MONDRIAN IN THE USA
Piet Mondrian, 353 East 56Th Street, New York, NY, 17 January 1942
Photo Arnold Newman
” The presence of Mondrian in America closes an epoch in European art. While it is doubtful if all the European expressions recently transplanted to our shores can survive when confronted by the robust virility of America, the art of Mondrian offers a new beginning”
STUDY I FOR
BROADWAY BOOGIE WOOGIE (RECTO);
SKETCH FOR A RECTANGLE COMPOSITION WITH COLOR INDICATIONS (VERSO)
STUDY II FOR BROADWAY BOOGIE WOOGIE
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
Study I for Broadway Boogie Woogie (recto); Sketch for a Rectangle Composition with Color Indications (verso)
signed with initials ‘PM’ (lower center);
dated ’42’ (lower right)
charcoal on paper
9 1/8 x 9 1/8 in. (23.1 x 23.2 cm.)
Drawn in 1942
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
Study II for Broadway Boogie Woogie
signed with initials and dated ’42/PM’ (lower center)
charcoal on paper
9 x 9½ in. (22.9 x 23.2 cm.)
Drawn in 1942
The two extraordinary charcoal studies by Piet Mondrian come from the collection of the late American photographer Arnold Newman , who received them as gifts from the artist.
In early 1942, Mr. Newman, then 24 years old, was drawn to meet Mondrian, who was perhaps the most highly esteemed of the European émigré artists who came to New York during the Second World War.
Mr. Newman made a series of now-famous portraits of the painter and gave a set of prints to him.
Mr. Newman recalled that during a subsequent visit to Mondrian’s studio, in May 1942, he noticed a drawing, the one now referred to as Study I for Broadway Boogie Woogie .
Mondrian, who might not have otherwise saved the sheet, gave it to Mr. Newman.
Mondrian invited back the photographer three days later, after he had completed a more finished version of the composition, which he gave to Mr. Newman as well. “[Mondrian] liked it so much,” Mr. Newman wrote in a 1964 letter, “he asked me for a photographic copy which I made for him, and from this he went on to make his famous Broadway Boogie Woogie.” When reminiscing about Mondrian for a 1996 BBC Arts film about the painter (op. cit.), Mr. Newman likened the receipt of the two drawings, from an artist he had come to so intensely admire, to “a gift from God.”
These drawings are the most fully realized and finished of Mondrian’s late works on paper, and their importance is underscored by their significant relationship to Broadway Boogie Woogie, which the artist executed in 1942-1943 (Joosten B323, fig. 3).
“Luminous, dynamic, urban and innovative,” as John Milner has praised the painting (in Mondrian, New York, 1992, p. 220), Broadway was Mondrian’s final completed composition. While he was finishing it he was already at work on Victory Boogie Woogie, 1942-1944 (Joosten B324). Mondrian did not live to complete Victory, however, just as he did not see the day of victory in Europe that he had anticipated in it.
Victory remained on his easel with some tentative elements still to be painted in when the artist suddenly fell ill and died from pneumonia in February 1944. K. S. Champa has written, “Broadway Boogie Woogie is the uncontested masterpiece of Mondrian’s New York period. Acquired by the Museum of Modern Art after its first showing in 1943, the painting has stood ever since as a demonstration of the immense fecundity of Mondrian’s art in its penultimate phase. Broadway carries the full burden of the artist’s aesthetic accomplishment at its most mature and most complex” (op. cit., p. 127).
While Mondrian made many beautifully rendered and finished drawings and watercolors in the early, naturalistic phase of his career, there are relatively few surviving drawings related to the iconic grid paintings of his Neo-Plasticist period, from the 1920s onward. Most of these drawings are quickly executed sketchbook studies (Joostens, nos. B325-342). There is also a group of sketches rendered in an even more casual manner on cigarette packages (nos. B343-349), and on other small pieces or even mere scraps of paper (nos. B351-360). Most of these extant later drawings date from Mondrian’s sojourn in London, where he was hosted by Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, from September 1938 to September 1940. The German blitz on London had just begun when Mondrian, with the help of the American painter Harry Holtzman, obtained a visa to come to the United States.
Mondrian traveled in a slow ship convoy and arrived in New York in early October 1940. Holtzman, who had funded the artist’s journey, recalled meeting Mondrian on the day after his arrival: “That night I picked him up and brought him to my house [350 East 57th Street] for dinner. I’ll never forget. He was long an admirer of real jazz, but had never heard of boogie-woogie, which was fairly new. I had a fine Hi-Fi set and discs that had just appeared. He sat in complete absorption to the music, saying, ‘Enormous! Enormous!'” (quoted in V. P. Rembert, op. cit., p. 51). Holtzman had located two apartments in mid-town where Mondrian might live and paint. Mondrian chose the address closer to his friend, at 353 East 56th Street (the artist later moved to an apartment at 15 East 59th Street, his final address, in the fall of 1943). Holtzman and his wife took Mondrian to buy furniture at Bloomingdales, and urged him to get a phonograph as well. At first Mondrian protested, saying that he was content to listen in the Holtzmans’ apartment whenever he had the oppportunity, but Holtzman recalled that he and his wife “prevailed after several months, and we got him a player and a collection of his favorite discs–all the real blues and boogie-woogie” (ibid.).
Mondrian, who was nearly seventy when he came to America, loved New York, and of all the émigré artists he seemed most at home in the dynamic bustle of the city.
His monkish dedication to his work nothwithstanding, he mixed affably with his American colleagues, and he entertained them, the ladies especially, with his skills as a dancer.
His presence reinvigorated the American Abstract Artists group– Holtzman, Ilya Bolotowsky, Burgoyne Diller, Carl Holty, George L. K. Morris, and Charmion von Wiegand–and he was equally admired by other painters who worked in less formal styles. Mondrian’s integrity as an artist was exemplary, and he was greatly respected for the lofty humanist ideals that he promulgated in his writings on art and modern society. He wrote seven texts while living in New York, in addition to other notes, and was himself the subject of numerous articles and reviews.
In 1943, in an assessment of recent developments in Mondrian’s painting and their impact on his fellow painters, Von Wiegand declared, “The presence of Mondrian in America closes an epoch in European art.
While it is doubtful if all the European expressions recently transplanted to our shores can survive when confronted by the robust virility of America, the art of Mondrian offers a new beginning” (quoted in H. Henckels, Mondrian in New York, exh. cat., Galerie Tokoro, Tokyo, 1993, p. 12).
M. Seupher, Piet Mondrian, Life and Work, New York, 1956, p. 393, no. 422 (illustrated).
S. Hunter, Mondrian, New York, 1958, p. 30 (illustrated).
“Mondrian: New York Paintings,” Arts Yearbook, 1961, p. 73 (illustrated).
R. Welsh, “Landscape into Music: Mondrian’s New York Period,” Arts Magazine, February 1966, p. 36 (illustrated).
F. Elgar, Mondrian, Paris, 1968, p. 225, no. 208 (illustrated).
H. L. C. Jaffé, Piet Mondrian, New York, 1970, p. 39, no. 68 (illustrated).
M. G. Ottolenghi, L’opera completa di Piet Mondrian, Milan, 1974, p. 116, no. 464(2) (illustrated).
V. P. Rembert, Mondrian, America and American Painting, Ph.D. dissertation, New York, Columbia University, 1970, p. 304.
K. S. Champa, “Piet Mondrian’s ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie’,” Arts Magazine, January 1980, vol. 54, pp. 150-153 (illustrated, p. 153).
A. Newman, “Introduction,” Artists, Portraits from Four Decades by Arnold Newman, 1980, pp. 13-14.
A. Newman, “Mondriaans New Yorkse jaren,” Hoenderdos, 1981, pp. 59-60 (illustrated, p. 60).
R. Welsh, “Mondrian dessinateur,” L’Atelier de Mondrian, 1982, p. 25.
K. S. Champa, Mondrian Studies, Chicago, 1985, p. 134, no. 50 (illustrated).
H. Holtzman and M. S. James, The New Art–The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian, Boston, 1986, no. 241 (illustrated).
M. Collings, Mondrian: Mr. Boogie Woogie Man, BBC Arts film production, 1996.
J. M. Joosten, Piet Mondrian, Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1998, vol. II, p. 433, no. B367 (illustrated).
M. Bax and L. Humphries, Complete Mondrian, Hampshire, 2001, p. 550 (illustrated).
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Piet Mondrian, January-February 1965, p. 71.
Washington D.C., The Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Piet Mondrian, May-June 1965, p. 55.
The Art Gallery of Toronto; The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Piet Mondrian, February-March 1966, p. 219, no. 111b (illustrated).
Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Golden Door: Artist-Immigrants of America, 1876-1976, May-October 1976, p. 161.
Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne. Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris-New York, June-September 1977.
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, Mondrian and Neo-Plastic.