Piet Mondrian – Portrait of a Young Woman in Red 1908-09

Piet Mondrian – Portrait of a Young Woman in Red 1908-09

Dutch Artist, Piet Mondrian is perhaps best known for his painting ‘Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red 1937-42’ and his continuation of some of the theories that Cubism paved the way for. In 1917, Mondrian became a principle member of the De Stijl which translates as The Style and was also known as Neo-Plasticism. It consisted of artists and architects who used both strong line and primary colours.

‘Portrait of a Young Woman in Red 1908-1909’ is not a painting  that Mondrian is particularly remembered for, but shows that he had technical ability as a portrait painter. Although again, like Anthony Pilbro’s painting ‘Head 1991’, her face is not quite anatomically accurate. The eyes are two large, nose too long and straight, and perhaps the lips are too narrow. Her expression is calm and poised, directly looking out of the canvas to meet our gaze. I wonder if Mondrian created her to be an ideal, although not sexualised as her dress reaches the bottom of her neck. This woman is beautiful but not to be oggled at.

Mondrian’s use of fluid brushstrokes remind me of the painting style of Edvard Munch, who would have been working around the same time as Mondrian. Both artists seem to be a fan of creating a subtle indication of an aura in the coloured background.

It’s refreshing to see a different painting by an artist who is so well known for one piece in particular, especially where the style is so varied.


Emil Nolde – Wheat Field 1900

Born in Germany, on a farm in Schleswig, and his early work consists mostly of dramatic rural landscapes. Emil Nolde (1867-1956) was a watercolourist, oil painter and printmaker, even though he originally studied woodcarving.
He was an admirer of the work of Manet, Cézanne, Munch as well as Van Gogh, which I think is evident through his use of strong colours and brushwork. Nolde felt that colours could produce emotional responses and reactions, and tried to apply this to his own work.

The contrasts of blue and yellow that Nolde has chosen for ‘Wheat Field’ are particularly effective. The yellow, glistening light hitting only certain areas of the landscape casts an ethereal glow, matched by the heaven inspired clouds. The lit yellow pathway leading across the dark blue is enticing, our eyes are led to follow. Aligning the opposite colours side by side not only creates depth, but indicates temperature. It becomes easy to imagine the warmth of the sunlight and the cool of the shade.

Emil Nolde – Wheat Field 1900

From a literal viewpoint, the choice of colours is interesting as yellow and blue make the green which would usually be associated with landscape artwork. In places where the watercolour has been allowed to run and blend, a dark green is just visible: a hint of truth.
Where the red barn-house can be seen on the horizon, we become aware that the painting is made up of primary colours. Perhaps this is another reason why it is so visibly satisfying.

There is a softness to his painting style which is different from his influences, but his use of expressive colours is similar. Even though this painting was made over one hundred years ago, I’d consider it to be a modern and interesting use of watercolour; a medium which has become cliched especially within landscape art.