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In Oranges and Decorated Plate we discover Mondrian taking on yet another different genre, namely still life. This lesser known piece was featured in his catalogue raisonne in the late 20th century and is an important addition that underlines his versatility as a painter.
This delightful still life painting was produced by Piet Mondrian in the year 1900. It features a selection of four oranges placed just in front of a decorative plate. The style of the ceramics is entirely typical for the Netherlands at this time, and the use of blue content would also spread to other parts of Europe over the 20th century, having originally been inspired by classical Chinese pottery. Mondrian himself is not remembered as a still life artist but he did produce some work in this genre, normally focusing on fruit on a table or instead flowers and plants. In this example he carefully managed the entire scene in order to get the light balance and composition just as he wishes. It may have been more about learning and developing rather than creating an artwork to sell. Across the bottom half of the painting is a sheet or table cloth which allows light to deflect onto the surface of the plate.
Mondrian incorporates some shadows around the oranges but they are relatively light, suggesting that plenty of light is to be found within the room at the time. The artist would have studied artists from the 19th century and drawn inspiration from a number of different artists. Still life art had been seen as stale for some time but the likes of Monet and Cezanne would reinvigorate this genre and encourage later generations of artists to rethink how they saw it. Mondrian took the common approach of fruit for content, where one can easily set up a painting with everyday items as well as studying the balance of light across round objects. In this case, though, it is the plate which takes your focus because of the great user of light effects upon its surface. This small artwork is just 45cm by 29cm, perhaps ensuring that Mondrian did not try to incorporate too much complexity acros the painting.
This piece was signed in the bottom left corner and dated. It has passed through several private collections since being finished in the year 1900 but has also been loaned to public museums from time to time which has enabled us to understand more about the piece and ensure that it remains a well known addition to his career. It is believed to still reside in Amsterdam today, and most of this artist's lesser known pieces are still present somewhere in the Netherlands. Mondrian went on to continue his still life work with a number of flower paintings which proved popular but may not have been his favourite way of working and was more about technical development.