Dutch art from the old days is crazy dark, to the point of absurdity. Of course I knew before I came here that Rembrandt is famous for his ominous shadows, but as I see more minor art works from those times I find the same obsession with darkness even in minor artists who clearly have no feeling for the dramatic, such as staple portraits of the petit bourgeoisie being almost entirely pitch black.
With this in the back of my mind, I visited the birthplace of Mondrian the other day. And then, suddenly, Mondrian's art made sense to me. It is quite simply anti-Rembrandt. Poor Mondrian would have had all those pitch-black paintings and their ominous shadows rammed down his throat all through his youth. And thus, of course, with modernism boiling in his veins, he went on to do the exact opposite: white, bright, untainted primary colour blocks.
The irony of it all is that the darkness of the old style was not intensional. It seems to have to do with the pigments darkening over time; perhaps a side effect of the geological peculiarity of the Netherlands, with half its land being below sea level and the complete absence of rocks in the entire country (whence gravel paths are made using sea shells in this country). And that is how accidents of geography made the Netherlands the birthplace of Neo-Plasticism---or so I'd like to imagine.