Piet Mondrian lived the last four years of his life in the United States, and he never became a naturalized U.S. Citizen, so one might ask why consider him one of the famous Dutch Americans. The question is a fair one, and the reason he was picked was because the art he produced during the last four years of his life became an important part of his overall oeuvre. In addition, all of his life's work is now prominently displayed in the most prestigious art museums of the world.
Mondrian died in early 1944 from pneumonia and was then still actively engaged in artistic activity, as can be seen by the studio he left behind. He was not ready to die but he caught pneumonia and was unable to survive it. He was only 71.
Mondrian was engaged in artistic activity during his entire life. His father was a school principal, and Mondrian as the oldest son decided to pursue a school teaching career, following in his father's footsteps. But during his early school teaching years his hobby was sketching and painting. And his entire career from there on until his death was consumed in the graphic arts. While a youngster and a teenager, he lived with his family in the town of Winterswijk, the Netherlands, from 1880 to 1892. The town in his honor unveiled a sculpture of him in 2006.
Mondrian's birth name was Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan. He was known as Piet and while in Paris in 1911 he dropped one "a" from his last name and there after was known as Piet Mondrian. Piet had four siblings. They were Carel [1880-1956], Johanna Christina [1870-1939], Willem Frederik [1874-1945] and Louis [1877-1943]. Mondrian never married and as a result there are no offspring. When asked why he never married his response was that he could not afford being married in his younger years, and he never met the right woman in his later years.
From 1892 to 1897, Mondrian took painting classes at the Amsterdam Rijksacademie, a prestigious art school in the capital of the country. Following his formative training in art, during the 1897-1904 period, he painted in the Amsterdam and Utrecht vicinity, focusing on the Amstel and Vecht river areas. These areas were considered, especially in those days, quite colorful and picturesque. During this period he also satisfied his curiosity about other countries by visiting England in 1900 and Spain during the 1901 to 1903 period. During the 1904-1905 period he lived and painted in the village of Uden in the southern Dutch province of North Brabant. In 1905 he moved back to Amsterdam and had his studio, first on the Rembrandtplein and later on the Albert Cuypstraat.
Mondrian had his first significant group exhibition in the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum [Amsterdam Municipal Museum] in 1909. The exhibit was considered sensational and it put Mondrian's name on the map. In 1911 Mondrian moved to Paris to be able to work in the proximity of other contemporary artists, who he felt could help him further develop his style.
During a visit to his home in Holland in 1914, the First World War started and he was unable to return to Paris. The next four years he remained in his home country working in various locations but mostly in an artist colony in the town of Laren. There he met his contemporaries, the artists VanderLeck and VanDoesburg. The mutual interaction among the three artists resulted in their decision in 1917 to publish a modernistic art journal which they named "De Stijl", loosely translated as "Artistic Style". The three artists became the three main contributors to the journal and Mondrian wrote several articles for it. In 1920 he wrote the most lasting and impressive article entitled "Neoplasticism", which became a classic in European art development. The journal "De Stijl" influenced art and the theory of art, including such movements as the Bauhaus movement, as well as architectural styles and abstract art.
Following the First World War, in 1919, Mondrian returned to Paris to continue his art work. Mondrian participated in his first American group exhibit in 1926. By this time he had become known as an artist who belonged to the forefront of artists who were giving direction to the new art movements of that time. He remained in Paris until 1938.
The political situation was becoming threatening in the late thirties in Europe. Mondrian had been able to avoid involvement in the First World War when he was able to stay in his native country, neutral Holland. But he was acutely aware that war periods are not conducive to artistic developments. And he was first and foremost an artist. So he decided to attempt to avoid the war by moving to England, a place he had visited before. He did so in 1938. But just a little over a year later, England also became involved in the war. With contacts he had established in the United States he was able to arrange to move to the U.S. in late 1939. The war had already started so it was not easy to get transportation, but somehow he was successful and arrived in New York City in late 1939. Although he did not know it then, but New York would be his last stop on his meandering life time journey.
Piet Mondrian was born on March 7, 1872 in Amersfoort, The Netherlands. He passed away on February 1, 1944, at the rather early age of 71. He succumbed from an acute attack of pneumonia in a New York City hospital. It was a shocking departure as he, at that time, was still actively engaged in creating art. Some of the best art produced during his entire career was produced during his rather brief stay in his New York City studios. In 1942 the first and only one-man show of Mondrian's art during his life was held in the Dudensing Gallery in New York City.
On February 3, 1944 a Memorial Service was held at the Universal Chapel on Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street in New York City. About 200 people attended the service. Among the attendees were many of his art contemporaries, including such luminaries as Alexander Archipenko, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Leger, Alexander Calder and Robert Motherwell.
Mondrian was interred in the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Although he had not left behind any offspring, his production of art will live on for ever, and his reputation has grown after his early death.
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