A blog post from November 17, 2011 ·
How excited I was to read that my very own alma mater the Courtauld will be hosting an exhibition on Piet Mondrian’s London years. As Courtauld director Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen states, “He spent two years in London and only three years in New York and yet everyone knows about his New York period, hardly anyone that he lived in London.”
It seems about time that this period is highlighted as well. And what better place to do this than at the Courtauld Galleries in London (although I might be a little biased here)? They will be paralleling Mondrian’s work with that of painter Ben Nicholson, with whom Mondrian had close contact in both Paris and London.
Quirky London facts
Mondrian’s and other artists’ fascination with Disney films. Together with Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo, Mondrian went to see Pinocchio. With his brother Carel, Mondrian also watched Snow White and even identified themselves with the dwarfs (See my earlier post The artist formerly known as Sleepy). The Disney films made quite the impression on the artists.
On his contact with Winifred Nicholson, Ben’s first wife, I wrote for the Mondrian card game developed for the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. Mondrian developed a dear friendship with her and they travelled together from Paris to London, when the threat of war came too close. Mondrian had such great fun with Winifred’s children, that at the airport they were considered a family.
No direct, one-on-one influences of these contacts and fascinations are to be traced in Mondrian’s work. However, they contribute to the understanding of the human being behind the artist. People always like to see Mondrian as a solitary, monk like artist, spending all his time in his studio, working day and night. However, he was also a person with many social contacts, who’d loved to go dancing and to go to the cinema. These kinds of modern life experiences influenced his thinking and how he translated this onto the canvas. The best example of this is a painting he made in New York, the Broadway Boogie Woogie. The title alone shows how in touch Mondrian was with his environment.
Hopefully, the Courtauld exhibition will add another chapter on the life and work of Piet Mondrian, by focussing on both his artistic practices and collegial contacts in London. The exhibtion runs from February – May 2012 (exact dates to be announced).
More info on the upcoming exhibit, read this Guardian article or check the Courtauld Gallery website.
Image: Composition C (No III) with Red Yellow and Blue. Photograph by Tate, London 2008