A Very Brief Introduction to the Utopian Vision of Piet Mondrian and de Stijl

Mondrian: Composition (Tree), 1913
Mondrian: Devotion, 1908 Mondrian: Dying Chrysanthemum, 1908

These early paintings show the influence of theosophy on Mondrian's symbolism.  The theosophic belief in the unity of dualities remains in his later paintings where it is present in an implicit and abstract manner.

Mondrian: Evolution (a triptych), 1911

Mondrian's Evolution

His earliest paintings are generally realist landscapes with static compositions and the use of opaque colors. After his encounter with fauvism and his study of the Dutch avant-garde (Van Gogh, in particular), his colors become increasinly pure and less naturalistic.  His next change reflects his awareness of cubism.  The faceted exploration of subject matter and the language of painting is of less interest to him than the architectonic grid in the analytic cubist paintings of Picasso and Braque around 1912 and 13.  His own paintings begin to demonstrate more centralized compositions, greater use of linearity, and a sense of expansion from a central focus.
Mondrian: Lighthouse in West Kapelle, 1907 Mondrian: Red Tree, 1908
Mondrian: Windmill, 1911
Mondrian: Grey Tree, 1912 Mondrian: Blossoming Apple Tree, 1912
Mondrian: Composition in Oval (Tableau III), 1914 Mondrian: Composition in Oval, 1914

Other Dutch artists were moving in similar directions by the end of World War I; their developments toward an abstract language influence Mondrian's search and come together in the development of de Stijl.

Van der Leck: The Storm, 1916 van Doesburg: The Card Players, 1916-17
van Doesburg: Abstraction of Card Players, Comp. IX, 1917 van Doesburg: color sketch for stained glass window for villa, comp. V, 1918
Mondrian: Composition in Red, Yellow and Blue, 1921 Mondrian: Composition in Red, Blue and Yellow, 1930
Mondrian: Lozenge, 1921
The sources of de Stijl:
Reitveld-Schroeder House, interior view, upper level, 1924 exterior view of the Schoeder House
the red-and-blue chair, designed by Gerrit Reitveld, 1918-23 Mondrian: Composition with Yellow, Red and Blue, 1927
interior view of Schroeder House Mondrian: Composition in Red, Yellow and Blue, 1921

Ultimately, for the De Stijl artists and architects the machine is equated with art, universality, and an almost spiritual response. The ideal architecture will have no decoration, will be a "complete space-creating organism" in which the presence of ornamentation would only serve to limit its universality, and to individualize the space in a way that defies the universal essence of space.

To summarize the aesthetic goals and principles of the De Stijl artists we have a set of beliefs which above all share a remarkable similarity to the philosophical and spiritual beliefs of Kandinsky:
1) art was always evolving toward a fuller expression of its spiritual essence, a liberation from nature so that it could become a free and true expression of the human spirit;
2) art involved the evolution away from impressionism, away from the need to represent something.  Cubism played an essential role in this evolution by focusing not on the natural forms of an object but on the plastic elements of objects;
3) the artist was obligated to awaken the public to a new sense of beauty;
4) the individual vision of the everyday world had to be excluded from art precisely because it prevented the creation of art;
5) the ultimate goal of de Stijl, as the name implies, was not the creation of an individual object but the creation of style.  The fundamental elements of this style were line, plane and  color, or the essential plastic means of art, and the interrelationships existing between them.  Form was not one of these elements.  The new art, according to Mondrian, would be an art which focused on the pure manifestation of line and color through neutral or universal forms.  Rhythm would dominate this art, a rhythm which would come from the opposition of the vertical to the horizontal, or through concentric curved lines.  Mondrian preferred the first which signified to him a rhythm of cadence, something he called purely plastic in its expression.  The rhythm of curved lines was a rhythm of undulation and therefore remained linked to nature;
6) this style would emerge from an equilibrium of opposing forces; because an equilibrium attained through opposing forces has the effect of cancelling out those forces, this equilibrium would lead to utopia; in essence, these artists are saying that art paves the way for the new utopian world.
This is a movement which participates in the early 20th century exaltation of the machine and mechanization.  If life is more automatic, as a result of machines, then less thought is necessary for everyday life and life can become more spiritual. But this spiritual world is one which is abstracted, engineered, and one in which the collective is more important than the individual.  In this respect, the opposition between horizontals and verticals is a metaphoric expression for collectivity and the denial of individuality.

Mondrian departs from the de Stijl group and moves to New York City before WWII.

Mondrian: Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-3