Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Piet Mondrian - Breaking it down

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

In the year 1872, Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan was born at the Kortegracht in Amersfoort. 

The man who was later called Piet Mondrian, is best known for his stark modern compositions featuring black lines and blocks of primary colors. However, this Dutch painter actually began his artistic career as a landscape artist. 

The move Mondrian made away from realistic ideals towards Cubist beliefs placed him among the most highly influential artists of all time. 

In the beginning,  Mondrian painted the fields, farms and canals around Amsterdam and his works at this time reveal a great love of trees and nature. This can be seen in the 1910 watercolor painting "Amaryllis," in which bold colored flowers are beautifully arranged on the paper. 

Amaryllis, 1910
Watercolor on paper
Private collection

Another painting, "Avond; Red Tree" of 1908 is a strong image of an autumn tree - more realistic than abstract. 

Avond; Red Tree, 1908
Oil on canvas
Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague

Mondrian then began to move toward a more linear style, as seen in the 1912 painting "Gray Tree." Here, the form of a tree is evident, but the viewer is required to work just a little harder in order to see the branches through the many planes and abstract slices of paint.

Grey Tree, 1912
oil on canvas
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague

In 1915, the Dutch Magazine De Stijl (born of the friendship between Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg) was established. During that time, Mondrian could be found spending his time painting canvases where the colors were applied in patches and the horizontal and vertical lines became absolutely straight. Although these paintings were not readily accepted by the public, Mondrian did not abandon the style he termed Neo-Plasticism. He was one to always stick firmly to his beliefs and was not above saying things like, "The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel." 

An example of Mondrian's Neo-plastic style can be seen in the 1921 painting, "Composition with Large Blue Plane, Red, Black, Yellow and Gray," in which black lines create different sections on the canvas which in turn are painted in the primary colors in their purest forms.

Composition with Large Blue Plane, Red, Black, Yellow, and Gray
Oil on canvas
Dallas Museum of Art

Now, it should also be mentioned that in various works created by Mondrian, influences from other artists can be seen and felt. In "Mill in Sunlight" an almost pointillist technique (ala Georges Seurat or Alfred Sisley) was used.

Mill in Sunlight, 1908
Oil on canvas
Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague
In addition, some might say that Mondrian's "Still Life with Ginger Pot" is entirely similar to the work of Paul Cezanne, further confirming the fact that Mondrian went through a number of progressions before arriving at the style of painting he is so well known for today.

Still Life with Ginger Pot, 1912
oil on canvas
Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, Netherlands

This is perhaps why I enjoy Mondrian's work. Even though he could have easily continued creating realistic landscapes that were pleasing to the general public, he subjected himself to ridicule and lived with very minimal means in order to paint the way he felt he should. Bottom line, he practiced what he preached - and for that he is held in high esteem.

Mondrian's cleverness was not fully recognized or appreciated until after his death in 1944. Now, his works are highly sought after and numerous exhibitions of his art have been held in cities worldwide. This modest man was one of the great artists of the first half of the 20th century, influencing architectural, painting and sculptural movements.

Kathleen Dreier - American Theatrical Producer (and a patron of Mondrian) - expressed grand feelings when she wrote,

"Holland has given the world three great painters who, through typical products of the country, have transcended all National boundaries by the vigor of their personalities. The first was Rembrandt, the second was Van Gogh. The third is Mondrian." 

Piet Mondrian: A Quick and Dirty Timeline
1872: Piet Mondrian is born Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan at the Kortegracht in Amersfoort

1892-1897: Mondrian studies intermittently at the Amsterdam Academy and briefly considers becoming a minister of religion

1905: Mondrian is creating naturalistic paintings

1907-1910: Mondrian's work takes on a symbolist character as he is influenced by Jan Toorop and the ideas of Theosophy. He also begins experimenting with a loose Neo-Impressionistic technique using blobs, rather than dots of color.

1912: Mondrian moves to Paris where he is later influenced by Cubism.

1914: The War makes it impossible for Mondrian to continue working exclusively in Paris so he divides his time between the Netherlands and Paris. At this point he had virtually eliminated curved lines from his work

1915: Mondrian meets Theo van Doesburg and later helps him found the De Stijl association. Mondrian begins working in what he calls the Neo-Plastic style.

1920: By this time, Mondrian has reduced all images and colors down to solid black lines (horizontal or vertical) and the primary colors.

1919-1938: Mondrian lives in Paris and in 1931 joins the Abstraction Creation group.

Early 1920s: Mondrian struggles to make end meet and sometimes paints watercolor flowers to make money.

Late 1920s: Mondrian becomes known to a group of International admirers.

1922: A retrospective of his work is organized at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam

1938: Mondrian leaves Paris for London

1940: Mondrian moves to New York to escape WWII. While in New York he develops a more colorful style.

1944: Mondrian dies in New York City leaving behind no wife and no children.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Meet Paul Cézanne - A brief introduction

by Andrea Mulder-Slater
"The main thing in a picture is to achieve distance: I try to render perspective solely by means of color"
-Paul Cézanne 
Paul Cézanne was born in 1839 in the town of Aix-en-Provence. His father was a wealthy banker and as such, provided his son with the best that money could buy - including a fine education. Cézanne however had other plans and - after deciding that law was not his calling - he headed to Paris in 1861, at the age of 22.

Paul Cézanne
Self-Portrait with Rose Background, 1875

While in Paris, the young Cézanne met up with a fellow named Camille Pissarro and it wasn't long after that he began painting... something he did in Paris right up until the war in 1870 drove him out.

While chumming around with Pissarro, Cézanne was introduced to the techniques of the Impressionists and although his work wasn't as accomplished as his peers, his paintings were accepted by the group. Naturally, he exhibited with them and predictably, the public was not amused. Most felt that Cézanne's work, simply did not "fit in" with the other Impressionists. The colors were harsh, the perspective was strange and the application of paint was, well, heavy handed. Critics called his work "childish" and they referred to the artist as being "untalented".

Paul Cezanne
Still Life with a Curtain, 1895 

However, after a few minor disturbances (and a touch of mellowing out), Cézanne's true style began to shine through and all of a sudden, he had many who praised his efforts. He had his share of insults both from the public and the critics of his day yet in spite of it all, he continued on - difficult as it was for him - and made his mark.  In fact, it is said that his influence was so great that modern art would not exist if not for Paul Cézanne.

The truth is that Cézanne was an original thinker with very definite ideas on how the world should appear on canvas. He painted what he knew, the way he felt most comfortable. He was not an Impressionist - a fact he was all to certain of. He lacked the ability to capture fleeting moments with paint or rather, he had the ability to organize his thoughts and recreate a feeling after first dissecting, investigating and replaying it. Color, construction and integration are the three words that best sum up a Cézanne painting. From landscapes to still life to nudes, he captured the images of his world with a strangeness and beauty that belongs to only him.

His influence on modern art was enormous.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What Was the Renaissance? (And why is it the most important movement in art history?)

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

The Renaissance is defined as the revival or rebirth of the arts. Beginning in Italy in 1400, it spread throughout Western Europe, lasting until 1600.

It was during this time that Europe was busy pulling herself out of the economic bog of the Middle Ages. With this new financial growth came political, scientific and social energy unlike any experienced before. Artistically, it was a time of firsts... the first time oil paint was used; the first time symbols and real-life events were represented together in the same painting; the first time scientific principles crept into art.

Leonardo da Vinci
Lady with an Ermine, 1483-1490
(Cecilia Gallarani)
Oil on wood
21 x 15 1/2 in.
Czartoryski Museum, Cracow
Phases and Periods

There were several phases or periods of the Renaissance.

The period from 1420 to 1500 is most often referred to as the Early Renaissance whereas the term High Renaissance is used to describe anything that happened from 1500 through 1530 -- involving pure, classical, balanced harmony. It was then that artists were in complete control of their materials and were capable of executing masterful works of art. Beyond that, a period known as Mannerism came into play -- although still technically part of the Renaissance, Mannerism marked a time when elegance was key.

What Was it All About? 

Generally speaking, the main elements of the Renaissance were:
  • Oil paint was used for the first time. Prior to this point, egg tempera was the medium of choice. 
  • Both symbols and real-life events were represented together in the same art works.
  • Chiaroscuro (the balance of light and dark was for the first time shown within a picture by using shadows rather than blocky outlines).
  • Balanced compositions. The arrangement of things like lines, colors and form were seemingly "correct".
  • Ancient Roman ideals were the inspiration for many works in Italy.
  • Larger than life figures appear in German art.
  • Dutch works of art began to show hints of daily life (hunting, farming) rather than religious themes.
  • French art featured clean simplicity.
Who Was Involved?

There were many artists who created wonderful masterpieces during this exciting time. Some of those included: Heironymus Bosch, Sandro Botticelli, Pieter Bruegel, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Albrecht Dürer, El Greco, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raphael and Jan Van Eyck. To discover more artists from this time, visit artists of the Early Renaissance, artists of the High Renaissance, artists of the Northern Renaissance and artists of Mannerism.

Michelangelo, Interior of The Sistine Chapel, 1508-1512 Rome, Italy
Renaissance/Not Renaissance

When trying to determine if a work of art was created during the Renaissance, there are certain characteristics you can look for.
  • A date is, of course, a dead giveaway. Look for dates between 1400 and 1600.
  • Look to see if the figures in the painting look natural. Do their faces express real emotions?
  • What is the subject matter? See if Religious events or icons or Greek and Roman myths play a large role in the painting.
  • Does the painting show perspective? Are people and places shown in three dimensions (not flat)? If yes, you might be looking at a Renaissance painting. (Think about the scientific principles associated with a da Vinci painting).
  • Remember that it was during the Renaissance that artists began to use oil paint instead of egg tempera. A key to whether or not oil paint was used is how dark the shades are - the richer the colors, the more likely the work has been painted in oil.
  • In addition, a method known as "chiaroscuro" was employed by Renaissance painters. This simply means that three dimensional objects are depicted using light and dark areas of color rather than harsh outlines.
  • Does the painting express real life events along with certain symbols? This combination was common during the Early Renaissance in Flanders (1400-1500).
  • Have a good look at the composition (how the painting is laid out). Does it feel organized and balanced? Do you feel like everything is in its proper place? Harmonious composition was typical of the High Renaissance in Italy (1495-1600)
  • If the painting fits into the above categories but instead of showing religious events, it features ordinary people doing ordinary things, it might well be from the High Renaissance in Northern Europe - specifically the Netherlands.
  • Look for signatures of known Renaissance painters: Jan van Eyck; Andrea del Verrocchio; Sandro Botticelli; Leonardo da Vinci; Raphael; Titian; Albrecht Durer and Pieter Bruegel the Elder are but a few.

Expose yourself to a wide variety of art styles by visiting museums or looking at collections online. The more you look the more you will begin to notice the subtleties of art.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Five events that contributed to the development of Modern Art

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

Many events led to the development of Modern Art - art of the late 1700s to the present day. 

Historically speaking, the "Modern Era" begins with Neoclassicism (1750-1850) and moves through Romanticism (to 1900), Realism (1849-1870), the Pre-Raphaelites (1848-1853); Impressionism (1868-1910); Post-Impressionism (1886-1920); Fauvism (1903-1907); Cubism (1905-1939) and beyond... 

Here - in no particular order, are five events/concepts that contributed to the development of Modern Art as we now know it. 

Gustave Courbet's The Stone Breakers 

Gustave Courbet, The Stone Breakers, 1849
Destroyed in 1945

This painting shows two men, struggling to make their living, literally taking large stones and cracking them down into smaller stones. We can't see their faces - we only know that they are workers... real people, doing real honest to goodness work. This painting - created in 1849 - was one of the very first to actually show real people doing real things in the here and now. Prior to this, most painters followed in the footsteps of earlier artists - depicting historical occurrences from years before. They simply updated old themes. After this painting by Gustave Courbet, artists began to paint the here and now. This truly was the beginning of Modern Art as we know it today. 

Edgar Degas, Ecole de danse (Dance School), 1873
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington

The word photography was first uttered by Sir John Herschel. The year was 1839 and it was then that the invention of the photographic process was made public. Photography was a major influence on artists because for the first time, a moment could be captured instantly and portraits could be created with a camera, rather than with a brush and paint. Artists like Edgar Degas were influenced greatly by photography. Degas painted "objects in motion" almost as though a snapshot had been taken of the scene. He painted sections or slices of life the way a camera captures a moment in time. Photography contributed to the development of Modern Art because artists now had a new reason for creating - they wanted to see if they could they duplicate what a camera could do. 

Plein Air Painting 

Camille Pissarro, Les chataigniers a Osny (The Chestnut Trees at Osny), 1873
Private collection

Plein Air Painting was essentially the painting of an object, person or setting, in the outdoors. Artists would (for the first time) work outside and make many sketches of - among other things - how natural light affected the subject they happened to be painting. Often, these sketches would be taken back to the studio where the artist would work them into a larger piece. A common method of painting today. A revolutionary concept in the late 1800s. The Impressionists in particular studied the effects of light and color in natural, outdoor settings. 


Paul Gauguin, Vision After the Sermon, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, 1888
National Gallery of Scotland

Cloisonism was the art of outlining an object and then coloring it in using one, flat color - much as in a child's coloring book. The objects would then appear very much like flat paper cut-outs with little or no form. Paul Gauguin's paintings feature wonderful examples of cloisonism. In Gauguin's painting "The Vision After the Sermon" taken after Emile-Henri Bernard's painting "Breton Women in a Meadow", colors hold very definite meanings. The ground was red which in this case symbolized the shedding of blood. With cloisonism, solid forms were painted with "odd" colors so that one thing could actually mean another. This was important in the development of Modern Art because it allowed artists an opportunity to express "hidden" views within their work. 

Art for Art's Sake 

Édouard Manet, Le Dejeuner sur L'Herbe, 1863
Musee d'Orsay, Paris

That's yours truly on the right. I was more impressed than I look. Really.

In the late 1800s, many artists (such as Manet and Whistler) were shouting "art for art's sake". What did it mean? Well, essentially, artists were starting to break free from society. The Church and Monarchy were not important patrons anymore so the artists were no longer needed to glorify them. Artists were now able to flaunt their own individual creativity without having to worry about what society thought. They were literally painting art for its own sake. This point was driven home in 1863 when Édouard Manet painted "Le Dejeuner sur L'Herbe" - a painting that would later become an integral part of the Modern Art movement.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Scheming at Monet's House: The Impressionists at Argenteuil

by: Andrea Mulder-Slater

Located on the banks of the Seine River - just a hop, skip and jump from Paris, France - Argenteuil was a significant source of inspiration for the Impressionists.

In 1871, Claude Monet was the first of the group to settle in Argenteuil. During the six years he spent there, Monet had many visitors, including his artistic associates (Eugene Boudin, Alfred Sisley, Gustave Caillebotte, Auguste Renoir and Edouard Manet). Feeling rather frustrated by the traditional system of judging and exhibiting works of art in the official Salons every year, the friends would meet at Monet's house to converse and create.

Auguste Renoir
Monet Painting in His Argenteuil Garden, 1873

Oil on canvas, 18-1/2" x 23-1/2"
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford Connecticut, Bequest of Anne Parrish Titzell
Reprinted with Permission of the National Gallery of Art, Washington

The six influential artists, worked in the open air (often side by side) recording the pathways, railway bridges, gardens, factories, sailboats and regattas they saw in and around Argenteuil.

Claude Monet
The Highway Bridge and Boat Basin, 1874

oil on canvas, 23-5/8" x 31-3/8"
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.
Reprinted with Permission of the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Claude Monet was the most prolific of the bunch, completing more than sixty canvases in 1872 alone. He would often stand beside one of his creative mates and together they would paint the same scene. Although the artists stood from the same vantage points, their finished works were quite different - reflecting the individual artist's personalities and passions.

The novel paintings created by these men, made Argenteuil synonymous with the style that later became known as Impressionism.


Well, when they weren't busy painting, Monet and his friends (Eugène Boudin, Gustave Caillebotte, Edouard Manet, Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley) spent time scheming.

At Monet's house in Argenteuil they put their brushes down and planned an independent group show. It was a show that would later introduce Impressionism to the masses in the year 1874.

Keen to find out more?