‘I wish to approach truth as closely as is possible, and therefore I abstract everything until I arrive at the fundamental quality of objects.’ Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian changed painting. The twentieth century Dutch artist moved from depicting reality to pioneer something completely new and controversial, abstraction.
His most famous works, the ‘grids’ use simple lines and the primary colours red, yellow and blue to create a ‘universal harmony’, separating colour and subject from reality, transforming the material world into something spiritual.
70 years after Mondrian’s death, get beneath the grid and trace Mondrian’s journey to abstraction through colour. Colour underpinned Mondrian’s work, from the early days painting landscapes in the Netherlands, to the later works where colour was separated from its function of creating shading or volume.
See over 50 works spanning Mondrian’s journey, many from the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, which holds the largest collection of Mondrian’s paintings, along with exhibits from museums and private collections in Europe and the USA.
The exhibition is organised in collaboration with Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg.
Turner Contemporary is working in partnership with Tate Liverpool, who is presenting the concurrent exhibition Mondrian and his Studios
from 6 June until 5 October 2014. Mondrian and his Studios
explores the artist's importance in the field of abstraction and his relationship with architecture and urbanism.
“The exhibition has the narrative tension of a thriller”
“If you think you know Mondrian and his grids, prepare to be surprised”
“One of the essential art shows of 2014”
“These are two world class exhibitions which explore the artists’ use of light, colour and form”
The Cultural Voyager
**** “This exhibition proves there was a lot more to Mondrian than his trademark grids”
"I left the gallery completely convinced of the profundity and import of what I’d seen.”
"Mondrian is Dutch after all. But it took a trip down to Margate to see it."
"A real revelation"
"You would be hard pressed to find such a good exhibition"
The Big Issue
"Turner Contemporary’s display is by far the most intriguing, not least because it features the paintings with which we are least familiar."
The Arts Desk“They were all magnificent but one in particular, a riverscape entitled Row of Eleven Poplars in Red, Yellow, Blue And Green, painted in 1908, pulled me up in my tracks. I could not breathe. I felt tears welling.”
Sunday ExpressAudioguide available for £4 / £3.50 concessions
An audioguide, narrated by broadcaster Fiona Bruce, accompanies the exhibition. "Fiona Bruce whispering in my ear for an hour, best £4 I ever spent!"
Mondrian and Colour visitorWIN a Mondrian and Colour goody bag worth £50
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Enter the survey before 6pm on Friday 13 June 2014 and add your email address to be entered into the prize draw.
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Mondrian was born in 1872 and died in 1944 when World War II was still raging. This period bore witness to the seismic impact of two World Wars, and saw massive social and technological change.
He was at the forefront of Modernism, a movement which asserted the power of people to improve their environment, supported by advanced scientific knowledge and technology. Celebrating the present, modernism included the works of those who rebelled against late 19th century traditions, and confronted the new economic, social and political aspects of the nascent modern world. Living through overwhelming changes in society, struggling to earn a living and carving out a unique creative path, Mondrian demonstrated enormous resilience, confidence, vision and strength of character.
Mondrian lived at an extraordinary time of artistic experimentation and production. He met, and saw the work of, many other artists when he lived in the Netherlands, Paris, London and New York. Mondrian learnt from his influences, but would then move on, developing his own vision.
Mondrian’s abstract works were not simply mathematical exercises in form but also expressed his search for a new universal harmony.
In the landscapes he created shortly after 1900, Mondrian painted the rays of the sun and the glow of the moon in order to make a new statement about colour. He was no longer interested in capturing fleeting external reality in the Impressionist sense; instead, his goal was to express spirituality in painting and return it to its essential nature. In 1921, Mondrian decided to paint only in primary colours in addition to white and black.
Although he is often perceived as austere, solitary and introverted, Mondrian was constantly exchanging ideas with friends and fellow artists, and considering others’ work. Vincent van Gogh was an important role model for Mondrian, especially in terms of his free use of colour and the tactile application of paint. In 1901, Mondrian had seen works by Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro at the exhibition Paintings of the Modern French School in Amsterdam.
He explored the works of the Impressionist Monet, who had travelled to the Netherlands at the beginning of the 1870s, focusing especially on the way he applied his paint and how he treated light.
In 1911, Mondrian moved to Paris and the influence of the Cubist style of Picasso and Georges Braque appeared almost immediately in his work. However, ‘. . . I realised that Braque and Picasso did not accept the logical consequences of their own discoveries. This desire of the cubists to represent volumes in space was contrary to my idea of abstraction, which is based on the belief that the space itself must be destroyed.’
Mondrian was passionate about American jazz, particularly boogie-woogie, finding its beat, irreverent approach to melody, and improvisational approach akin to what he called, in his own work, the "destruction of natural appearance; and construction through continuous opposition of pure means—dynamic rhythm."
Mondrian's art was intimately related to his spiritual and philosophical studies. The Gein, a small river in northern Netherlands, was Mondrian’s favourite subject between 1902 and 1908. Here his interest in the ideas of Theosophy began to emerge. Theosophists were searching for counterparts in nature to the cosmic. Water, earth and air should be incorporated into a harmonious whole.
In 1909, he joined the Dutch branch of the Theosophical Society. Theosophists believed that every thought generates an aura that surrounds each person. Both the forms themselves and the colour of the forms carry meaning. The representation of the universal, dynamic pulse of life, also expressed in modern jazz and the metropolis, was Mondrian’s point of departure.
While Mondrian was visiting home from Paris in 1914, World War I began, forcing him to remain in The Netherlands for the duration of the conflict. During this period, he stayed on an artist's colony, there meeting artists Bart van der Leck and Theo van Doesburg, who were both moving towards Abstraction.
With Van Doesburg, Mondrian founded De Stijl (The Style), a journal of the De Stijl Group, in which he published his first essays defining his theory. De Stijl rejected the ideas of the nineteenth century, instead celebrating abstraction and the new machine age. Mondrian felt that he needed to create a new art, ‘. . . as new men will someday demand new surroundings’.
He returned to Paris after the First World War, but later the Second World War forced him to leave again to escape the impending Nazi invasion. He fled for London in 1938, his fear of the Nazis increased by the inclusion of two of his paintings on Hitler’s Degenerate Art list. He lived in the UK for two years meeting artists including Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson.
As the German pressure on Great Britain grew, Mondrian left for New York in 1940. There, modern city life had a huge impact on him, inspiring him to make works including Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942 – 1943) a series of paths across the canvas suggesting the city's grid, moving traffic, bright electric lights, and the rhythms of jazz