National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 29, 1977

Annual Index
Author & Subject

The Place of "Composition 12 with Small 
Blue Square" in the Art of Piet Mondrian

by Robert Welsh

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9  |  10  |  11


23 For a fuller discussion of this point, see R. P. Welsh, "Landscape into Music, Mondrian's New York Period," Arts Magazine XL:4 (February, 1966), pp. 33-39.

24 In this letter (at the De Stijl archive, estate of the late Nelly van Doesburg), Mondrian wrote, "I much sympathize with your idea that 'the negative' should comprise the fourth dimension, but I cannot write about this." Possibly Van Doesburg's "negative" was the usage in certain works of a black ground which he adopted from Bart van der Leck in 1917; see R. P. Welsh, "Theo van Doesburg and Geometric Abstraction," Nijhoff, Van Ostaijen, "De Stijl" ed. F. Bulhof (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976).

25 In a letter of August 1, 1919, apparently his first to Van Doesburg after returning to Paris, Mondrian suggested shortly placing in De Stijl a reproduction of the last painting (i.e., "laatste ding") that he had shown Van Doesburg, "among other reasons just because a starry sky provided the first inspiration for making it." Indeed, that very month (De Stijl II: 10, 1919, as "Illustration XIX") a coloured variant of Lozenge with Gray Lines (namely, S:cc 299) was reproduced.

26 By M. L. Teuber, "Introduction," ex. cat. Paul Klee: The Bauhaus Years (Des Moines: Art Centre, 1973), pp. 6-17.

27 See F. Schumann, "Beiträge zur Analyse der Gesichtswahrnehmungen," Zeitschrift für Psychologie XXIII (1900), pp. 1-32.

28 Yet the question remains moot. Of the several volumes dedicated to such topics as the fourth dimension which were listed by Van Doesburg in the April 1919, issue of De Stijl (Il: 6, pp. 70-72), as available on request via mail to the periodical's subscribers, none of those consulted (alas, J. B. Ubink, De Vierde Dimensie, which promised to be the most rewarding of the listed titles, because it apparently was of a popularized character, proved unavailable in major Dutch libraries), contained diagrams or discussions relevant to this issue. It even remains uncertain whether Mondrian read such a favourite author of Van Doesburg as the distinguished mathematician, Henri Poincaré, since the name does not appear in Mondrian's known writings.

29 See The Analysis of Sensations (New York: Dover Paperback, 1959), p. 106 (original German edition, 1886); also Schumann, op.cit., pp. 17-19.

30 As documented in ex. cat. Piet Mondrian 1872-1944, p. 198; ill'd in colour in H. L. C. Jaffé, Piet Mondrian (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1970), p. 147. The Gestalt principle of closure, which denotes, among other things, a human tendency to read interrupted geometric configurations as if completed, was codified by Max Wertheimer in 1923 ("Untersuchungen zur Lehre von der Gestalt," Psychologische Forschung IV: pp. 301-350), having been anticipated by Schumann in 1900 (op.cit., pp. 12-15). However, apart from the unlikelihood that Mondrian knew any such scientific source text, his Composition with Yellow Lines is far more complex in structure than a reading merely as an illustration of closure would purport.

For example, one may also explore the formal transmutations the painting undergoes if one focuses alternatively upon (1) the individual lines as dividers of space rather than edges of an imagined square; (2) the lines read in perspective (since, if the 45 degree angles of termination at the picture edge are imagined as receding in space, the line surfaces will seem to tilt outward); (3) the tensions and visual adjustments which occur among any two or more of the, in fact. disproportionate lines, opposite or adjacent, whether viewed simultaneously or successively; (4) the "containing" figure, read as an octagon (i.e., four yellow lines and connecting picture-edge segments); and even (5) the unstable double image which occurs if one slightly "crosses" one's eyes. While all such readings of course do violence to the final sense of equilibrium sought by the artist, it is difficult to believe that he was himself totally unaware of these possibilities, or of the dynamic, kinetic visual experiences which they induce.

31 The only exceptions to this rule are three paintings conceived in the mid-1930s, and proportioned with the height twice as great as the width (i.e., S:cc 385-387). However, in all three, the gap between two dominating and unbisected vertical lines is too broad to allow for their categorization as illustrative of the double-line concept.

32 This evolution is treated more fully by the present writer in ex. cat. Piet Mondrian 1872-1944, pp. 196 ff.

33 For Mondrian 's art theory and view of the "tragic" in the 1920s and early 1930s, see Seuphor, Piet Mondrian, pp. 166-168, and H. L. C. Jaffé, De Stijl 1917-31, The Dutch Contribution to Modern Art (London: Tiranti, 1956), pp. 209- 258. Regarding the meaning of the double line, A. H. Nijhoff ("Introduction," ex. cat. Marlow Moss, Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1962, n. p.), a close personal friend of Moss, relates how upon first publicly exhibiting a double-line painting, circa 1930-1931, the artist received a written request for an explanation from Mondrian. Her illustrated reply cited three basic reasons: (1) single lines produce an impression of planar surfaces; (2) single lines render the composition static; and (3), double, or multiple, lines have a dynamic effect by ensuring "a continuity of related and interrelated rhythm in space." Such reasoning certainly would have appealed to Mondrian, whether or not one considers Moss the principal stimulus for Mondrian's adoption in 1932 of the double-line convention (i.e., with S: cc 368); although Composition with Yellow Lines is dated 1933, according to documentation kindly supplied by H. Henkels, of the Hague Gemeentemuseum, it was commissioned and presumably begun the previous year, which allows it to be considered the final major "single-line" painting.

Next PageNotes 34 to 36

  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9  |  10  |  11

Top of this page

Home | Français | Introduction | History
Annual Index | Author & Subject | Credits | Contact

This digital collection was produced under contract to Canada's Digital Collections program, Industry Canada.

"Digital Collections Program, Copyright © National Gallery of Canada 2001"