Piet Mondrian and Mark Rothko

This was written for a school assignment.

Mondrian and Rothko both painted more naturalistic subject matter in their earlier days. Piet Mondrian was earlier influenced by Impressionism and the Impressionistic artist Seurat, and his paintings followed a neo-impressionistic style in 1900s. This can be seen from earlier works such as “Mill in Sunlight” (1908) which reflect quie clearly Impresssionistic influences of using complementary dabs of color side by side. Rothko too painted naturalistic scenes due to the great influence of Milton Avery’s work on his early paintings. Avery’s paintings often addressed stylized and natural scenes, with rich usage of form and color. Soon after meeting Avery, Rothko’s paintings began to address similar subject matter and colors, as can be seen in “Bathers” (1933/4) which has a similar naturalistic feel to it.

Both artists utilized bold blocks of solid color in their mature work. Rothko’s work used large rectangular shapes of contrasting colors placed one above another, overlaid on a colored background. For example “No. 3/No. 13” (1949) shows dark gray, black, purple, green and white bands of color overlaid on an orange background. Many of Mondrian’s works, such as “Composition with Blue, Yellow, Black and Red” (1922) show a canvas regularly divided into geometrical shapes with strong black lines, and some of these cells are colored in with one of the primary colors. This is an example of how often he used primary colors in his work. For example, “Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow” (1927) featured striking red, yellow, blue, white and black, all of which were colors which contrasted highly with each other and made the painting visually impactful. The tsame goes for Rothko’s art, where the colors he chose for the rectangles/bands were often contrasting with the background as well as sometimes complementary to each other. This gave both their paintings a striking vibrancy.

The two artists were also similar in terms of the scale of their paintings. Both favored large canvases in order to overwhelm the viewer. For example, “Broadway Boogie Woogies” (1942/3) by Mondrian was 127 by 127 cm in size, and the Rothko Chapel murals which Rothko was commissioned to do were very large.

However, the artists are different in that Mondrian was influenced earlier by the Cubist style of Picasso and Braque. This is evident in “The Sea” (1912) and his tree studies from that same year. THey often contained the geometric shapes and interlocking planes which were representative of Cubism. Mondrian was later influenced by the artist Theo van Doesburg, and his use of only primary colors in his art greatly influenced Mondrian. These two influences showed themselves in his mature work, the geometric shapes of Cubism reflected in his highly geometrical Neo-Plasticisit works like “Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue” (1937-42) and the use of primary colors also evidenced in these works.

Mondrian’s works were also generally more geometric than Rothko’s. Although both used large blocks of solid color, Rothko’s bands were more organic in shape than Mondrian’s. This can be seen in “Untitled” (1949) where the edges of the bands are actually painted with not a straight line but many brushstrokes which form a somewhat jagged edge. Mondrian’s “Victory Boogie Woogie” (1942-44) again makes use of cleanly defined, straight edges in the blocks of color. The same reasoning can be applied to say that Mondrian’s work was more analytical and mechanical than Rothko. His use of primary colors and clean-cut lines gave his artwork a somewhat clincal feel, while Rothko’s use of less clear and sometimes diffused edges made the works seem more soft. This is seen in “Earth and Green”, where the edges of the blocks are a bit blurred and the color scheme of muted blues, greens and maroon creates a triad which makes it less harsh than the contrasting primary colors of Mondrian’s work.


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