From 1938 to 1940 Piet Mondrian, who had fled wartime Paris, was established in London near his friends Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth, and Ben Nicholson. During this period he continued working in the highly reductivist Neo-Plastic mode he had developed in France, in which horizontal and vertical black lines intersect on the canvas in asymmetrically balanced relationships to yield flat white or colored quadrilaterals. The palette is generally restricted to black, white, and primary colors. The present work is among the more coloristically austere examples.
By divorcing form completely from its referential meaning, Mondrian hoped to provide a visual equivalent for the truths that inhabit nature but are concealed in its random, flawed manifestations. He felt that if he could communicate these truths by means of a system of resolved oppositions, a “real equation of the universal and the individual,”¹ the spiritual effect on the viewer would be one of total repose and animistic harmony. In order to effect this transmission the artist must sublimate his personality so that it does not interfere with the viewer’s perception of the rhythmic equilibrium of line, dimension, and color. These elements, however, are organized not according to the impersonal dictates of mathematics but rather to the intuition of the artist. Likewise, although the artist’s gesture is minimized and the reference to personal experience erased, his presence can be detected in the stroke of the paintbrush and the unevenness of the edge of the transcendent line. The individual consciousness exists in a dialectical relationship with “the absolute,” which is realized pictorially through, in Mondrian’s words, the “mutual interaction of constructive elements and their inherent relations.”² Just as the forms and space of the canvas are abstracted from life, so the spiritual plane is removed from, though related to, the work of art. Mondrian sought to unite art, matter, and spirit to discover in all aspects of experience the universal harmony posited in Neo-Plasticism.
1. Quoted in Theories of Modern Art, ed. H. B. Chipp, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1968, p. 350.
2. Ibid., p. 351.