Modern Landscapes

Piet Mondrian (Dutch, Amersfoort 1872 - 1944 New York)
Brabant Farmyard, 1904
Signed, lower right: PIET MONDRIAAN
Oil on linen board mounted on canvas
15 11/16 x 19 in. (39.8 x 48.3 cm.)
Mrs. F.F. Prentiss Fund, 1967
AMAM 1967.47

The tight composition and simplified forms of Brabant Farmyard may seem to anticipate the geometry and balance of Mondrian's later abstract paintings. Yet in 1904, Mondrian's aims and models were principally those of a realist painter. The pastoral subject, muted palette, and deft, direct brushwork of Brabant Farmyard reflect Mondrian's early connection to the Hague School of naturalistic landscape painting in turn-of-the-century Holland.

Mondrian began to paint open-air landscapes in the region of the Amstel and Gein rivers in the early 1890s. These early watercolors and oil sketches are deeply inflected by the grey-brown tonalities and wistful, picturesque subjects of the Hague School, a mode of naturalism that combined the pictorial precepts of seventeenth-century Dutch landscape with the direct execution and atmospheric effects of late-nineteenth-century French painting (for an example, see Anton Mauve's Snow Storm, ca. 1880, AMAM inv. 66.17).1 By the early 1900s, many of Mondrian's landscapes were also influenced by the bold, sliced compositions, high horizons, and large, flattened brushstrokes of the Amsterdam painter George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923).2 Simple forms, planar abstraction, and a geometric arrangement of the parts within the whole are evident in a few landscapes by Mondrian before 1904; yet these qualities did not become consistent principles of Mondrian's work until the Brabant landscapes of 1904-5.3

Mondrian was drawn to the Brabant region in southern Holland for its stark, rural simplicity. He made a brief visit to the region in late 1903 and returned in January 1904, when he found modest lodging in the town of Uden, and did little else but paint until his departure in February 1905. He focused on a few select subjects: simple farmyard scenes, cow studies, and studies of the long, low, steep-roofed farmhouses characteristic of the region.4 These remarkable oil sketches and watercolors bring out the formal structure of their subjects, rather than their anecdotal or picturesque possibilities. The farmyard views are spare in incident, and are placed in a close, frontal relationship to the viewer.5

In the Oberlin canvas, the buildings are rendered in terms of clearly defined shapes, from the three large color planes of the roof in the center to the sharp point and broad curve of the roof on the right. The edges that join and separate earth, objects, and sky are emphasized in strong, repeated horizontals; these are answered by the vertical rhythms of the doors and windows, the sections of the façade and roof, and the eight white legs of the cows. Thick touches and short lines of bright pigment--in the building's overhang, in the cow's head, and just under the curve of the roof at right--enliven an otherwise uniform pattern of brushwork.

A. Kurlander

Piet Mondrian (Mondriaan) was born in 1872 in Amersfoort, into a family active in artistic and political circles. Mondrian's father and brothers were all competent painters, and he studied under his uncle Frits Mondriaan, who was a career painter in The Hague. Later he studied at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam and became a member of the St. Luke's and Arti and Amicitiae groups in Amsterdam in 1897. During this period, Mondrian's painting incorporated elements of Symbolism, Impressionism and the Hague School of painting, and the native Dutch landscape was his most common subject.

Mondrian's landscapes became more abstract during a stay in Noordbrabant in 1904 in paintings such as Brabant Farmyard. An exhibition of Vincent van Gogh's work in Amsterdam in 1905 also had a profound impact. A further interest in anthroposophy and theosophy convinced Mondrian that painting could express natural form and simultaneously embody a spiritual dimension. In 1909 Mondrian had a major exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which established his reputation as a leading Dutch avant-garde artist. During this period, Mondrian was generally labeled a luminist, and by 1910 the influence of Cubism can be seen in his painting.

In 1910, Mondrian moved to Paris where he met Diego Rivera, Fernand Léger, and Georges Braque. During his Paris stay, and later after his return to Amsterdam because of World War I, Mondrian's work became progressively more abstract. After the war, Mondrian was closely associated with the De Stijl movement until 1925. Mondrian's painting became more elemental: a series of diamond-shaped canvases reduced compositions to several lines and planes of color. His use of bold primary colors and black grids gained Mondrian the reputation as the most modern of the modern artists--especially in the United States, where he received sustained private patronage, and was included in the important Cubism and Abstract Art exhibition held in 1936 at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Mondrian fled the rise of Nazism and moved to London in 1938, before seeking refuge in New York in 1940. In New York he created a series of large works including his last completed painting, Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-3; The Museum of Modern Art, New York). In 1942, The Museum of Modern Art committed itself to a major Mondrian exhibition, which was held in 1946, two years after the artist's death.

S. Jost

General References
Holtzman, Harry, and Martin James, eds. Piet Mondrian: The New Art - The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian. Boston, 1986.

Bois, Yve-Alain, et al. Piet Mondrian 1872-1944. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; and published Boston, 1994.

Schapiro, Meyer. Mondrian: On the Humanity of Abstract Art. New York, 1995.

Henkels, Herbert. In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. Vol. 21. London and New York, 1996, pp. 850-57.

Collection Mr. and Mrs. Simon Maris (from 1919)

J. Winterink, Amsterdam (from 1959)

With Gallery "Monet," Amsterdam (from 1960-61)

With Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, from whom purchased in 1967

Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1965. Piet Mondrian: 1872-1944. 7 May - 20 June (also shown at Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, and Washington [D.C.] Gallery of Modern Art). Cat. no. 10.

Art Gallery of Toronto, 1966. Piet Mondrian: 1872-1944. 12 February - 20 March (also shown at Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Hague, Haags Gemeentemuseum). Cat. no. 25.

's-Hertogenbosch, Noordbrabants Museum, 1989-90. Piet Mondriaan: Een Jaar in Brabant 1904/1905. 10 November - 14 January. Cat. no. 12.

Piet Mondrian: 1872-1944. Exh. cat., Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1965, cat. no. 10.

Welsh, Robert P. Piet Mondrian: 1872-1944. Exh. cat., Art Gallery of Toronto, 1966, cat. no. 25.

Wolanin, Barbara A. "Brabant Farmyard by Piet Mondrian." Student paper, Oberlin College, 1968.

de Mooij, Charles C. M, and Maureen S. Trappeniers. Piet Mondriaan: Een Jaar in Brabant, 1904/1905. Exh. cat., Noordbrabants Museum, 's-Hertogenbosch, 1989, pp. 38-39, 47, cat. no. 12.

Technical Data
The fairly thick pigment was applied in a fluid, wet-on-wet manner on a fine white ground. The ground was identified as a mixture of lead white and chalk via polarized light microscopy in 1984. An x-radiograph of 1984 revealed no underdrawing, but several vertical brushstrokes in the barn and areas of dark green paint in the sky suggest changes in design. The varnish coat is thin and glossy.

The work was lined onto linen canvas in the early twentieth century with an aqueous adhesive. Some inpainting (of an unknown date) is evident in the sky, and is scattered in small areas throughout the painting. In 1984, small flakes in the upper right edge were stabilized. The work is in excellent condition.

1. See Mondrian and the Hague School (exh. cat., Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, 1980), for a well-illustrated account.

2. See, for example, Op het land (The Countryside), 1902-03, The Hague, Haags Gemeentemuseum; reproduced in Robert P. Welsh et al., Piet Mondriaan, The Amsterdam Years (exh. cat., Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, 1994), p. 62.

3. Robert P. Welsh et al., Piet Mondriaan, The Amsterdam Years (exh. cat., Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, 1994), p. 61.

4. Robert P. Welsh, Piet Mondrian's Early Career: The "Naturalistic" Periods (New York, 1977), pp. 66-67.

5. See Charles C. M. de Mooij and Maureen S. Trappeniers, Piet Mondriaan: Een Jaar in Brabant, 1904/1905 (exh. cat., Noordbrabants Museum, 's-Hertogenbosch, 1989-90) for a large selection of Brabant landscapes.