Boogie Woogie Piet

Andréa Fernandes

Tomorrow marks the 65th anniversary of the death of Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan, Jr., also known as Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). At the request of readers Lauren M. and pjl, today's post pays homage to the famous cubist and abstractionist.

1. Piet Mondrian was trained in more "traditional" styles of painting, as evidenced by his 1908 "Chrysanthemum" drawing (above left). Over the years, though, he gradually moved into cubism and abstraction, eventually surpassing most of the other cubists. He is considered to have taken abstraction to its furthest limits, or its logical end. He termed his style "neoplasticism" in English, or "neiuwe beelding" ("new form" or "new image") in Dutch.

2. Mondrian, who believed "curves are so emotional," felt a canvas should only contain planar elements—straight lines and right angles. He eliminated all curved lines from his work and became known for his paintings of crisscrossing black lines and white and colored squares.

3. Around 1915, Mondrian briefly lived with the composer Jakob van Domselear in Laren, a town south of Amsterdam with a high concentration of artists. Conversations between the two roommates apparently led to van Domselaer's composition of "Proeven van Stijlkunst" (1915). Music remained important to Mondrian: he only listened to jazz, not "that classical stuff," and he named his last two paintings "Broadway Boogie Woogie" and "Victory Boogie Woogie" (above right).

4. By the late 1930s, Mondrian spent so much of his time painting that his hands would blister. Sometimes, he painted for so long that he even drove himself to crying or made himself sick.

5. For unknown reasons, Mondrian disinherited his younger brother in order to leave his entire estate to Harry Holtzman, a fellow artist and Mondrian's patron in New York. The two had become friends only in the last 10 years of Mondrian's life. After Mondrian's death, Holtzman carefully documented Mondrian's entire studio with the help of Fritz Glarner, another painter and friend. Mondrian's studios had always been works of art themselves, usually painted almost entirely white, with red accents (including a stool and a gramophone) and colored squares of paper on the walls.

Larger versions of "Chrysanthemum" and "Victory Boogie Woogie" are available. Fans should check out the Mondrian Trust; the Piet Mondrian Archive; Harvard's examination of his transatlantic paintings; the Mondrian collections at the Tate, the Guggenheim, and Art in the Picture; and SFMOMA's exploration of Mondrian's "New York City 2." "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.