Mondrian – Committing to and refining Spatial Planes

Piet Mondrian - Still Life with Ginger Jar II - 1912 - 91 x 125 cm - oil on canvas

Mondrian’s dedication to refining the consideration of spatial planes as presented by Cezanne is most impressive and it the beginning of his journey towards abstraction.  It is important to note that most abstract art has a figurative base, and I think it is fair to say Mondrian was one of the few who managed to venture beyond the figurative, which will take a few years for him to achieve.

In this painting we see the early steps of his journey by reducing and raising the subject matter towards the picture plane.  He also breaks the space into planes as well which unifies the subject matter and the space it occupies

This wonderful refinement of cubism is truly a great step in art which is still difficult for many to accept, and I think it is much closer to our reality than traditional depiction or perspective.  We don’t live in a world with perspective because we and every thing else are constantly moving through time, and in painting, spatial planes provide the viewer the ability to move around, (in their minds), in the paintings.

Mondrian, Picasso, Braque and other notable artists of the time, understood this, and journeyed through the door Cezanne presented to them, leading the way to the wonderful world of twentieth century painting.



Influences – (Cezanne on Mondrian)

Piet Mondrian - Still Life with Jinger Jar I - 1912 - 65 x 75 cm - oil on canvas

This painting by Mondrian is an excellent example of master painters permitting influences to show in their work.  Mondrian is acknowledging the importance of the great considerations of Cezanne, and his refinements are wonderful.

In this painting he provides a balance between traditional representation and the new approach to creating the sense of space.  We see this at the bottom right where he provided a couple of angles and a horizontal line.  These create planes in space which are meant to be felt more than seen.  Can you feel the space in front of the table?

When we focus on the drapery we sense volume and space through the feeling of overlapping triangles which also are raised towards the picture plane.  What impresses me is that diagonal which seems to come forth and how it also parallels beautifully with a second angle, the one connecting to the top of the blue ginger jar.  Again try to feel the space between the parallels.

When these spatial considerations were coming to the forefront in painting something interesting also took hold. It was the idea of suggesting rather than explaining, and Mondrian displays this idea in how he treats the subject matter in the upper right of the picture.This is just one of the seeds that will eventually lead Mondrian towards abstraction.


Mondrian – (Integration and Rhythmic Shape Motifs)

Piet Mondrian - Farm at Duivendrcht - 1907 - 87 x 109 cm - oil on canvas

This beautifully rendered painting by Mondrian is a superb example of sophisticated  integration.  We see this in how he poetically harmonized the trees with the house.  Let’s begin with the tree at the left and the subtle parallel of the lower branch with the roof line.  The relationship provided is a form of integration and can also be considered harmony and structure as well.  Now to the next tree and how it blends with the roof line.  The third tree from the left also parallels the roof line, then connects to the chimney.  The fourth tree follows the roof at the right and then continues up to form a triangle shape with the large tree leaning in from the right. This triangle form echoes the triangle shapes of the house, providing a beautiful rhythm, or triangle motif. We then continue with the rhytms of the earlier trees with the large branch going to the right in this large tree.  The group of trees at the right form a large shape which provides a counter movement paralleling the right sides of the triangle shapes in the house.  There are more waiting to be discovered.

I would like to mention the birds, which Mondrian used as a refinement to the composition.  Note how they extend, or integrate with, the large shape of the trees, guiding you down to the left tree.  And how two of the birds integrate with the large branch of the large tree at the right, and how that little bird at the right of the trees connects to the tree below.  If the bird was further from the trees  the connection would dissipate.  The location of the bird would also integrate work elsewhere, the key is the distance between the chosen branch and the bird.

A master painter is very aware of the importance of every mark and how it relates to the composition.

I would like to take you to the water at the bottom right of the painting and why he choose not to show the reflection of the sky.  The reason being it would compete with the focus of the painting by drawing us down to the bottom.  This is an excellent example of composition before information!


Another note:

It’s good to be aware that the movement towards abstraction came through figurative painters, as we see in Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Nicholson and many others in this period of great change in painting.


Mondrian – (Spatial Planes)

Piet Mondrian - Apple Tree in Flower - 1912 - 78 x 106 cm - oil on canvas

In this third version of the tree, Mondrian has brought spatial planes to the forefront.  This is about painting space and occupying space, and he has accomplished the challenge impressively.

Reducing the tree to a rhythm of loops, conveying it’s presence and movement is fantastic.  Mondrian then used vertical and horizontal lines, which we read as planes in space.  I feel this is a great achievement.  He has shown us how to convey a very complex consideration with just a few markings, avoiding substance.  Brilliant!   I hope you can feel the energy and space.

A great deal of consideration went into this series of paintings from 1904 to 1912 and Mondrian has taken cubism to new heights and he will continue to lead the way towards abstraction along with a few other notable artists.

Inviting the masters to influence is important to all artists.  And we see this with Mondrian taking Cezanne’s spatial planes and Cubism to a new level.

Mondrian – (Spatial Planes and Rhythm)

Piet Mondrian - Tree - 1912 - 65 x 81 cm - oil on canvas

Eight years later Mondrian is refining the challenge of spatial planes.  And he has accomplished the feeling of the tree being in space magnificently.  The was quite an accomplishment in 1912, and shows us how cubist considerations will lead Mondrian towards abstraction.

The tree is now a wonderful rhythm of curved lines and shapes or what I like to term “loops”.  Can you feel the energy and movement, not only in the tree but the surrounding space as well?

This is truly elegant, especially when we see how successfully he combined the loops with a loose or open grid, conveying the sense of the space in front of, as well as within, and behind the tree.

The grid reads as planes and Mondrian has shown how sophisticated and important spacial planes are in painting.

I’m sure he was very grateful to Cezanne

Mondrian – (Creating Space with Colour)

Piet Mondrian - The Red Tree - 1908-10 - 70 x 99 cm - oil on canvas

In this traditional rendering of a tree, Mondrian has not only brought colour to the forefront, he has also used colour to create the sense of space.  We immediately respond to the relationship of the blue and orange.  Our eye reads the orange as coming forward  and then continue to the receding blue.  We then connect to the rhythms in the tree and come to a beautiful pause at the top right.

By restricting his palette Mondrian has emphasised colour and used colour as spatial planes.

Combining Fauvist and Cubist considerations provided Mondrian the opportunity for experimentation and growth and he refined these superbly.

Mondrian – (Integration and Rhythm)

Piet Mondrian - Tree on the Kalfje - 1902 - 23 5 x 37.5 cm - oil on canvas

This small painting by Mondrian shows us how an excellent artist considers the composition even when quickly done.  Can you feel the connection between the tree and the bridge?  This is superb integration.  Another very sensitive integration is provided when your eye follows the river bank from the right of the painting, then connecting to a delicate branch which embraces the bridge, (see detail).

This painting also has a consideration which has stayed with me for years, that wonderful cross at the bottom right.  Why is it there?  It actually is a structural element, providing an oblique movement when you sense the parallel with the pruned branch.  It also completes the integrating eye paths by directing your eye back up to the river bank.  And on top of that the vertical of the cross is part of a rhythm of the tree trunk and the two sensitive verticals to the left.

The painting was probably done quickly, which is all the more impressive.  A composition does not have to be complex to be great, and this is a fantastic composition.

May I also mention another branch at the left which bends down, providing containment.


Mondrian (Influences)


Don Farrell - Markings II - 2004 - 137 x 175 cm - 54 x 69 in - mixed media on canvas

Markings II is not directly influenced by Mondrian’s painting as I am very familiar with his work. I know his process was part of the seed which generated my “Markings” series and at this period of my development, influences of many artists come into play. Tapies and Fontana are also present in this series.

This comes from studying the masters from an artist’s perspective, rather than from an academic perspective. What I mean is to say is what notable artists have in common is a discipline in direction, which established a recognizable feel to their work. A Matisse is a Matisse!

An artist who understand this, studies the thought process of other artists. It is this dedication to process which lead them to establishing their individual visual language. Focusing on their techniques and subject matter will not lead you to a level of understanding an artist should strive for.

Piet Mondrian - Pier and Ocean - 1915 - 85 x 110 cm - 33 x 43 in - oil on canvas