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


1 A former designation as "Composition No. 2" apparently resulted from a misreading of the artist's stretcher inscription, the actual "12" of which is confirmed by the "1936-1942" listed for that catalogue number by Dudensing at his New York Fifty-Seventh Street gallery. While Nos l and 2 were works begun and finished in New York, 3 to 13 were all begun in Europe.

2 See Piet Mondrian, "Towards the True Vision of Reality." Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art (New York: George Wittenbom, 1945), p. 10; hereafter: "True Vision."

3 E.g., on January 29, 1914, Mondrian wrote to the influential Dutch art critic, H. P. Bremmer: "In that period [i.e., previous to adopting Cubism] I sought for monumentality just as now, and I sought to realize [a process of] abstracting by transforming the colours of nature into several exaggerated colours. But later I became convinced that such works were still too externalized [in conception] and, although perhaps good after their kind, nonetheless too little, 'constructed'" (trans. from Documentatie over Mondrian I," ed. J. M. Joosten, Museumjournal XIII: 4, 1968, p. 211).

4 De Superville's stresses on "abstract" geometric shapes, the matter-spirit duality, and vertical, horizontal and oblique linear directions, as contained in his Essai sur les Signes Inconditionnel dans l'Art (Leyden: 1827-1832), not only were incorporated into Blanc's Grammaire des Arts du Dessin (Paris: 1867), but were cited by Mondrian in his essay series, "De Nieuwe Beelding in de Schilderkunst," De Stijl I: 8 (June, 1918), p. 136, note 14 (or Complete Reprint Edition I; Amsterdam: Athenaeum, 1968, p. 160). Worringer in Abstraction and Empathy (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1953; first German edition, 1908) stressed an association among Gothic art, abstraction and spirituality, which, if not likely to have been known to Mondrian directly, was doubtless based upon the same nineteenth-century source tradition from which the Dutch artist's own theoretical formulations emerged.

5 See A. W. Reinink, K. P. C. de Bazel Architect (Leyden: Universitaire Pers, 1965) and Pieter Singelenberg, H. P. Berlage, Idea and Style (Utrecht: Haentjens, Dekker and Gumbert, 1972). Both authors provide rich documentation on the importance of geometric, especially triangulated, elements of design within these circles, in which, moreover, Theosophy (see below) made a significant contribution. In germ form, a geometric and symbolic basis for Gothic architecture already was posited in J. A. Alberdingk Thijm's De Heilige Lime of 1857 (significantly, reprinted 1909 in Amsterdam); see esp. p. 133 ff:, where rectangles and triangles, as embodied for example in pointed-arch windows, are said to embody, respectively, the material and spiritual, or temporal and eternal, aspects of the Gothic church. This theory, if actually known to Mondrian, would help explain the geometrizing imagery of his various church and other architectural façade subjects, beginning circa 1909-1910.

6 See R. P. Welsh, "Mondrian and Theosophy," ex. cat. Piet Mondrian Centennial Exhibition (New York: S. R. Guggenheim Museum, 1971), for an expanded version of the present analysis.

7 See ibid., Joosten, "Documentatie over Mondrian I," and R. P. Welsh and J. M. Joosten eds., Two Mondrian Sketch books 1912-14 (Amsterdam: Meulenhoff Intemational, 1969), for evidence that Cubism and Theosophy were closely linked in Mondrian's contemporary thinking.

8 See J. M. Joosten, "Mondrian and Cubism," Piet Mondrian Centennial Exhibition for this development.

9 Illustrated in M. Seuphor, Piet Mondrian, Life and Work (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1956), classified catalogue nos 169-174 (hereafter: S: cc).

10 I.e., in letter cited note 3, above.

11 E.g., S: cc 271-274; for documented instances of compositional drawings being used circa 1912-1914 for "Paris Façade" paintings, see R. P. Welsh, ex. cat. Piet Mondrian 1872-1944 (Toronto: Art Gallery of Toronto, 1966), pp. 144-155.

12 Cf:, Two Mondrian Sketch books, esp. pp. 65-66, and Schoenmaeker's Mensch en Natuur (Bussum: 1913), in both of which texts the concept of a successful "life" is predicated on a balance of vertical-horizontal, male-female and spiritual-material forces.

13 Ibid., p. 71; the original Dutch, moreover, includes the spirit-matter duality (i.e., "geest-stof"), as represented by the artist and his materials.

14 "True Vision", p. 10.

15 Ibid., p. 17.

16 lbid., p. 13.

17 See R. Rosenblum, Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition: Friedrich to Rothko (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), pp. 173-194.

18 E.g., as illustrated in a diagram of the Hindu Cosmology which accompanied Madame H. P. Blavatsky's two-volume first testament of Theosophy, Isis Unveiled (first edition, New York: 1877; reprint edition, Wheaton, III: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972).

19 "True Vision," p. 13.

20 Included in Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art (see note 2, above), pp. 38-48.

21 "True Vision," p. 13.

22 The second checkerboard painting, With Dark Colours, is 
S: cc 293. Viewed as a square, the underlying grid of Lozenge with Gray Lines of course conforms to the octopartite divisions of a chessboard rather than the ten-by-ten rows of squares on a checkerboard.

Next PageNotes 23 to 33

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