Piet Mondrian, The Gray Tree, 1911
Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) explored many styles of painting, including Post-Impressionism, Pointillism, Fauvism, and Cubism, before he truly found his artistic voice with his famous Neo-Plasticism. Mondrian excelled in all these styles and created many varied and beautiful paintings throughout his career. The Gray Tree is an example of Cubism, painted in Paris after Mondrian moved there from the Netherlands. When he moved to Paris, Mondrian was immediately taken with the Cubist art of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. This painting is a representation of a tree as deconstructed geometric shapes that fit together to shape the tree. With the limited palette and flattened spatial plane, the painting takes on an unusual quality that suggests like stained glass, where subject and background merge, almost indistinguishably. The painting is an excellent example of Mondrian's skill with both shading and brushwork. Despite the limited palette, the gradient of grays on the canvas communicate the image as well as an emotional valence. The brushwork is simultaneously precise and expressive, communicating the differentiation of those geometric blocks but also able to construct the whole. This painting masters the principles of Cubism, while maintaining the depth and connectivity demonstrated in his earlier Impressionist/Post-Impressionist works.