Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) was a man of boundless ambition. He made himself one of the greatest masters of modern art and resolutely pioneered the path towards abstraction. In January 1912 he moved to Paris to explore Cubism. In June 1914 he returned and held an exhibition at the Walrecht gallery in The Hague; it showed just how far Mondrian had travelled from the Dutch art of his time in those two short years. He became a major source of inspiration for other Dutch artists, including Jan Sluijters, Jacoba van Heemskerck and countless younger painters. Exactly 100 years after the show at the Walrecht gallery, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag presents this centenary exhibition as a homage to Mondrian. Its opening coincides almost to the day with the 70th anniversary of the artist’s death. In addition to work by Mondrian and his Dutch contemporaries, the show will feature works by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Le Fauconnier and Fernand Léger, on loan from a raft of top museums such as MoMA in New York and the Beyeler in Basle.
Around 1911, Cubism was also being practised in the Netherlands but mainly in a Symbolist variant or in a purely decorative way. Mondrian was in search of a new art that would be both non-representational and pregnant with meaning. He yearned to arrive at something entirely fresh and unknown. Although grounded in the Hague School tradition, he had always had a keen interest in international developments. A 1911 Cubist exhibition at the Stedelijk was a revelation. He realised he would have to go to Paris if he were ever to achieve the artistic breakthrough he craved. In 1914 he returned with sixteen compositions painted in Paris over the past two years and put them on show at the Walrecht gallery in The Hague.
The forthcoming exhibition offers a unique opportunity to compare the work of Mondrian and other Dutch artists with French Cubism. It includes work by the most important figures of the Parisian avant-garde of the day. The comparison reveals that Mondrian had already found his own, entirely individual style. For Picasso, Cubism was a way of playing games both with the public and with other artists; it quickly came to stand for innovation and adventure. Mondrian took it far more seriously, as a way of using colour and line to arrive at the essence of art and beauty.
Hans Janssen, curator of modern art at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and a well-known Mondrian specialist, has recently made a major discovery. He has realised that Mondrian was taking the play of lines in earlier drawings – a landscape, a portrait, a flower still life or a view of trees – as the starting point for the abstract compositions of the post-1911 period. In other words, he was basing his abstract compositions on figurative works. This new discovery is discussed in detail in the exhibition and accompanying publication.
The exhibition is being held in partnership with MoMA in New York.
It is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated book (published by Thoth, price € 24.95, ISBN 978 90 68 68 64 32)