new biography of Piet Mondrian

Photo of Mondrian working in his studio. National Gallery of Art Library, Washington DC

Painter Piet Mondrian was no stern, eccentric hermit who sought refuge in the utopia of his art, as we discover in a new biography of Piet Mondrian. Written by Hans Janssen, Mondrian expert and curator of modern art at Kunstmuseum Den Haag, it is entitled Piet Mondriaan. Een nieuwe kunst voor een ongekend leven (‘Piet Mondrian. A New Art for a Life Unknown’).

Using Mondrian’s paintings, plus photographs, letters, extracts from journals and conversations, Janssen reconstructs a series of key moments in the life and work of the artist who changed the world forever. The accounts range from his time in Amsterdam, Laren, Paris, London and New York to his love affairs and friendships, from the creation of his most important works to the social changes occurring in the world around him.

‘Mondrian is often portrayed as a rational, ascetic man,’ says Hans Janssen, ‘a monk who shut himself away in his studio to work on his paintings in peace and quiet. But if you look at the historical facts, you have to conclude that the opposite is in fact true. Mondrian flourished as an artist in Paris, became famous in New York and spent his time in the company of bohemian artists, and spent his money on nightlife and women.


The cover of the book features a hitherto unpublished photograph discovered in the archives of the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The photograph of Mondrian working on his Victory Boogie Woogie is one of a series of three taken by an unknown photographer. Two of the three images have never been published before. They were discovered by Nancy Troy, a Mondrian expert at Stanford University, who was kind enough to share her extraordinary find with Janssen.


The book was published just before the launch of ‘Mondrian to Dutch Design: 100 Years of De Stijl’ programme, the Netherlands’ 2017 centenary celebrations marking one hundred years since the founding of the art movement of which Mondrian was a member. The Kunstmuseum is staging no fewer than four presentations on Mondrian, including a major retrospective showcasing his development from landscape painter to pioneer of abstract art.

Piet Mondriaan. Een nieuwe kunst voor een ongekend leven is published by Hollands Diep, €39.99, 656 pages, www.hollandsdiep.nl