of Paris, he decided to take up the American painter Harry Holtzman’s offer to go to New York. In America his style lost its previous rigidity, influenced by the intrinsic movement of the seething metropolis, its skyscrapers and jazz, and acquired a greater freedom and a livelier rhythm.