Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)

Amstel, Café ‘t Vissertje II

Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
Amstel, Café ‘t Vissertje II
signed 'Piet Mondriaan.' (lower right)
watercolor on paper laid down on board
26 5/8 x 46 3/8 in. (67.5 x 117.7 cm.)
Executed circa 1907-1909
(possibly) Galerie Hans Brinkman, Amsterdam.
Budde collection; sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 28 June 1961, lot 80.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
R.P. Welsh, Piet Mondrian's Early Career: The "Naturalistic" Periods, Ph.D. Diss., Princeton University, 1965, p. 120 (illustrated, fig. 206).
R.P. Welsh, Piet Mondrian: Catalogue Raisonné of the Naturalistic Works (until early 1911), New York, 1998, vol. I, p. 367, no. A536 (illustrated).
(probably) Arti, 1907.
Utrecht, Kunstliefde, April 1909, no. 63.
New York, Richard L. Feigen & Co., Bedford Collects: The Taste of a Community, May-June 1972, no. 36 (titled Wharf by a Canal).
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh Corporations Collect: Inaugural Exhibition of the Heinz Galleries, October 1975-January 1976, no. 48 (titled Wharf by a Canal).

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Lot Essay

During the late 1900s, Mondrian’s work began to drift away from his naturalistic style. Though his works of this period originate with inspiration from nature and his surroundings, the artist began to give way to his impulses of abstraction and expression, preferring to display atmospheric effects rather than the exacting details of his subjects. Between 1905 and early 1908, Mondrian focused chiefly on the riverscape; characterized by a serial approach, these works display a “systematic study of minute changes in color and lighting of single subject themes observed from a single point of view” (R.P. Welsh, op. cit., 1998, p. 305) in the vein of Claude Monet’s similar tack. Amstel, Café ‘t Vissertje II is the second in a series of paintings illustrating the Omval, a neighborhood along Amstel River within walking distance of Mondrian’s Amsterdam home. The Omval was a beloved summer location for residents of Amsterdam for its proximity to the city center and buzzing cafés.
R.P. Welsh has written, “The principle subject of this watercolor is a café identifiable from a drawing produced by Tinus de Jongh, by which date the former café t’ Visschertje (Little Fisher café) had been renamed the café de Kleine Haven (Little Harbor café). The latter name doubtless refers to the small yacht basin De Hoop (The Hoop), which was situated adjacent to and just upstream from a roughly triangular-shaped island known as De Omval, on which the café was located. The island had been artificially created when the dike and canal surrounding the district of Watergraafsmeer were constructed and it was along a northern segment of this dike that Mondrian…previously had his residence. The presence of the (now destroyed) water tower in the Mondrian depiction, which was located slightly downstream on the Amsteldijk or west side of the river, further confirms the identification of the site as the Omval and the point of view as directed toward the inner city of Amsterdam in the distance” (ibid., p. 366).
When this work was exhibited in the fall of 1909 at Kunstliefde in Utrecht, many of the artist’s contemporary critics were critical of its hazy, ethereal effects. It was his former professor, Mr. Dake who innately understood the perspective the artist sought to capture and explained it as follows in his review of the work in De Controleur on 17 April 1909:
“A capital watercolor, which on first viewing does not produce an eye-appealing impression, remains for me to discuss: it represents a view of the Amstel, at the place of the Watertower, and because of the twilight-blurred tone, which renders the whole drawing gray and almost colorless, very likely this view is intended as a view at night. This watercolor is by Piet Mondriaan, who is very strong in impressionistic translations of such gray moods. I repeat: to one’s eye the drawing makes no striking impression and one finds in it very little artistic insight by the artist, in that he completely fills the right corner with a ghostly monster of a clubhouse of a rowing society. If you permit, move backwards far as you can, but hold the drawing within sight…What is the effect now? Who has ever seen such an endless perspective? Such an enchanting river panorama! Take a look at that wave-splashed water surface, is it not as if you were in reality standing before the Amstel, and now clearly and distinctly everything advances in palpable form from out of the evening mist: the water tower, that club building which now appears so handsome” (quoted in ibid., p. 367).

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