“I was always a realist,” Mondrian wrote in a 1942 essay about his work entitled “Toward the True Vision of Reality” (quoted in H. Janssen and J.M. Joosten, Mondrian, 1891-1914, The Path to Abstraction, exh. cat., Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 2002, p. 21).
Schemering, one of Mondrian’s earliest works, was painted by the artist at the young age of eighteen. The work depicts the typical farmland of the eastern region of The Netherlands. Robert P. Welsh, one of the foremost experts on the artist’s work, notes that this depiction suggests “an eastern Dutch locale, as does the somewhat irregular pattern of the three formations in the background. In fact, in composition as well as mood, this work strikingly anticipates similar features in the ‘Oele’ landscapes of circa 1906-07…which derive from his visits at that time to an area of the Netherlands relatively close to Winterswijk” (R.P. Welsh, op. cit., 1965, p. 28).
Many scholars have noted the influence of the Hague School of painting on the young artist’s development by way of his uncle Fritz Mondriaan, the younger brother of his father and a younger member of the group. The subject, brushwork and treatment of light and space all suggest the impact of his uncle’s training. The Dutch art historian Hans L.C. Jaffé eloquently describes the manner in which this influence can be found in Schemering. “After picturesqueness,” Jaffé writes, “mood was the most important watchword of the Hague School; this picture complies with both. Its title, Dusk, already suggests a mood, the idyllic mood of departing day. And the contrasts of the dark fringe of the woods, the clouds, and the effects of light in the evening sky emphasize an extremely picturesque approach to landscape—the flat Dutch landscape, with its changing light and ever-varying mood, that was the main subject of the Hague school...” (H.L.C. Jaffé, op. cit., 1970, p. 66).
Yet the energetic brushstrokes and thick impasto of the rolling clouds in Schemering recall the progressive works of avant-garde artists such as Vincent van Gogh. Welsh takes special interest in Mondrian’s impressive treatment of this sky: “this early work displays Mondrian’s penchant, found in many of his late naturalistic landscapes, for the luminous effects of cloud formations seen in late afternoon” (op. cit., 1965, p. 28). Moreover, the abstracted nature of the landscape, and its compositional formation based upon the vertical layering of horizontal planes, anticipates his move to pure abstraction and the renowned grid paintings of his mature art.
(fig. 1) Piet Mondrian, Sloot met brug, circa 1894-1895. Gemeentemuseum, The Hague.