The Evolution of Mondrian’s Early Paintings Towards Abstraction

Exploring the Dutch artist’s experiments in style

Christopher P Jones
5 min readMay 9, 2023

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Tableau I (1921) by Piet Mondrian. Oil on canvas. 103 × 100 cm. Gemeentemuseum den Haag, Hague, Netherlands. Image source Wikimedia Commons

The manner in which artists find their way can be fascinating to watch.

In the case of painter Piet Mondrian, who is best known for his grid-based paintings with blocks of primary colours, his artistic development stands out as being palpably observable.

Interestingly, Mondrian was in his mid-40s by the time he painted his first purely abstract work.

Before then, his array of early paintings shows us that his pathway to the style that made his reputation was full of experiments that helped to continually refine his approach to art.

Early Paintings

The young Mondrian — who was born in 1872 — began painting in earnest in the 1890s, just as the end of the century loomed.

Left: Triangulated Farmhouse Facade with Polder in Blue (1900) by Piet Mondrian. Gouache & watercolour on paper. 45.5 × 58.5 cm. Gemeentemuseum den Haag, Hague, Netherlands. Image source WikiArt. Right: Wood with Beach Trees (1899) by Piet Mondrian. Gouache & watercolour on paper. 45.5 × 57 cm. Gemeentemuseum den Haag, Hague, Netherlands. Image source WikiArt

His first interest was in landscape painting. These pastoral images of his native country in gouache and watercolour are intimate in scale and subject matter, and achieve something of a fairy-tale feel through their subdued colour palette and soft-focus lines.

Trees by the Gein at Moonrise (1908) by Piet Mondrian. Oil on canvas. 79 × 92.5 cm. Gemeentemuseum den Haag, Hague, Netherlands. Image source WikiArt

He also used oil paints, making images of fields and rivers that show the clear influence of Impressionism.

Whilst these early paintings have a notable absence of geometric patterning, what is clear is how Mondrian’s interests were focused on multiple aspects of composition. A painting like Trees by the Gein at Moonrise is one of the first instances where pattern, repetition and colour saturation prevail over naturalism.

Spiritual Underpinnings

Mondrian studied art in Amsterdam and pursued a career as a teacher to support himself.

Additionally, he also developed a taste for philosophical studies, which led him to join the Dutch branch of the Theosophical Society in 1909.

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