A Brief History
Piet Mondrian, 1930 CE, Boxer Briefs
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Vivid rectangles of primary colors organized in a black grid dominate the iconic paintings by artist, Piet Mondrian. No matter the context, the image is quintessentially “Mondrian”. But Mondrian’s development of his most famous style was the result of a long artistic and spiritual journey that continued his whole life.
Mondrian, originally spelled in the Dutch style, “Mondriaan”, was born in the Netherlands in 1872. After a strict upbringing in a Protestant household, Mondrian entered art school where he studied painting and teaching. Though one might describe Mondrian’s early style as “abstract”, the subjects of the paintings from this period are clearly identifiable. We see the tree or the windmill or the flower. However, as life unfolded for Mondrian, shaped by world events, artistic colleagues, and his own quest for spiritual understanding, Mondrian’s style became less and less representational. Side by side comparisons of Mondrian’s works show how he began to strip away details and let the essential geometry of the subject convey his message.
Mondrian moved to Paris in 1911 to be in closer association with the avant-garde Cubist art movement championed most notably by Picasso. While in Paris, Mondrian further refined his artistic style, striving to show rhythm and harmony within the simplest of canvases. He restricted his designs to black, white, and the three primary colors of blue, red, and yellow. He even avoided diagonal lines in his compositions. Being completely true to his aesthetic, Mondrian whitewashed the walls of his studio, installed only the most utilitarian of furniture, and added color to the walls with large blocks of paper. After his death Mondrian’s close friends photographed and deconstructed his studio so that it could be reassembled and appreciated as a form of art in its own right.
Mondrian’s style is sometimes called “Modernism” or “Neoplasticism”, but by any name, it is uniquely “Mondrian”.