Born Pieter Mondriaan in Amersfoort in 1872 (the year Claude Monet began work on his landmark painting Impression, Sunrise), he showed artistic talent from a young age. However, cajoling his fervently Protestant parents to send him to art school was no easy task. At first he painted chiefly land and riverscapes, impressionistic images in a subdued colour palette. Like Monet and co, he liked to work outdoors, taking his painter’s box, paper and brushes with him on his bicycle.
In 1911, he sent the first of his paintings to the Salon in Paris and headed there himself not long after, lured by the works of Picasso and Braque. When he arrived in the French capital in 1912, he set up a studio in Montparnasse and tried to emulate the radical compositions of the cubists.
In 1914, he left to visit his ailing father in the Netherlands; while there, war broke out, preventing his return. He settled in the northern Dutch town of Laren, well known as an artists’ colony. Mondrian called it “Little Paris”.
Laren was also a hotbed for Theosophists, a spiritual cult whose number Mondrian had joined in 1909. Gauguin, Kandinsky, Klee and Malevich were fellow followers, signing up to the idea that there is a hidden, unifying force in the world. For Mondrian, this translated into searching for – and eventually finding – pure abstraction in lines and primary colours.