Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow: An analysis of Mondrian’s Masterpiece

Composition with Red Blue and Yellow with black lines and white spaces

When you think about great art you’d expect beauty, an inner meaning, some symbolism, and even some complex art technique. Today contemporary abstract art is flooded with geometric shapes, straight lines, thick contours, and sharp corners. If you don’t consider modern art ‘real’ art, you have Piet Mondrain to blame. Mondrian is one of the pioneering artists who made abstract art what it is now. He breaks his ideas into spiritual fragments and fundamental shapes, giving rise to a highly simplified version of his initial inspiration. His Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow looks like a collection of random shapes filled with simple colors that probably don’t have a deeper meaning. In this article, we provide you with some insights into Mondrian’s art that might change your mind.  

Mondrian’s Style and Inspiration

Mondrian is a Dutch artist, born and brought up in the Netherlands. His artistic inclinations were deepened by the efforts of his uncle and father. Mondrian graduated from the prestigious Royal Academy of Visual Arts, Amsterdam. He was personally and artistically influenced by Theosophical philosophy, which simply put is the belief in a parallel spiritual reality. 

Mondrian has been heavily influenced by the art of Pablo Picasso. In the early 1900s, he came in contact with cubism in art, which reflects in his work as well. Mondrian’s work led him to define a completely new art style, popularly known as De Stijl or Neoplasticism. The term ‘De Stijl’ translates to ‘the Style’ in English. Mondrain propounded this art style with his fellow artist Theo van  Doesburg. This art style consists of bold horizontal and vertical lines and primary colors exclusively. After World War I, the trauma had become far too common among the masses. To some extent, people could relate to each other through shared trauma. The ‘De Stilj’ art styles provided much-needed calmness, ease, and simplicity in the chaotic aftermath of the war.

The artist personally described his art style as ‘Neo-Plasticism’. The term ‘plasticism’ has been derived from plastic which signifies the versatility of abstract art. At times Mondrian also called his art ‘abstract real’. Here real does not denote ‘realism’. ‘Real’ signifies Mondrian’s belief that complete geometric abstraction provides a better representation of the world through minimalism.

Neo-Plasticism may be summed in the following quote by Mondrian

“I wish to approach truth as closely as is possible, and therefore I abstract everything until I arrive at the fundamental quality of objects.”

Piet Mondrian.

The Subject of ‘Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow’

Mondrian refined his art in the era of Impressionism and Symbolism. The features of impressionism and symbolism are visible in Mondrian’s work. These features involve emphasis on the artist’s subjective perception and using elements that have a deeper symbolic meaning. The characteristics of impressionism, Neo impressionism, and symbolism have seamlessly been incorporated into Mondrian’s art. 

At first glance, the painting looks basic, which is exactly the style Mondrian was going for. Simple yet symbolic, this painting cannot be analyzed to a great extent objectively but holds a different meaning for different audiences. 

It is impossible to figure out the artist’s inspiration behind this composition since Mondrain has completely disintegrated his ideas in terms of primary colors and two-dimensional shapes. 

Oil on Canvas modern art with primary colors
Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow by Piet Mondrian. Public domain.

Apart from blue, red, and yellow, black and white are the only two colors used in the painting. Mondrian was of the opinion that primary colors are the true representatives of the universe and its elements. The term “composition” points towards the importance of constituents or the fundamentals of artwork. 

Owing to its simplicity the painting exudes a sense of calmness and stability which is in part truncated by the uncertainty of its incomplete edges. The lines and colors seem to be extending beyond the canvas in space, of which we can only see a small snippet. 

The Structure of the Composition

The basic structure of the painting consists of thick horizontal and vertical lines in black that intersect each other at right angles. These lines make up one square and six rectangular shapes. From a distance, these lines look as if they have been printed on the sheet. A closer look reveals minute imperfections and brushstrokes on the edges of these lines. It is also important to note that the thicknesses of the horizontal and vertical lines are different from one another. 

Lastly, the colors are all primary, expressing the primary elements of life, fire, earth, and water. The lines provide structure and clarity to the otherwise abstract painting. There are no borders at the extremities of the painting due to which this piece seems endless. More than half of the painting is covered in red. The remaining painting consists of four small rectangles colored off-white, on the left corner is a small blue rectangle and on the right corner is a yellow rectangle. 

Analysis of the Composition with Blue, Red, and Yellow

Even though the painting is oversimplified, an analysis of the composition reveals just how complex its formation has been. 

The Lines and Borders

The most interesting feature of the various lines in the painting is their varying thickness. Mondrian did not use specific measurements or even a ruler to make straight, even lines. As a result, no two lines are of the same thickness. 

The black lines may be considered as elements in themselves and not mere dividers. It is interesting that while all these lines touch the very end of the canvas, the short horizontal line on the bottom left does not. Art analysts believe that this line was kept incomplete on purpose to enhance the asymmetry of the painting. 

A detail of Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow by Piet Mondrian
A detail of Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow by Piet Mondrian. Public domain.

The horizontal line at the bottom of the painting cuts through the canvas completely. This line may have been used to signify the horizon between land and sky. The vertical lines help the viewer to look upward, making the illusion of an expansive sky above the land more prominent. 

The Colors 

The color that immediately grabs our attention is red. This is not only because of the large area occupied by the color but also due to its inherent qualities that capture and sustain attention. 

Color Palette in Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow

If the horizontal line indeed represents the horizon, the color red could signify the sun, its importance, and its vastness. Below this horizon, we see blue and yellow. While the blue can be interpreted as water, the yellow makes little sense. However, if we combine blue and yellow, the resulting green could be a symbol of earth. 


Asymmetry has always been a part of Mondrian’s work. This asymmetry is often heightened by subtle contrasts many of which may be observed in the Composition with Blue, Red, and Yellow. Some of these subtle contrasts include the slight differences in the shades of white in the unequal rectangles and also the black lines along with differences in texture all across the canvas. While the blinding red takes up most of our attention the pinch of blue and yellow is rather relaxing. Even though contrasts are often chaotic, Mondrian skilfully balances them with simplicity. 

FAQs – Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow

What is De Stijl movement?

The De Stijl movement is a Dutch art movement that came into existence in the year 1917. Theo van Doesburg was the proponent of this movement. According to Doesburg, De Stijl could be likened to “Modern Boroque”. This type of art involves artistic expression through abstraction according to a definite set of rules. These rules involves the strict use of primary colors and non-colors only, straight horizontal and vertical lines with no diagonals allowed and only shapes such as squares and rectangles are permitted.

What is the medium of Composition with Red Blue and Yellow?

The Composition with Red Blue and Yellow is an oil on canvas painting. The canvas dimensions are 45 cm x 45 cm.

When was the Composition with Red Blue and Yellow made?

Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Red Blue and Yellow was made in year 1930.

Where is Composition with Red Blue and Yellow?

Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow (1930) by Piet Mondrian has been displayed at the Kunsthaus Zürich art museum (Zurich, Switzerland) since the year 1987. 

What art movement is Composition with Red Blue and Yellow?

Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow (1930) by Piet Mondrian belongs to the De Stijl art Movement. This movement has also been called Neo-plasticism by Mondrian. This art style comes under the Modern art category. 

How much is Composition with Red Blue and Yellow worth?

Piet Mondrian created several versions of the Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow (1930). The highest selling cost for one such painting has been $50.6 at a New York auction. 

What is Mondrian style called?

Piet Mondrian’s style has been called Neo-Plasticism or De Stijl which translates to ‘The Style’ in English. 

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