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Marvellous Mondrian

Hot-foot it to the Hague to see the Gemeentemuseum's latest exhibition celebrating the life of Mondrian - and the show of a lifetime

Piet Mondriaan [1872-1944] ,Oostzijdse Mill in the Evening, c.1907-1908

Looking for something fabulous to see this summer? Then jump on a plane to the Netherlands and visit the summer exhibition, The discovery of Mondrian: Amsterdam, Paris, London, New York, which is on at the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague until September.

As you are probably aware by now, the Netherlands is celebrating the centenary this year of the De Stijl movement (Mondrian to Dutch Design. 100 years of Dre Stijl) - of which the artist, Piet Mondrian, played an integral part. The Gemeentemuseum has always held the greatest number of Mondrian paintings and so it is a great excuse to display all 300 of his works that the museum holds. The exhibition takes visitors on a tour of his life and work - including Amsterdam, Paris, London and New York - the cities where Mondrian could give free rein to his ideas.

Charles Karsten, Piet Mondrian in his studio with (top) Lozenge Composition with Four Yellow Lines, 1933 (B241) and (bottom) Composition with Double Lines and Yellow, 1934 (B242), Paris, October 1933. Collection RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History.

Between 2009 and 2015 the Gemeentemuseum initiated a project (the Mondrian Restoration Project) to examine all the Mondrian paintings in its collection and if necessary, treated. It is thanks to this project that all his paintings are available today for the exhibition. For example, the painting Farmhouse among trees 1906, (below), had not left the museum's storage and was in a very poor condition. This is the first time it has been exhibited for many years. During the project, the curators learned a great deal not only about his techniques and use of materials, but his choice of subject and his artistic genus. Their findings are published in Mondrian Restoration Project (2009 - 2015) for all to discover.

And what a fabulous exhibition this is! Filled with the most stunning paintings, and arranged chronologically, it gives the most comprehensive view of how this great painter's style changed over the years.

The exhibition starts with his earliest works - he had trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam between 1892 and 1895 - and these clearly show what a talented painter he was from the start. But turn left from this room (instead of going straight on) and you will find a room full of his early landscape paintings. Here you can see how he is exploring a new freedom from his initial training, where he is trying to capture the essence of nature or the natural environment. You can see here that he often paints the same scene over again whilst trying to capture it's form or rhythm. He was also experimenting at this time with positioning the horizon high in the picture or zooming in on the subject matter. Although this seems reasonable to us today, this was quite a departure at the time from Dutch tradition.

Piet Mondriaan [1872-1944], early landscape paintings at the Gemeentemusuem exhibition (Image: F. Richards)

From the early 19th century, Mondrian was realising that he didn't just want to paint reproduction's of reality - he wanted to try and express a spirituality too. He met artist Jan Toorop who influenced him greatly. Toorop introduced new movements from abroad into the Netherlands and painted in the Symbolist, Impressionist and Pointillist styles. It is said that through his influence, Mondrian, and other young Dutch artists, changed their colour palette from tonal dark to strong contrasts and bright colours. The explosion of colour was known as Luminism as their images were filled with a lively sunlight. The brush strokes also changed - they became much more impressionistic and Mondrian began to put his landscapes together with short, powerful strokes. At this time he did many dune scenes which are pervaded with sunlight.

Piet Mondrian [1872-1944], The red Cloud, c.1907

In 1911 Mondrian organised an exhibition on modern art with Toorop in Amsterdam where he discovered Cubism. For the first time he saw works by Cezanne, Picasso and Braque and realised that his attempts at Cubism were very different to the French artists. Although 40 at this time, and one of the most innovative Dutch landscape painters, he decided that to keep developing as a painter he had to move to Paris. Here he developed his own style of Cubism, which included the loss of perspective which other painters had kept.

Forced by WWI to stay in the Netherlands, this was the time that he mixed with artists such as Bart van der Leck and corresponded with Theo van Doesburg, a group which developed into the De Stijl movement. Now Mondrian started to paint with just simple geometric shapes, horizontal and vertical lines and primary colours which became an artistic phenomenon.

Piet Mondriaan [1872-1944] Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue, 1921

The exhibition finishes with Mondrian's final painting, which he was working on at the time of his death. Victory Boogie Woogie (1942-1944), is unfinished and as such is so interesting, as you can see how he was experimenting with colour and layout to find the perfect composition.

Piet Mondriaan [1872-1944] detail of Victory, Boogie Woogie 1942-44

Away from the main exhibition rooms there are reproductions of his studios in Paris and New York and additional information to put the paintings in context and more about the man himself. There is no doubt that this is one of the most comprehensive and brilliant exhibitions of Piet Mondrian that we are likely to see for some time. It is on until 24 September - don't miss it.


The Discovery of Mondrian. Amsterdam, Paris, London, New York

Gemeentemuseum den Haag

Showing until: 24 September 2017

For more information on the centenary of the De Stijl movement and Mondrian's role in it, read Lucy Mallow's article in the December issue of Timeless Travels magazine. For more information, click here


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