MARLOW MOSS (1890-1958)
MARLOW MOSS (1890-1958)
MARLOW MOSS (1890-1958)
MARLOW MOSS (1890-1958)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE SWISS COLLECTOR
MARLOW MOSS (1889-1958)

White and Black

MARLOW MOSS (1889-1958)
White and Black
signed 'MARLOW MOSS' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas, in the artist's painted frame
21 1/8 x 21 1/8 in. (53.5 x 53.5 cm.)
Painted in 1948.
Netty Nijhoff, Biggekerke.
Purchased at the 1973 exhibition by Rudolf and Leonore Blum, and by descent.
Exhibition catalogue, Marlow Moss, Zürich, Gimpel & Hanover Galerie, 1973, n.p., no. 14, illustrated.
R. Rosen, Arts Magazine, April 1979, pp. 163-165, illustrated.
F. Dijkstra, Marlow Moss: Constructivist & the Reconstruction Project, Cornwall, 1995, pp. 31, 38, no. S30.
S. Schaschl (ed.), exhibition catalogue, A Forgotten Maverick: Marlow Moss, Zürich, Museum Haus Konstruktiv, 2017, p. 120, illustrated.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Marlow Moss, March - April 1962, no. 18.
Zürich, Gimpel & Hanover Galerie, Marlow Moss, December 1973 - January 1974, no. 14.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Angus Granlund
Angus Granlund Director, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

In White and Black of 1948 Marlow Moss presents an image of universal harmony in the form of an abstract, square, white canvas that has been both punctuated with and articulated by an intriguingly rhythmic construction of seemingly partial but highly suggestive vertical and horizontal black lines. This painting - one of only a small number of works by this important but often overlooked female pioneer of avant-garde abstraction - is a rare and outstanding example from the height of Moss’s maturity in the 1940s. Originally owned by Moss’s life-long partner, the writer Netty Nijhoff, it is one of only two examples of Moss’s work from this period, in which her highly restrained aesthetic was pared down to it simplest essentials of geometric form in only black and white colour. The other example ­- a painting made in similar dimensions one year later in 1949 and also entitled White and Black - is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Marlow Moss was a founding member of the Abstraction-Création group in the early 1930s and, alongside artists such as Georges Vantongerloo, Theo Van Doesburg and Cesar Domela, was a leading figure in the Neo-Plasticist movement led by Piet Mondrian. Moss had first met Mondrian while a student of Purist painters Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant in Paris in 1927 and very soon afterwards established herself as one of the era’s leading practitioners of Mondrian’s Neo-Plasticist vision. Netty Nijhoff recalled, Moss ‘understood Mondrian very well and vice versa. They were very well matched. They were a pair of extraordinary lone wolves’ (N. Nijhoff quoted in L. Howarth, ‘The Double Line of Miss//Moss’, A Forgotten Maverick: Marlow Moss, Zürich, Museum Haus Konstruktiv, 2017, p. 95). Moss and Mondrian were, another observer recalled, always ‘involved in lively discussions and there was a brisk give-and-take of ideas’, most famously, of course, when, in 1932, Moss, amidst some controversy, introduced the use of the double-line into her paintings and subsequently inspired Mondrian to do the same.

Throughout the 1930s, however, Moss’s abstraction was ultimately to develop away from the fixed rigidity of Mondrian’s. Less of a mystic than her Theosophist mentor and more of a pragmatic follower of the exciting developments in modern science, Moss’s work increasingly attempted to convey a sense of the fundamental ordering rhythms and patterns of the universe through a unique combination of mathematical calculation and personal intuition. Moss was intrigued, for instance, by recent discoveries in the field of particle physics and also by the writings of Matila Ghyka, a Romanian mathematician who had proposed that the Golden Ratio underpinned not only the appearance of organic natural forms such as spiral shells, but also the behaviour and energy of all life.

Wising to convey a sense of a complex and fluid universe existing in a perpetual state of flux and organic becoming, Moss often sought to reflect this sense of a constant state of motion and development in the ordering of her geometric abstractions. Much of Moss’s work from the 1930s is now lost; destroyed by shelling during the Second World War. But, from the few pictures that do remain, it appears that it was only towards the end of that decade and in the 1940s that her more experimental aesthetic and her use of indicative and suggestive forms, rather than complete lines and whole rectangles began to articulate her unique and personal vision.

Painted in 1948, White and Black is one of the most refined of these mature paintings of the 1940s made during Moss’s years in Cornwall. In 1940, Mondrian who, like Moss and much of the European avant-garde, had fled Nazi-Occupied Europe for England, had encouraged Moss to leave London with him for New York, telling her pointedly that ‘you can either come with me or you can stay in England and be doomed to [obscurity and] failure’. Despite Mondrian’s warning, Moss nevertheless preferred to remain in England and moved with Netty Nijhoff to the small, isolated village of Lamorna in Cornwall where she would live and work for the rest of her life.

Filled with a desire to convey movement and flux within her art, Moss began to experiment with a geometric abstraction that, in contrast to Mondrian’s more fixed and static visions, never allowed the viewer to focus on a single point within the work. In paintings such as White and Black of 1948 she created a composition that always kept the eye in motion and in so doing carried with it a sense of an inherent symmetry between the apparently random ordering of its constituent parts and the underlying constructive order of the whole. Part of what Moss herself described as a quest for ‘space, movement and light’, the short, black lines of this painting as Netty Nijhoff recalled ‘suggest the construction without emphasizing it’ (N. Nijhoff, 1962, quoted in F. Dijkstra, Marlow Moss: Constructivist, Penzance, 1995, p. 23).

Such pursuit of transience in her art was also reflected in Moss’s personal life. Moss, whose given name was ‘Marjorie’ took on the name of ‘Marlow’ around 1919 and thereafter adopted the dress and appearance of a man. I destroyed my old personality and created a new one’ she said. Identity, like everything else, isn’t fixed but rather something one constructs for oneself on a day-to-day basis. ‘Art is as Life,’ Moss wrote, ‘forever in the state of Becoming’ (M. Moss, Abstract Art, circa 1955. Handwritten manuscript).

We are very grateful to Dr Lucy Howarth for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

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