Room 1: Neo-Plasticism

Piet Mondrian, No. VI / Composition No.II 1920

Piet Mondrian, No. VI / Composition No.II 1920

© Tate Photography, 2014
© 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA

Mondrian only began to produce the paintings that we now most associate with his name, those comprised of planes of red, yellow and blue in a framework of black lines, after his return to Paris in 1919. He reached his definitive style when he was close to the age of fifty after a very long process of visual experimentation and to mark this achievement he gave it the title neo-plasticism

The term neo-plasticism is rather cryptic. Its peculiarity is partly the product of translation. In 1917 Mondrian began using the Dutch term Nieuwe Beelding, meaning something like ‘new forming’, then in 1920, presenting his philosophy of art and life to a French audience for the first time, he transposed this to Le Néo-Plasticisme, neo-plasticism in English. Mondrian intended this combination of references to newness and to the formative elements of painting (such as composition) to reflect his belief that his abstract art was manifesting a new spiritual world coming into being. 

The works in this room demonstrate the final refinement of Mondrian’s painterly practice into neo-plasticism, beginning by examining how to deploy either colour or line without referencing external factors. To do so Mondrian realised that he would need to use only straight lines and planes of saturated colour. However, the colour planes still invoked lines by their edges, as much as works that eliminated colour also implied it in their evocations of space. It was through combining these elements that Mondrian sought to create an art that ‘expresses pure relationships’.