In the years around 1900, before Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) created some of the most recognizable abstract canvases of the last century, he turned his eye to the characteristic sights of the Dutch landscape: canals, windmills, fields, flowers, and trees. Mondrian’s earlier and lesser-known works reveal a restless and experimental artist who constantly reinvented himself, absorbing new influences and moving away from conventions of representation.
“Mondrian: Foundations” presents 28 paintings and works on paper, primarily from Mondrian’s early career, that trace the artist’s explorations as he progressed from realistic traditions to experimental abstractions. The exhibition shows Mondrian’s evolution from his earliest-known painting, The Large Ponds in the Hague Forest (1887)—made when he was just 15 years old—to his classic Composition with Blue, Yellow, and Red (1927). That work, with its white background, spare black lines, and blocks of color, seems strikingly different from Mondrian’s early works. But the early works show many affinities with his later abstractions: a strength of intuition and precision, an emphasis on the structure of natural forms, and innate feeling for rhythm and dynamism. Visitors can trace Mondrian’s journey toward abstraction and consider this icon of 20th-century modernism through a new lens.
Many works in the exhibition are part of a gift from Maria and Conrad Janis by and through the Janis Living Trust. This transformational gift makes the MFA one of the leading institutions outside the Netherlands for the study and exhibition of Mondrian’s early work.
“I want to get as close as possible to the truth and am therefore abstracting everything until I get to the foundation…of things.”
- Clementine Brown Gallery (Gallery 170)