To coincide with the current highly successful Mondrian in Cologne exhibition – already attended by over 100,000 people – a new book has been published entitled Mondriaan. Collectie Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. It puts paid to the popular idea that Piet Mondrian was a cold, mathematically-minded man and reveals that he was in fact an artist engaged in a passionate quest for a new formal language in which to paint. He never followed any rational, preconceived programme, but felt his way forward through a process of trial and error until he arrived at something that felt right to him. This summer his radiant paintings are back home on show in the Gemeentemuseum, illustrating this new view of Mondrian’s artistic evolution.
In the new exhibition, as in the book, curator and Mondrian expert Hans Janssen rejects the common assumption that Mondrian’s work displays a predominantly rigid, linear pattern of development. Taking the actual paintings and water colours as his point of departure, Janssen provides a completely different perspective. Using explanatory texts and groups of contemporaneous works with the same subject (such as farmhouses or landscapes), or works with the same subject but differing dates, or works that seem for stylistic reasons to have been produced at around the same time, Janssen shows that Mondrian proceeded via a repetitive and improvisional process of trial and error over particular periods until he achieved a result he found truly satisfying. With the exception of the commissioned works made to order, he never knew exactly what he wanted to achieve when he started work on a piece. In fact, Mondrian emerges from the exhibition as an extraordinarily flexible and adaptable artist.
The exhibition also shows that Mondrian was far from being the lone wolf making his own way in artistic isolation that Modernist critics have always suggested; on the contrary, he was influenced by his environment and the people around him. A number of artists with whom Mondrian worked at various times – including Ferdinand Hart Nibbrig, Jacoba van Heemskerk, Jan Toorop, and his co-founders of De Stijl – played a demonstrable role in his life and artistic development. The works on show reveal the reciprocal influences that resulted from their shared quest for the ultimate work of art and the conclusions to which they came.
The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag possesses the largest Mondrian collection in the world. It illustrates the entire evolution of the artist’s oeuvre, from his early figurative work right through to his final abstract masterpiece, Victory Boogie Woogie. Over recent years, that particular work has been the subject of in-depth study. The results will be presented at a public meeting on the morning of Saturday 30 August 2008.
The lavishly illustrated and informative new Dutch-language catalogue of the collection is published by Waanders and is available from the museum shop and all good bookshops (price: € 24.95).