The complete collection of works by Piet Mondrian at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague will go on display in the largest exhibition of the artist’s work ever mounted. The Discovery of Mondrian – Amsterdam | Paris | London | New York, will run from 3 June – 24 September 2017.
The Gemeentemuseum’s Mondrian collection is the largest in the world and has never before been seen together in its entirety. The exhibition coincides with the centenary of the beginning of the De Stijl movement. It will include every single work by Mondrian owned by the museum – some 300 paintings and drawings – making it the most ambitious survey of Mondrian ever mounted. Together these works create a journey through modern art and tell the story of Mondrian’s life in the international cities of Amsterdam, Paris, London and New York.
“Mondrian was perhaps the first painter ever to be purely concerned with the formal qualities of the brushstroke, and with the optical” – Benno Tempel
The exhibition is co-curated by Benno Tempel, Director of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, with curator Jet van Overeem, presents a radical new reading of the artist, which reflects the clarity and scholarship of Hans Janssen, the Gemeentemuseum’s Mondrian Curator since 1991, and a world expert on Mondrian and De Stijl. Looking closely at the context in which Mondrian began working, Hans Janssen presents a new, and much more open perspective on the artist, away from the lens of mid-twentieth-century modernism and closer to the work of American abstract expressionists such as Mark Rothko.
Pride of place will be given to Mondrian’s final painting, Victory Boogie Woogie, begun in 1942, left unfinished upon his death in 1944, which never leaves the museum. Painted in expectation of victory in World War II, it is made up of almost 600 different individual compositional elements, one of the largest canvases he ever worked on. Acquired by the Gemeentemuseum in 1998, the expert team at the museum undertook an intensive two-year investigation of this complex work between 2006 and 2008, the results of which were published to enable better conservation techniques of other works by Mondrian and similar valuable paintings, both modern and classical.
As well as two-dimensional works and objects owned by Mondrian, such as his jazz record collection, models of the Amsterdam, Paris and New York studios will be featured. Regular jazz performances will take place in the museum, reflecting the musical aspects of composition and rhythm in Mondrian’s painting. Celebrating the presentation of the exhibition, The Hague itself is being transformed into a giant Mondrian outdoor gallery. City Hall is adorned with huge panels, described as the ‘largest Mondrian painting in the world’, floating cube-shaped pontoons are installed on the Hofvijver, the lake in front of the Dutch parliament building.
Benno Tempel, Director of the Gemeentemuseum, said: “Mondrian was perhaps the first painter ever to be purely concerned with the formal qualities of the brushstroke, and with the optical, through line and light, rather than with any theory or philosophy. Mondrian has for a long time been viewed through the lens of mid-twentieth-century modernism, or even through Bauhaus, leading to a lot of misunderstanding. But if you look closely at the context in which Mondrian began working, and the role of De Stijl, whose roots were in the artisan, the work looks quite different. Hans Janssen gives us a new, and much more open, perspective. This also chimes with the hunger of new, younger generations, unfettered by dogma about modernism, to find out more about the artist.”
In 1908, Mondrian became fascinated with Theosophy, a form of religious mysticism based on Buddhist and Brahmin teachings. He expressed the cycle of reincarnation from birth to decay in watercolours and flower paintings. In 1911 Mondrian moved to Paris and discovered the work of Picasso and Braque. He embraced cubism and from 1912-14 his painting showed in abstract terms the themes that had filled his earlier work. In 1913 and 1914 he actively exhibited his cubist work, which reflected the ideas of interacting forces and growth. At the outbreak of World War 1, he was in Holland visiting his sick father and was obliged to stay there until the war ended in 1919. The work he painted during this four-year period showed the influence of his years in Paris, as well as a new simplicity of line and colour. In Holland, he met important collectors, befriended philosophers and fellow artists, and developed his philosophy of Neo-Plasticism as he was to call his abstract art. Over the next two decades, he published many articles about this philosophy and was a leading figure in the emergence of the Dutch artistic movement, De Stijl, founded in Leiden in 1917. When the war was over, Mondrian, then 47, returned to Paris. His work showed a radical transformation. His Neo-plastic painting had a ‘dynamic balance’ of blocks of pure primary colours with black lines dividing planes of pure whites or greys. The rhythms of modern music and jazz were strong influences. In 1925, after several years of hardship, his recognition began to grow. His paintings were purchased by many collectors and shown in Europe and America. In 1938 with the threat of war, he fled to London, and in 1940 he fled to New York. At this time, the black lines in his paintings were replaced with coloured lines and lines formed of blocks of colour. In Victory Boogie Woogie, the last painting before his death in New York in 1944, small blocks of colour dance all over the surface of the painting. In 1945 the Museum of Modern Art New York held a retrospective, acknowledging his place in the history of modern art.
Built between 1931 and 1935, the Gemeentemuseum was designed during the 1920s by the Dutch architect, H P Berlage (1856-1934). It is regarded as his last great work – he did not live to see its completion. The Museum is the realisation of Berlage’s vision of an architecture for culture and community and is highly influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Typical of Holland, the museum exhibits a wide range of applied arts as well as fine arts. With 150,000 works of art, the Gemeentemuseum is one of Europe’s biggest art museums. It has a world-class collection of modern and contemporary art, fashion and decorative arts. It is also the international home of Piet Mondrian, with no fewer than 300 works by the famous Dutch artist in its collection. This is the only museum where Mondrian’s life and progress towards abstract art unfold, surrounded by predecessors and contemporaries like Monet, Picasso and Kandinsky, and successors like Sol Lewitt, Francis Bacon and Louise Bourgeois. Decorative works of art are integral to many areas of the building. In keeping with this tradition, the museum in recent times commissioned the largest collection in the world of wall drawings by Sol Lewitt, and this year unveiled a new stained glass window by Bridget Riley.
Main Photo: © P C Robinson
The Discovery of Mondrian – Amsterdam | Paris | London | New York, from 3 June – 24 September 2017 The Gemeentemuseum collection The Hague, Netherlands