Advocates Mondrian’s Neoplasticism Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Although Piet Mondrian’s neoplasticism did not succeed in establishing a new, universal style for art and architecture, it had a marked influence on the development of both.

Summary of Event

In 1917, when the magazine De Stijl (the style), recently and jointly founded by artists Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg of the avant-garde de Stijl movement, advocated Mondrian’s new style of neoplasticism, it was promoting a style that had been long in developing and to the perfection of which Mondrian would devote his artistic life. Basically, neoplasticism was the reduction of art to its basics through the rejection of any representational reference, individualism, or subjectivity. The objective was a picture language, universal rather than individualistic in spirit and, ultimately, universally comprehensible. Art movements;de Stijl Neoplasticism Stijl, de Art;painting Painting;neoplasticism Architecture;neoplasticism [kw]De Stijl Advocates Mondrian’s Neoplasticism (1917) [kw]Mondrian’s Neoplasticism, De Stijl Advocates (1917)[Mondrians Neoplasticism, De Stijl Advocates (1917)] [kw]Neoplasticism, De Stijl Advocates Mondrian’s (1917) Art movements;de Stijl Neoplasticism Stijl, de Art;painting Painting;neoplasticism Architecture;neoplasticism [g]Netherlands;1917: De Stijl Advocates Mondrian’s Neoplasticism[04130] [c]Arts;1917: De Stijl Advocates Mondrian’s Neoplasticism[04130] Mondrian, Piet Doesburg, Theo van Leck, Bart van der Oud, J. J. P. Schoenmaekers, M. H. J. Rietveld, Gerrit Thomas

Neoplastic paintings were compositions of straight black lines of varying widths that intersected to form rectangular shapes, which were filled in with the primary colors, supported by white and gray. Although Mondrian’s “constructions,” as he called them, seemed simplistic, they were amazingly complicated in their subtle structures and inherent spiritual quality.

Mondrian came to his style of neoplasticism in slow stages, markedly influenced by his background. He was born in Holland, a flat, human-made country that can seem almost two-dimensional, with its squared-off polders, roads, and canals intersecting at right angles. The most dominant feature of the landscape is the sharply delineated straight line of the horizon.

Mondrian’s schoolmaster father was a Calvinist who instilled in his son the idea of a chosen people destined to lead austere, useful lives imbued with social purpose. Although Mondrian later abandoned Calvinism for the more personal religion of Theosophy, the Calvinist idea of duty remained. His motto was “Always further!” Indeed, Mondrian’s entire artistic career was a constant evolution into a more and more sharply defined personal style, one he believed would benefit humankind.

Mondrian showed artistic talents as a child and was encouraged by his father, who was a talented amateur artist. After securing certificates to teach drawing in primary and secondary schools, Mondrian enrolled in the Amsterdam Academy of Fine Arts, his tuition paid by an unknown benefactor.

His first paintings were representational, mainly landscapes influenced by tonalism. Even in these early paintings, however, the emphasis is on composition rather than on effects and details.

A marked change occurred in Mondrian’s painting style between 1903 and 1909. In 1903, he went to live and work among the peasants of Dutch Brabant; through their simple and uncomplicated lives, he became aware of a collective, universal human spirit. A stay by the sea in 1907 and 1908 reinforced his feeling for infinity. The ocean’s endless expanse, so different from the closed world of his childhood, made a marked impression, as did the abstract formation of sand dunes, which contrasted sharply with the precisely constructed canals and roads he had known. Mondrian’s painting now attained a monumental quality—great towers, windmills, and trees, increasingly painted in primary colors.

In 1909, Mondrian converted to Theosophy, which would have an even greater effect on his artistic style than Calvinism. Theosophy Theosophy assumes the absolute reality of the essence of God and the essentially spiritual nature of the universe. Mondrian’s objective was to perfect an art form in harmony with, if not part of, the spiritual structure of the universe. Given that the nature of such a form was necessarily collective, the starting point would be the rejection of all forms of individualism, both human and natural.

His recent conversion to Theosophy was probably the reason why the cubist Cubism works of Pablo Picasso Picasso, Pablo and Georges Braque Braque, Georges made such an impression on Mondrian when he saw them for the first time at an art exhibit in 1911. He was fascinated by an art form that appealed to the mind more than it did to the emotions. The same year, he left for Paris, and the period between 1911 and 1915 is known as Mondrian’s cubist period. Again, the evolution of his style can be seen, as he increasingly moved toward abstraction. Mondrian, however, found the cubist style too representational and subjective. Cubism was a means, not an end.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Mondrian left Paris for neutral Holland. Flanders, where some of the most appalling butchery of the war occurred, was a geographic and cultural extension of Holland, and Mondrian’s faith in the world he had known was severely shaken. It was a world that championed individuals, and the senseless war seemed to him to be a clash of nationalities that was merely individualism writ large. Increasingly, he sought the company of a group of avant-garde artists and critics with whom he became acquainted. Three of them would help Mondrian to effect the style he had been seeking.

The artist Bart van der Leck worked with geometric forms and primary colors. The clarity and strength of his compositions fascinated Mondrian. Theo van Doesburg, a versatile artist and critic, advocated a universal style applicable to all the arts and adaptable to the machine age. He was especially interested in possible changes in architecture. It was the theologian and mathematician M. H. J. Schoenmaekers who provided both the spiritual inspiration and the mathematical formula for the new style that would lead, Mondrian hoped, to an understanding of how the universe worked and that would enable humankind to live in harmony within it.

It was also Schoenmaekers who provided the rationale for neoplasticism. The new style was to be limited to the three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow; the three primary values, black, white, and gray; and the two primary directions, horizontal and vertical. The analogy with yellow, the vertical line, and the sun’s rays was obvious. Just as obvious was the blue and the horizontal. The primary values could represent the cosmos in its formative stage. Mondrian called the new style “neoplasticism,” or a new form of creativity. It was adopted by the other artists, and the manifesto proclaiming its validity was made in 1917. Van Doesburg became the chief promoter of the new style, with Mondrian continuing to be the chief source of artistic inspiration, although he withdrew from active participation.


The style Mondrian advocated did not materialize as the familiar precisely delineated geometric forms in blue, yellow, red, black, white, and gray until 1921. Meanwhile, van Doesburg’s hope of adapting the principles of the neoplastic style to all the arts never materialized. The concept was too utopian. Mondrian returned to Paris and single-mindedly worked on making his compositions ever more refined and luminous. The impact of his art was to be left to others.

The impact of neoplasticism on the arts was considerable, although largely indirect. One direct influence was felt in the United States by a group of abstract artists that included Josef Albers, Burgoyne Diller, and Fritz Glarner. A direct influence can also be seen in the art of the minimalists. Indirectly, Mondrian’s emphasis of structure and form, the clarity and asymmetry of his compositions, had a marked influence on many artists, including Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. Even more important was the legitimacy Mondrian gave to total abstraction in art, the best-known examples of which were provided by the abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock. Abstract art Abstract expressionism The abstract expressionists, like Mondrian, searched for universal values that might lend sanity to a world seemingly going berserk.

The greatest impact of neoplasticism, however, was on architecture and industrial design. Adhering closely to the principles of neoplasticism, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld in 1924 designed the Schröder House Architecture;Schröder House in Utrecht, a Mondrian composition in three-dimensional form. Even the windows opened at ninety degree angles. Rietveld also designed his famous red-blue chair Red-blue chair (Rietveld)[Red blue chair] (more interesting than useful) in the neoplastic style. About the same time, architect J. J. P. Oud designed the facade for the Café de Unie in Rotterdam. Geometry did not hold for Oud the mystical connotations it did for Mondrian. Working with van Doesburg, he made modifications to the neoplastic style but used the spatial relationships in Mondrian’s compositions to create houses and housing developments that were both handsome and economical. For a demonstration housing exhibition held in Germany in 1927, Oud achieved striking beauty through a series of carefully proportioned syncopated geometric forms. Oud, too, restricted himself to primary colors, using them not as decoration but as an ancillary to special definition.

Through his compositions and following the initiative already established by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Mondrian helped architects to escape from the “box” that was the basic unit of traditional architecture and to move into new spatial relationships. Devices such as cantilevering and achieving an effect of weightlessness by placing houses on stilts, as was done by the Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier, Le Corbusier are evidence of Mondrian’s influence.

Mondrian’s greatest impact was to come through the merging of many of his basic ideas with those of the architects and designers of the Bauhaus Bauhaus in Germany, where van Doesburg went to teach in 1925. That same year, the Bauhaus published a series of Mondrian’s essays on neoplasticism. German architects such as Walter Gropius Gropius, Walter and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig leaders of a trend in Germany that had been combating conservative trends in architecture, were already working with straight lines, right angles, and minimal uses of color. Influenced by the philosophy of New Objectivity, New Objectivity which asserted that the development of architecture is determined by social and technological factors, Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, like Oud, sought to create, through the use of new technologies and materials, handsome constructions at minimal cost. Mondrian, together with Oud, can be considered to be among the creators of the International Style International Style that was to become universal, dominating the field of architecture for the next fifty years. Mondrian’s single greatest influence can be seen in the dominance of the straight line in much modern architecture.

The Bauhaus was among the pioneers in industrial design, in new forms of poster art, and in advertising layout. In the United States, the influence of the Bauhaus and the clean lines and precise spatial relationships of Mondrian can be seen in the work of Walter Dorwin Teague Teague, Walter Dorwin and Raymond Fernand Loewy, Loewy, Raymond Fernand pioneers in industrial design. Industrial design

In 1938, Mondrian left Paris for London; in 1940, he left war-torn London for New York and was overwhelmed by the vitality of the great metropolis. His neoplastic style, to which he had rigidly adhered for nearly two decades, underwent marked changes, notably in the replacement of black lines with lines of dancing colors. His unfinished Victory Boogie-Woogie (1942-1943) was painted in the new style anticipating the Allied victory in World War II, which he did not live to see; Mondrian died in 1944. Had he lived longer, he might have had a still greater impact, for he died in a city that he helped to make the art capital of the world. Art movements;de Stijl Neoplasticism Stijl, de Art;painting Painting;neoplasticism Architecture;neoplasticism

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dunlop, Ian. Piet Mondrian. Bristol, England: Purnell & Sons, 1967. Provides a good introduction for the lay reader to the fairly complicated subject of Mondrian’s change of styles. Includes fifteen color plates that represent outstanding examples from each of his major periods, beginning with landscapes and seascapes and progressing through cubism and total abstraction before reaching his final style. Summaries accompanying the plates make the transitions easy to follow.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jaffé, Hans Ludwig C. De Stijl, 1917-1931: The Dutch Contribution to Modern Art. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1986. Treats neoplasticism in minute detail; the three main parts of the book deal with the style’s origins, character and development, and influence on various artistic domains. Includes an interesting introduction by J. J. P. Oud, who frankly admits the movement was part of the idealism of his youth but that he felt he had to leave it even though its principles still influenced his work.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Piet Mondrian. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1970. Excellent work on Mondrian as an artist. Features forty-eight color plates, each accompanied by detailed text, providing a useful overview on Mondrian’s artistic development. Includes bibliography divided into primary and secondary sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mondrian, Piet. Piet Mondrian: The Earlier Years. Basel, Switzerland: Galerie Beyeler, 1956. Begins with Mondrian’s earliest paintings in 1898 done in the manner of the so-called Hague school. Demonstrates his remarkable transition to total abstraction; the last painting included was completed in 1935. Paintings are accompanied by commentary by Mondrian, much of which is fairly obscure, at least in part because of his spiritual orientation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Overy, Paul. De Stijl. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991. Excellent general overview of the ideas, projects, and personalities associated with de Stijl. Includes illustrations, select bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rembert, Virginia Pitts. Mondrian in the USA. New York: Parkstone Press, 2002. Focuses on Mondrian’s work during the brief period when he lived in New York, shortly before his death. Includes more than four hundred reproductions, more than two hundred of which are in color.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Russell, John. The Meanings of Modern Art. Rev. ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. One of the best introductions to the subject available. Covers Mondrian’s work extensively, but pays little attention to the de Stijl movement. Includes extensive and detailed bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">White, Michael. De Stijl and Dutch Modernism. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003. Focuses on the local context of the de Stijl movement in examining Dutch modernism. Discusses the relationship between mass culture and the fine arts.

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