1872, Amersfoort, Netherlands
1944, New York City, New York
After an early career in traditional landscape painting, Piet Mondrian became interested in 1908 in theosophy. This complex brand of mysticism was invented in the nineteenth century and preached that all of nature was governed by a divine order. From this belief, Mondrian developed a painting system that reduced the visual landscape to its most basic possible components: black horizontal and vertical lines, white background, and solid fields of the primary colors red, yellow, and blue. By banishing naturalistic details from these pure forms, Mondrian hoped that his meditative reductions would lead to a sort of spiritual enlightenment. Yet despite its strictly imposed limitations, this vocabulary also allowed for surprisingly varied compositions and visual effects.
With the approach of World War II, Mondrian fled Paris for London and ultimately New York. Inspired by American jazz and the pace of the metropolis (as opposed to more pastoral European settings), he eliminated black lines in favor of a complex, vibrating latticework of primary colors. This late style never fully developed, as Mondrian died just four years after his arrival in the U.S.