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


34 The Cas Oorthuys photograph of Mondrian's 1937 studio shows the Tate painting (in New York misdated by the artist "39-42"), and Composition 12, plus another against which the latter leans, to have been then in an unfinished state, presumably that in which the paintings were brought to London then New York. In contrast, not only Composition with Small Blue Rectangle, but the canvas seen fragmentarily at the left of the photograph, appear as finished, even coated with varnish. The latter example, moreover, might represent the painting dated 1937-1942, recently given by Sidney Janis to the Museum of Modern Art, New York (ill. 26 in ex. cat. Mondrian; New York: S. Janis Gallery, 1957), if one predicates an even greater number of additions than ascertainable in the Tate example. The assumption that Mondrian did indeed transform several "finished" European paintings for the 1942 Dudensing Gallery exhibition is demonstrable from two forms of evidence.

First, two of the three vertical format paintings of the mid-1930s (namely S: cc 386-387; see note 31 above), were exhibited publicly in 1936, respectively in New York and London, (e.g., see A. H. Barr Jr., ex. cat. Cubism and Abstract Art [New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936], p. 152, ill. 158), but now contain additional line segments and un-enclosed colour blocks, doubtless added before at least one of them was included at the Dudensing exhibition as indicated by the double date, 1935-1942. Second, among other possible instances, a painting now owned by the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf (S: cc 396), bearing the date "35-42" (but probably begun only circa 1937, as indicated by Mondrian's stretcher inscription verso) would appear to be a transformed version of the middle painting, illustrated p. 34, in Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art. Similarly, the 1936-1942 painting, now at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm (S: cc 412), quite likely is the same painting, illustrated in its preliminary state, circa 1937, i.e. as S: cc 292, and Plastic Art, p. 45, at left.

The explanation for these cases of "double exposure" would seem to reside in Mondrian's habit of having a number of paintings, which he executed in Paris, photographed by the late Marc Vaux, at least some of which reproductions accompanied him to New York, and were unwittingly published posthumously, as still extant untransformed canvases (my thanks to Michel Seuphor, who in recent conversation supplied the information about Marc Vaux, and who now agrees with my belief in several such instances).

35 Apart from the Ottawa, Düsseldorf, Stockholm, Hague, and Tate Gallery examples already discussed, an unfinished composition (S: cc 433, where for lack of inscribed date, or other evidence to indicate Mondrian's preference, it was reproduced upside-down) can also be ascribed in genesis to circa 1936-1937, since it appears in its present state in another, as yet unpublished Cas Oorthuys photograph, taken in the 1937 Mondrian Paris studio.

36 For an alternative interpretation of Mondrian's evolution of the grid principle, see F. Saint-Martin, Structures de l'Espace Pictural (Montreal: Editions HMH, 1968), pp. 83-116.

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