This is the second in a series of posts about the roots of modernist painters. The first, about Salvador Dalí, is here
I'll start this post by confessing that I've always liked the 1930s work of Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). That is, those irregular grids formed by straight, black lines on a white background with some of the grid areas filled with a primary color (red, blue or yellow). These paintings served as reference points for exercises in a design class my Freshman year in the University of Washington's School of Art.
Unlike many other modernists of his time, Mondrian wasn't trying to "say" anything during this phase of his career; these paintings were essentially design experiments where the elements of line and color were reduced to fundamentals about as far as it was possible to do so.
But Mondrian didn't begin his career painting such works. His father was an artist, so he received some training at home before he began formal art studies. Moreover, his formative years were in an era before the surge of modernist "isms" hit the art scene with full-force. Here are examples of pre-abstract Mondrian paintings:
Based on the examples above and others seen on the Internet, I think Mondrian made an exceedingly smart career-move when he hit upon his geometric-abstraction style. The 1918 self-portrait, for example, was painted when he was 45 or 46 years old and had had plenty of time to hone skills in realism. True, the style takes a bow to modernist thinking, but it and the other paintings shown suggest that Mondrian would never have been top-notch had he stuck to representational works.
If you disagree with this assessment, please Comment.