Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
“ ! ”: Lot is imported from outside the EU. For ea… Read more
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)

Stalk with Two Japanese Lilies

Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
Stalk with Two Japanese Lilies
signed 'P. Mondriaan' (lower centre)
ink, watercolour and gouache on paper
31.5 x 31.5 cm.
Executed in 1921
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, Amsterdam, 10 April 1990, lot 75.
Private Collection, The Netherlands.
Kunsthandel Studio 2000, Amsterdam.
Barbara Mathes Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009.
W. Laanstra, Fine Dutch and European Paintings, 19th and 20th century, Amsterdam, 1991, no. 42, p. 43 (illustrated).
J.M. Joosten and R. P. Welsh, Piet Mondrian Catalogue Raisonné of the Work of 1911-1944, 1998, Toronto, no. C121, p. 495 (illustrated).

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“ ! ”: Lot is imported from outside the EU. For each Lot the Buyer’s Premium is calculated as 37.75% of the Hammer Price up to a value of €30,000, plus 31.7% of the Hammer Price between €30,001 and €1,200,000, plus 22.02% of any amount in excess of €1,200,000.

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Lisa Snijders
Lisa Snijders

Lot Essay

‘I too find flowers beautiful in their exterior beauty; yet there is hidden within a deeper beauty’ (Piet Mondrian, quoted in D. Shapiro, Mondrian: Flowers, New York, 1991, p. 17).

The powerful flower drawings of the 1920’s, with their sensual curves and ghostly blue tonalities, break with the continuity of Mondrian’s geometrical compositions. Appearing for the first time at the beginning of the 20th century, the flower motif resurfaced in the early 1920’s during the heydays of the triumphant radical abstractions, termed Neo-Plasticism. The present flower study, Stalk with Two Japanese Lilies, which represents two lilies growing from the same stem, makes somewhat of an exception, as Mondrian generally depicted flowers in singular form, most often a single rose or chrysanthemum. Consensus has it that the later flower studies are first and foremost born out of financial need. Interestingly enough, as a friend of Mondrian’s and a connoisseur of his work, A.P. van Briel states, this notion is flawed, for it leaves out the likely possibility of these flower studies to be carriers of profound meaning, arguably embodying the artist’s inner personal and creative struggles. For Van Briel states: “Mondrian admitted that some of them cost great difficulty and concentration, even doubt and ‘pain’, but still he was forced to make them, he just had to make them, not because he was in need of money only, but because he was of an inner need, as if he had to settle something. The flower paintings contain a great deal of Mondrian as a human being, as well as a painter.” (as quoted in W. Laanstra, Fine Dutch and European Paintings, 19th and 20th century, Amsterdam, 1991, p. 43). Leaving his self-confessed appeal to commerce and popular taste aside, Mondrian ostensibly took the conjuncture of his flower drawings with a benevolent art audience to his financial advantage, thereby circumventing the fact that he was far more personally attached to the flower imagery than he himself would publicly acknowledge.

Painted circa 1921, Piet Mondrian’s elegant Stalk with Two Japanese Lilies, captures a sense of the ethereal, transient beauty of a single flower as it reaches the peak of its life cycle, its delicate petals gradually curling away from its centre, caught just before they begin to wilt. Focusing on this moment of transition, Mondrian draws attention to the inherent symbolic power of this theme, an interest sparked by his involvement with both Symbolism and Theosophy. Botanical subjects had remained an important motif within Mondrian’s oeuvre throughout his career, reflecting the complex and at times contradictory relationship that the artist maintained with nature even at the height of his most ground-breaking forays into abstraction. As David Schapiro has written: ‘Throughout his life, Mondrian betrays an obsession with the natural, first in his attention toward the real and then in his manic sacrifice of it in pursuit of the essential’ (Schapiro, Mondrian: Flowers, New York, 1991, p. 25).

Emerging from the pale blue mist of the background, its stem almost disintegrating at the bottom of the page, the blossom at the heart of Stalk with Two Japanese Lilies displays both an accurate, empirical rendering of the details of the flower, as well as a symbolic power that imbues the painting with an almost otherworldly atmosphere. Decontextualising the flower from its surroundings, Mondrian emphasises the ethereal nature of the lily’s blossoms, the delicate blue colouring of its petals echoed in the palette of the surrounding space. Mondrian had first become interested in Theosophy, a spiritual movement that incorporated teaching from a number of religions, as well as science, mythology and cosmology, in the opening decade of the twentieth century, joining the Dutch branch of the Theosophical Society in 1909. Within this school of thought flower symbolism played a central role, with the life cycle of the blooms seen as an encapsulation of the eternal life cycle of birth, growth, death, decay and regeneration. Capturing a sense of the transitory beauty of the bloom, just before it wilts and disappears, Stalk with Two Japanese Lilies may be seen as a statement about the fragility and ephemerality of not only the flower, but also of nature and life in its entirety.

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