When world wore Mondrian’s red, blue and yellow

When world wore Mondrian’s red, blue and yellow
Every now and then we read about artists and their sources of inspiration, but the collaboration between Piet Mondrian and YvesSaint Laurent (YSL) has no parallel. It was Piet Mondrian’s painting Composition in Blue, Red, Yellow and Black painted in 1922, that was the inspiration for Yves Saint Laurent’s groundbreaking day dress in 1965 — now preserved for posterity at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York.

With the‘Mondrian collection’, YSL capitalised on the growing interest in minimalist fashion. Referred to as ‘the dress of tomorrow’, it quickly found its way into the mass-market. Mondrian’s 1922 painting, auctioned with YSL’s vast art collection, fetched ¤19 million, nearly double its top estimate.

Mondrian born on March 7, 1872, was his parent’s second child. His father Pieter Cornelius Mondriaan, a qualified drawing teacher, was head teacher at a local primary school and Mondrian was introduced to painting at very early age. His uncle, Fritz Mondriaan was also an artist and uncle and nephew were said to have spent time together drawing and painting along the river Gein. In 1892, Mondrian joined the Academy for Fine Art in Amsterdam and by this time was a qualified teacher, but continued to paint.

His work at this period consisted mostly of landscapes in an impressionistic style. His work often focused on ‘pastoral’ images with windmills. His early work also shows his ‘search for a personal style’, while he tries out various styles of that period, including the dotted technique of ‘pointillism’ and the vivid colours of ‘fauvism’. The Gemeentemuseum at the Hague offers visitors the opportunity to see this slow transformation of the artist’s work from expressionism towards his final goal, through the vivid primary colour palette of fauvism. Mondrian’s paintings from this period are enlightening — The Red Mill and Trees in Moonrise and in particular Evening (Avond), where he depicts a tree in a field at dusk, created almost entirely in red, yellow, and blue.

Moving to Paris in1911, Mondrian decided to change his name, ‘dropping an ‘a’ from Mondriaan to emphasise his departure from The Netherlands, his signature on his works were also changed. It was here that ‘cubisim’ took hold of him and after seeing the works of Georges Braque and Picasso, his works that were already abstract took on angular shapes. Paintings of trees that he did at this time began to be dominated by geometric shapes and interlocking planes.

Although the changes were subtle, Mondrian’s work continued to evolve during his years in Paris. It was in late 1920 and 1921 that, ‘Mondrian’s paintings arrive at what is to casual observers their definitive and mature form. Thick black lines now separate the forms, which are larger and fewer in number, and more of them are left white than was previously the case’.

On his style of art Mondrian wrote, “I construct lines and colour combinations on a flat surface, in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness. Nature (or, that which I see) inspires me, puts me, as with any painter, in an emotional state so that an urge comes about to make something, but I want to come as close as possible to the truth and abstract everything from that, until I reach the foundation (still just an external foundation!) of things…”

(The writer is an author and a former art gallery owner)

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