Mondrian’s World: From Primary Colors to the Boogie Woogie

This year cultural institutions throughout the Netherlands have teamed up for a celebration called “Mondrian to Dutch Design,” on the 100th anniversary of de Stijl (the Style), the art movement that he helped found in 1917. The country has gone all out, with tributes ranging from Mondrian-inspired flower displays in the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse in the early spring to turning The Hague City Hall into a giant Mondrian canvas.


Piet Mondrian.

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So it seemed an ideal time to go in search of Mondrian in the country where he was born and raised. The celebration coincides with a revealing new biography, “Piet Mondrian: A New Art for a Life Unknown,” by Hans Janssen, a Dutch art historian and curator.

The highlight of the de Stijl year is a major retrospective, “The Discovery of Mondrian,” from June 3 to Sept. 24 at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, which owns the largest collection of his work. The exhibition is described as “an extensive tour of the life and work of Piet Mondrian,” tracing the evolution of the artist’s style from his childhood sketches to his final masterwork, “Victory Boogie Woogie,” which he left unfinished on an easel in his East 59th Street studio in New York when he died of pneumonia at age 71 in 1944.

I started my version of this tour last fall, at Mondriaanhuis or Mondrian House, in Amersfoort, where Mondrian was born in 1872. Now a museum, the house, about an hour by train or car from Amsterdam, is in the charming medieval city center, with its lovely narrow cobblestone lanes, vine-covered brick houses and willows weeping over reflective canals.

The compact museum, founded in 1994, has biographical displays, along with a few select artworks by Mondrian, pieces by artists he influenced, and a replica of his studio in Paris,…

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