Room 3: Nature and Architecture

Piet Mondrian, The Tree A c.1913

Piet Mondrian, The Tree A c.1913


© Tate Photography, 2014

© 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA

Trees and buildings are motifs that run throughout Mondrian’s long career as an artist. He was always attracted to the combination of structure and nature, either in a framework of branches or a building set in a landscape. When he moved to Paris in 1912, Mondrian settled in an area around the Gare Montparnasse that had undergone rapid development. His drawings show a fascination not just with the facades of buildings but most especially with opened up side views of buildings where a neighbouring structure had been demolished. Mondrian saw urban development as part of human evolution towards a more abstract environment. Furthermore, as he commented in his sketchbook, the destruction and reconstitution of the cityscape revealed the nature of existence as a dynamic process: ‘In the present period there is more penetration. The surface disappears. One draws nearer to force; less matter, more force.’ 

Mondrian found the ultimate motif for the tensions between order and randomness, symmetry and asymmetry that underpinned his drive towards abstraction in painting in a series of drawings of the sea made in the Netherlands after he found himself unexpectedly trapped there during the First World War. Beginning with the motif of a pier over the ocean, architecture and nature together, they gradually gave way to the sense of an unlimited watery surface blinking with the reflection of the night sky. Mondrian prominently displayed one of these works for many years in his studio as if to highlight its similarity to its own spatially dynamic character.