PIET MONDRIAN (1872-1944)
PIET MONDRIAN (1872-1944)
PIET MONDRIAN (1872-1944)
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PIET MONDRIAN (1872-1944)
4 More
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from a Japanese Private Collection
PIET MONDRIAN (1872-1944)

Composition with Double Line and Yellow (unfinished)

PIET MONDRIAN (1872-1944)
Composition with Double Line and Yellow (unfinished)
oil on canvas
24 1/8 x 19 7/8 in. (61.2 x 50.4 cm.)
Painted in 1934
Estate of the artist [Harry Holtzman, New York].
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (acquired from the above, 1950s).
Carla Simons, New York (acquired from the above, 1970).
Harold Diamond, New York.
McCrory Corporation [The Ricklis Collection], New York (by 1971, until at least 1994).
Acquired by the present owner, July 2002.
M. Seuphor, Piet Mondrian: Life and Work, New York, 1956, p. 431, no. 600 (illustrated upside down, p. 47, fig. 429; titled Composition with Yellow and dated 1938).
C.L. Ragghianti, Mondrian e l'arte del XX secolo, Milan, 1962, pp. 314 and 317, no. 769 (illustrated upside down, p. 372; dated 1938).
R.P. Welsh, Piet Mondrian, exh. cat., The Art Gallery of Toronto, 1966, pp. 178 and 200 (dated 1935).
F. Elgar, Mondrian, New York, 1968, p. 247 (illustrated upside down, p. 185, fig. 173; dated 1938).
L.J.F. Wijsenbeek, Piet Mondrian, exh. cat., Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1968, p. 120 (illustrated).
R.P. Welsh, “Mondrian” in Revue de l'art, no. 5, May 1969, p. 100 (dated 1935).
M.G. Ottolenghi, L'opera completa di Mondrian, Milan, 1974, p. 114, no. 420 (illustrated upside down, p. 113; titled Composizione and dated possibly 1935).
W. Rotzler, Constructive Concepts, New York, 1977, pp. 72 and 281, no. 401 (illustrated in color, p. 71; titled Composition with Yellow and dated 1938).
T. Threlfall, Piet Mondrian: His Life's Work and Evolution, Ph.D. diss., University of Warwick, 1988, pp. 341-342.
J.M. Joosten, Piet Mondrian: Catalogue Raisonné of the Work of 1911-1944, New York, 1998, vol. II, p. 375, no. B251 (illustrated).
E. de Visser and W. Coppes, Piet Mondrian: Catalogue Raisonné (pietmondrian.rkdmonographs.nl), no. B251 (illustrated in color).
New York, Valentine Gallery, Mondrian, March 1946, no. 15 (titled Composition. Jaune, Blanc, Noir and dated 1935).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Mondrian, January-February 1962, no. 23 (illustrated; titled Composition in Black and Yellow and dated 1938-1944).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Relief/Construction/Relief, October-December 1968.
Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum, Die reine Form: Von Malewitsch bis Albers, October-November 1976, no. 102 (titled Komposition mit Gelb and dated 1938).
Kunsthaus Zürich, Aspekte konstruktiver Kunst, January-February 1977, p. 48, no. 120 (illustrated, p. 19, fig. 13; titled Komposition mit Gelb and dated 1938).
Eindhoven, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Straight-Curved: Selection of Constructivist Visual Art from the Collection of the McCrory Corporation, April-May 1977 (titled Compositie met geel and dated 1938).
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum, Konstruktiv kunst: McCrory samlingen, New York, January-March 1978, p. 33, no. 102 (titled Composition with Yellow and dated 1938).
Geneva, Musée Rath, Tendances constructivistes au XXe siècle: Collection McCrory Corporation, New York, June-September 1978.
Tel Aviv Art Museum, Constructivism in 20th Century Art, September-December 1978, no. 116 (illustrated in color, p. 52).
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Gallery; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art; Seattle Art Museum; Pittsburgh, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute; Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum of Fine Arts; Detroit Institute of Arts; Milwaukee Art Center, Constructivism and the Geometric Tradition: Selections from the McCrory Corporation Collection, October 1979-August 1981, p. 88, no. 134 (illustrated in color, p. 49; titled Composition with Yellow and dated 1938).
Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art and Sapporo, Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, Constructivism and the Geometric Tradition, September-December 1984, p. 66, no. 63 (illustrated in color; titled Composition with Yellow and dated 1938).
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum, Konstruktivisme i Louisianas samling efter gaven fra The Riklis-McCrory Collection, August-October 1986, p. 96, no. 191 (titled Composition with Yellow and dated 1938).
Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, La beauté exacte: De Van Gogh à Mondrian, March-July 1994, p. 321, no. 148 (illustrated in color, p. 266; titled Composition avec jaune and dated 1938; with incorrect medium).
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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Writing to the De Stijl architect J.J.P. Oud in a letter dated 22 December 1932, Piet Mondrian described an important new strand of thinking that was emerging in his latest compositions, driving his work in a new direction: “I am doing new research: canvases with double lines,” he explained, “which enable me to achieve much greater clarity” (quoted in Piet Mondrian, 1872-1944, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1994, p. 254). For more than a decade, Mondrian had diligently explored the visual possibilities of Neo-Plasticism, the revolutionary approach to abstraction he had pioneered towards the end of the First World War. Using only the fundamental elements of painting—the straight line, primary colors and the three non-colors of black, white and gray—Mondrian believed that he could create an idealized pictorial form of pure equilibrium that would reintegrate a fundamental sense of beauty into life. The introduction of the double line to his repertoire in 1932 opened an entirely new chapter in Mondrian’s art, building on the highly refined, minimalist aesthetic of his so-called “classical phase,” to create some of the most dynamic and complex compositions of his career.
Begun in 1934, just two years after this initial breakthrough, Composition with Double Line and Yellow is filled with a dynamic and carefully constructed internal energy, centered around the crossing in the upper left hand side of a pair of almost identical horizontal lines as they intersect with a single, vertical axis. In the top corner, a thin plane of yellow stands on the periphery of the composition and appears to radiate upwards, beyond the limits of the canvas. However, it is the impact of the double black lines, their visual power further enhanced by the artist’s limited palette, that the true focus of the composition lies. In contrast to his earlier double-line canvases, such as Composition with Double Line and Yellow (Joosten, no. B237; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh), here Mondrian creates a wider space between the pair of horizontal lines, exploring a different visual tension in the space between the two and lending an alternative sense of motion and tempo to the composition. In a letter from the beginning of the year, Mondrian outlined this new direction with the motif: “In my last things the double line widens to form a plane, and yet it remains a line. Be that as it may, I believe that this question is one of those which may lie beyond the realm of theory, and which are of such subtlety that they are rooted in the mystery of ‘art.’ But all that is not yet clear in my mind!” (Letter to J. Gorin, 31 January 1934; quoted in C. Blotkamp, Mondrian: The Art of Destruction, London, 1994, p. 215).
However, 1934 was a difficult year for Mondrian—a harsh cold winter, followed by serious health issues and recurring bouts of fatigue significantly limited his ability to work. As a result, although a number of compositions were begun at this time, they remained in a liminal state, with lightly sketched lines of pencil, charcoal, chalk and ink still visible on the surface of the painting, traces of the artist’s thinking as he explored different arrangements and positionings of the lines. Sections of primed canvas also remained untouched, awaiting the painstaking application of subsequent layers of pigment, which Mondrian would build through a time consuming process that allowed for long periods of drying between each layer to achieve the desired effect. Of the eleven canvases dated to 1934 in the catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work compiled by Joop M. Joosten, more than half remained “unfinished” in this way. As Hans Janssen has pointed out, “In those years, painting had increasingly become a matter of… considering, polishing, concentration and pondering over the result…,” with Mondrian ruminating at length on the potential tensions and effects of different lines and pigments in particular combinations with one another, before reaching the final iteration of a composition (Piet Mondrian: A Life, London, 2022, p. 325). Due to the disruptions in his health, which continued into early 1935 and resulted in several months where he remained completely unable to work, the period of reflection and contemplation remained open-ended for these paintings.
Instead, this concentrated group of canvases from 1934 offer a rare and important insight into Mondrian’s working process through these years. In Composition with Double Line and Blue, now at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig (mumok) in Vienna (Joosten, no. B250), he investigated a similar compositional layout as the present canvas, but shifted the vertical line slightly further to the left, generating a more asymmetrical balance within the composition. Between the horizontal lines, the shadows of two further strips of charcoal remain visible, their forms gently rubbed out by the artist’s hand in favor of a wider band of white. Composition with Double Lines and Yellow (Joosten no. B248; Deutsche Bank Collection, Frankfurt am Main), meanwhile, retains a complex secondary pattern of charcoal and pencil lines in the center of the canvas, their thinly sketched forms overlapping and intersecting with the painted black lines and panels of white and golden yellow, suggesting multiple alternate placements for each element. This canvas also reveals that Mondrian often left a small buffer zone either side of a proposed line, so that the thickness of a band of black paint could be subtly adjusted for the final composition without affecting the neighboring planes of color. In the present Composition with Double Line and Yellow, Mondrian appears to have questioned the placement of the higher of the two horizontal lines, the light strokes of charcoal still visible through the yellow pigment suggesting that he initially toyed with having it closer to the upper edge of the canvas.
As is evident from a number of photographs of this period, Mondrian was increasingly open to allowing visitors to the studio to see canvases that were still under construction, offering a glimpse behind the scenes into his meticulous creative process. For example, when the American designer Eugene Lux and his wife, the sculptor Gwendoline Lux, visited the artist in April 1934, they encountered several canvases which showed the vestiges of the preliminary dark lines still visible on the white primed surfaces. Two months later, Mondrian wrote to Lux to request copies of the photos he had taken during the visit, as they recorded the canvases in their “primitive and imperfect” states (quoted in H. Janssen, op. cit., p. 357). Laying bare the myriad revisions and adjustments, the rounds of trial and error, that lay behind the artist’s highly controlled visual language, these canvases trace the intense process of observation, testing and revision that went into each composition. As such, they reinforce Mondrian’s assertion that his approach was ultimately determined by instinct and intuition, rooted in careful and prolonged contemplation, and shaped by the artist’s own personal vision for the artwork. “It is not important to make many pictures,” he once proclaimed, “but that I have the picture right” (quoted in H. Cooper and R. Spronk, Mondrian: The Transatlantic Paintings, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums, 2001, p. 53).

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