Piet MONDRIAN (1872-1944)
2009 SOLD for € 21.5M by Christie's
Unlike Miro, Mondrian does not invite the viewer to interpret. He seeks his own way, which is as unresolved and endless as that of Kafka's surveyor.
Malevich had understood that the quintessence of art is pure white. Mondrian adds strictly horizontal and vertical thick black lines. Their conjunction can generate an interrupt, but the strictly orthogonal angles attract no fantasy.
The world is not made up of black and white but of colors. The three basic pure colors are enough to announce all its diversity. Red, yellow and blue each one fills a dedicated area bounded by the black lines.
After joining van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian is the theoretician and soon the leader of the Neo-Plasticism, linked with the De Stijl movement. In the wake of Malevich's Suprematism, he starts a quest for purity through a total abstraction.
Mondrian's abstract style, rigorous and thorough, is repetitive, even though the position of horizontal and vertical lines and of colored boxes is always different. The inevitable edge of the canvas disrupts the will of the artist to reach infinity. He experiments a diamond position of the canvas.
The oil on canvas from the Saint-Laurent collection, a straight 80 x 50 cm painted in 1922, is a simple composition on a grey background. The space is divided into four parts: the top has three boxes including a blue one and a very thin red stripe, a narrow stripe on the right goes down in two boxes in turn yellow and black, two cases in the lower left repeat the pattern of the top, and a wide empty box holds the dominant center of the canvas to the left edge.
It was sold for € 21.5M from a lower estimate of € 8M on February 23, 2009 by Christie's in cooperation with Pierre Bergé et Associés.
1926 Komposition II with Red
2015 SOLD for $ 9.3M by Christie's
Only two or three rectangles are filled with pure colors, but their presence near the edge, already in place in 1922, now takes the major role by creating the illusion that they are the starting point of an unlimited area. Therefore the overall size of the canvas is not significant. It again becomes rectangular.
Three basic rules are published by Mondrian in 1926. The figure is only made of horizontal and vertical straight lines, with no curve and no oblique. In addition to the non-colors which are grey, black and white, only three pure colors are used : blue, red and yellow, in flat separated areas, never mingled. The composition must be balanced with no symmetry.
In his studio in Montparnasse, Mondrian manages to apply his own rules. His final goal is to define a new style of interior decoration, including furnishings, suited to modern conditions of life.
The path is narrow between art and a mere decoration. Also in 1926, Mondrian observes that his compositions have been too complex and must be reduced.
Komposition II with Red, oil on canvas 50 x 51 cm, is only featuring four lines and one color, in an area limited by a light grey line. This opus was sold for $ 9.3M by Christie's on May 11, 2015, lot 11 A.
One of the vertical lines is adjacent to the right edge and interrupted. The single red fills an evanescent area in the bottom left corner, between the lower horizontal and the lower edge. The non-color is white. The escape to infinity is provided by the upper right white block and the very narrow blocks below the lower horizontal line.
1927 Composition in Red, Blue and Grey
2014 SOLD for £ 15.2M by Sotheby's
Composition with Red, Blue and Grey excludes the yellow and the white. This blue has a single narrow area at the same place as the red in the 1926 example above. This oil on canvas 68 x 53 cm was sold for £ 15.2M by Sotheby's on June 23, 2014, lot 14. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
2013 SOLD for £ 9.3M by Sotheby's
Of same size, yellow and red are on the left of the same vertical. The violent and haunting red escapes by two sides, top and left. The lower line prevents the yellow to reach the bottom edge but allows the intrusion of the long blue stripe. Twenty years before Pollock, the impressions offered in Mondrian's art have already no limitations.
1927 Composition with Yellow, Red and Blue
2021 SOLD for $ 26M by Christie"s
That No. II, oil on canvas 50 x 35 cm, was sold for $ 26M by Christie's on May 13, 2021, lot 19 B.
In period it was indeed not the sort of work that the public considered as art. After a one-day solo exhibition of 18 paintings in Paris, Mondrian was shocked to retrieve his canvases including No. II being prepared for the laundry by the local staff. He was able to repaint them within one month.
The simplification achieved by Mondrian in that phase inspired Calder, Perriand and Saint Laurent.
Piet Mondrian's 'Composition: No II, With Yellow, Red and Blue' will highlight our 20th Century Evening Sale in NY.— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) April 9, 2021
Painted in 1927, the painting encapsulates the purity, elegance, and extreme rigor of the Dutch painter's unique aesthetic. pic.twitter.com/GmhZC3UFk4
2015 SOLD for $ 50.6M by Christie's
In 1929, the artist manages to simplify this structure to the extreme without however reaching the ultimate outcome of the squares by Malevich. Only one vertical and one horizontal lines go from edge to edge, dividing the canvas into four nearly equal areas. The broken lines complement a square over the bottom right with divided stripes on their edges.
On May 14 in New York, Christie's sells a Composition No. III with red, blue, yellow and black, 50 x 50 cm, lot 6C estimated $ 15M, which is a prototype and perhaps the most outstanding painting using this new geometry. The deep red on the top left distracts the attention away from the non-colored central square. The other two colors along with the black and a non-color fill the narrow stripes on the bottom right of the figure.
Mondrian is happy. He presents this painting to Michel Seuphor, who is one of the first critics to actively support this new conception of abstract art, and reuses this effective geometry with other color schemes.
Painted in 1930 on a canvas of same size, Composition No. II with blue and yellow was sold for £ 12.4 million including premium by Christie's on February 4, 2014.
1930 Composition en Rouge, Bleu et Jaune
2022 SOLD for $ 51M by Sotheby's
This image is asymmetrically divided by a horizontal and a vertical end to end lines. A dominant bright red fills the upper right as a square while the other three quadrants are narrower for the escape to infinity. There is no black border on the canvas but it is mounted in a light grey artist's frame.
The smaller quadrant on the opposite side of the red is an escaping vivid blue. The upper left and lower right areas are split by a horizontal line twice thicker than the other lines, a departure of that year from Mondrian's austere rules. The lower right is on its turn split in two by a vertical line to display an escaping bright yellow corner.
1930 Composition No. II with Blue and Yellow
2014 SOLD for £ 12.4M by Christie's
By studying the parallel lines, Euclid invited to consider the infinite through a figure executed on a small surface. In 1930 it becomes clear that Mondrian endeavours to implement a similar vision in art : the pattern of strictly horizontal and vertical lines is important, color is secondary.
On February 4 in London, Christie's sells an oil on canvas, estimated £ 8M.
At that time, two colors are now sufficient on the condition that they appear at opposite corners of the canvas. The lowest line is very close to the edge, opening a mysterious area. Under such conditions, a small picture is sufficient to express rhe deletion of the limits : this square canvas is only 50 x 50 cm.
There is no fantasy in an abstract painting by Mondrian. The thicker horizontal line at the top of the yellow zone is so short on the canvas that it is indeed the visible part of an endless journey.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's. It masterfully demonstrates that this painting is just one element in a series of different colors, put in a comparable manner on a similar pattern. In another artwork, yellow and blue are reversed compared with the painting that comes for sale.
In a less dogmatic way than Malevich, Mondrian also eliminates any emotional value of color. The only impression that remains is infinity.
POST SALE COMMENT
This small painting enables to appreciate Mondrian's quest. It was sold for £ 12.4 million including premium.
1934 Black and White with Double Lines
2009 SOLD for $ 9.3M by Sotheby's
In 1934, due to health issues that prevented the time consuming application of subsequent layers of pigment after long periods of drying, several paintings were left unfinished. Such examples provide through the remaining charcoal a view on the painstaking process of the line placement by the artist.
Black and White with Double Lines, an oil on canvas 60 x 60 cm painted in 1934, was sold for $ 9.3M from a lower estimate of $ 3M by Sotheby's on May 5, 2009, lot 10. It is made of two pairs of crossing double lines, one from side to side and the other one limited within the lower right field. The gleaming white background has no colored overpainting. It is finished as such and signed and dated by the artist.
Painted in the same year, an unfinished Composition with Double Line and Yellow, oil on canvas 61 x 50 cm, was sold for $ 6.3M by Christie's on November 17, 2022, lot 28. Two full length horizontal lines intersect with a single nearly centered full length vertical. A yellow field stands at the top left corner and the rest is blank or left in non-colors.
Another unfinished before the decision on the line width and before any application of color passed at Sotheby's on November 6, 2013, lot 14.
1941-1942 Boogie Woogie
2004 SOLD for $ 21M by Sotheby's
During this last period of his life, he worked on six new canvases, which he tirelessly modified in his search for the perfect rhythm and the balance of colors. Three of these works remained unfinished.
The first opus, in 1941, is titled New York. This oil on canvas 95 x 92 cm composed of black verticals and horizontals is not dynamic enough and does not interest anyone. The artist understands that the cause of this failure is the large empty square in the center of the canvas. He completes it in 1942 by adding three red lines as well as a few colored punctuations along the edges which are his first expression of the city's neon lights.
This transformation deserves a new title. The work becomes Boogie Woogie by reference to this style of jazz in which the pianist punctuates with one hand the main rhythm brought by the other hand. This New York Boogie Woogie was sold for $ 21M including premium by Sotheby's on November 4, 2004, lot 7.
Mondrian's last two works, Broadway Boogie Woogie completed in 1943 and the unfinished Victory Boogie Woogie, energize his style by integrating small squares of color into his unlimited lines. His sudden death from pneumonia in February 1944 put an end to this short phase of intense musicality which paved the way for Action painting and Op art.