PRINT October 1974

Mondrian the New Yorker

MONDRIAN’S FIRST NEW YORK PAINTING, New York, 1941–42, is part of a group of three city paintings belonging to the last part of his classic phase. The others are Place de la Concorde,1 1938–43, and Trafalgar Square, 1939–43. It was appropriately De Stijl for Mondrian to be concerned with urban squares—as much for their visible social design as for the relation between their plane-geometric flatness of plan and their essentially volumetric character. Begun in 1938 in Paris, in 1939 in London, and in 1941 in New York, all three paintings were finished in New York—New York first, in 1942, and the others in the following year. Each of the moves, from capital to capital, can be related to the War: Mondrian left Paris for London in the time of the Munich Crisis, in September of 1938, and he left London in September of 1940, during the Blitz. Even though the last picture was finished first, and even though all of them thus became naturalized New York paintings, there is still an elusive implication of sequence.

Another painting, called Composition London, of 1940–42, was begun between Trafalgar Square and New York. It is compositionally different from the group of three city pictures, although in one respect it anticipates Mondrian’s New York City. Composition London has intersecting, unbroken bands close to the edges, but only at the top and left—not as part of a four-square, allover trellis.

On many counts Place de la Concorde, Trafalgar Square, and New York assert identities while also insisting on differentiations that preclude the logic of a series. Even though the first canvas was stretched in metric France it is within an inch of being identical in size with the third, while the second is considerably larger; at the same time, the first is the only true square (as the Place de la Concorde itself is the only regular space alluded to?), measuring 37 1/2'' by 37 1/2''. Trafalgar Square has an enclosed color block, which neither of the others has (the small, unbounded color blocks of all three were added in New York). The Paris and London pictures are pendants in having three vertical stripes on one side and two on the other, although Paris has the three on the right, London, on the left. New York, however, resembles London in having more (two) of its (three) verticals to the right, but it also resembles Paris in having two at the left. Both Paris and New York have two horizontals near the top and three toward the bottom, but London and New York both have one incomplete horizontal at the bottom (as against two for Paris). It is important, however, to recognize how much richer this situation becomes with the addition of New York.

The network of relations within the group seems more intuitive than it might have been before bringing the pair of European canvases to New York, starting a new one, and then finishing all three. In fact, a large pencil study for Trafalgar SquareClassic Drawing No. 3: Trafalgar Square, c. 1940—shows a cool plotting that became uncharacteristic of Mondrian as a New Yorker. To anticipate: those canvases left undefinitive in Europe seem to have remained in a tidier, more De Stijl state, as though only a little something needed to be added to the composition.2 Thus Composition (unfinished), 1938, lacks something, but only toward one corner does there seem to be any revision of the design in the course of execution, while unpainted edges have been left beside the black bands so that final adjustments in their width can be made without spoiling the white area. If, on the contrary, a picture was reworked in New York and then remained unfinished—Composition in Black and Red, 1938–44—it is, for Mondrian, surprisingly messy. (Needless to say, these canvases were not intended to be exhibited in this unfinished state.)

There was much more process in Mondrian’s work in New York than ever before.3 What once might have been a discrete fine tuning becomes an attack on the canvas as a whole. Heavy charcoal lines get smeared with white overpainting. New grids are erected before the old ones have been obliterated. The whole canvas, charcoal and all, is wiped with solvent, producing, in Composition (unfinished), 1938–44, an expressionist drama, no matter how unwitting. True, these tracks would eventually have been covered. But the survival of the work in any state is testimony to Mondrian’s procedure at that stage, and these are not the tracks he left in Europe. Meanwhile, in New York City, 1942, and related works questions of facture come even more urgently to the fore.

The New York scene was less dogmatic during the early 1940s than we might suppose. Although Picasso and the Surrealists were of more obvious concern to New York, Matisse was highly respected. And while Mondrian’s art was not news, and his life was somewhat monkish, he was never out-of-it. Jackson Pollock’s first appearance in a Peggy Guggenheim show involved a plug from Mondrian. Pollock showed his Stenographic Figure, 1942, which Peggy Guggenheim had not been at all enthusiastic about until Mondrian said it had promise.4 Stenographic Figure lacks the ferocity of works of even the following year, and while it has assertively Picassoid features it also contains fragmentary, abrupt, linear forms suggestive of Stuart Davis. It could be argued that it was no skin off Mondrian’s nose to admire a picture so different from his own in style. (He also admired Lee Krasner’s work, so that Stenographic Figure cannot be a unique instance.) Nevertheless, as when Léger admired the “lack of charm” in Beckmann, artistic empathy can surmount mere style.

It is in the large canvas New York City that we see Mondrian really coming to grips with new procedures. Just as the titles of the three city pictures shifted from the Whistlerian nonreferentiality of the classic period (and also evoked the artist’s earliest topographical landscapes), so New York City is the first title of a new and boppier kind, in provincial, mistaken analogy with Jersey City and Kansas City, and in the form of bus tickets and souvenirs. Needless to say, the “boogie-woogies” came next.

New York City consists of three interwoven linear grids—each of one primary color—against a white ground, without black and without any solid color rectangles. The single precedent for the colored lines is Composition with Yellow Lines, of 1933, which also has no black and no solid rectangles, but whose color bands, unlike New York City, vary in width and do not intersect. Composition with Yellow Lines, also unlike New York City, is a square rotated into a lozenge, a format to which Mondrian later returned, with great significance, in Victory Boogie-Woogie.

New York City calls to mind the grid of the Commissioners’ Plan of Manhattan which, even as it was submitted in 1811, revealed a conscious esthetic pleasure in regularity. This is not a question of descriptiveness; the evocation is only maplike in a generalized conceptual way. To the extent that it is maplike, it does suggest the notion of an allover, essentially nongravitational, definitively flat field, looked down upon, with a merely conventional (“North”) rather than categorical top or bottom. This seems the case even though in New York City there is a bold interweaving of the grids, precluding absolute flatness, and even though there is a decided drift and uneven buildup of more lines to the right and bottom.5

To consider the replacement in New York City of Mondrian’s classic black grid by three independent but intertwined color grids will return us to the issue of the painter’s working methods in New York. Mondrian had always held that black-and-white and the primaries were his colors, but with the exception already noted he had never actually displaced black bands with color before. Kandinsky had found in isolated vertical and horizontal lines a "colored calm,”6 but what we see here is much more literal. This move in New York City abolished the effete European problems of the black grids—whether they perfectly abut or overlap, at what exact millimeter they seem to rest in space, whether their points of intersection or fusion should be read with their optical deformations or else compensated for. The obvious unity of each of the color grids, and the unambiguous combination of all three, avoid all that from the start, taking on a fresher, and more challenging problem. Fusions and overlaps now become literal and obvious, while their categorical polarization implies that there really is overlap in places, which in turn newly questions the nature of the pictorial space. Instead of a presumptuously flat, late Post-Impressionist plane, spatial only in its contamination by the effects of color, what we now get is a more aggressive kind of flatness—one that comes from pressing down an interwoven trellis of color, making it approach infinite shallowness by topological adjustments of the overlaps within the arabesque. Space is no longer seen as a stubborn residue but as a responsible, deliberate factor, even if one still wants very little (like vermouth in an American martini).

This newly active kind of overall flatness is partly accomplished by differentiating the densities and overlaps of the separate grids and by overloading the system with more identity than differentiation, so as to control the spatial weave. Thus, the three grids, composed of different numbers of lines all equal in width7 (15 yellow, 4 blue, 4 red) weave in and out, or avoid weaving, with no apparent governing principle except perhaps the idea that there should be a lot more yellow than blue or red, both to weigh against them in value and to identify the grid more closely with the pigmentally white ground. Also, the dropping of “stitches” permits subrectangles to form within the overall composition, both as white interstices and as more complicated subdivisions involving grids of different colors as contained Mondrianesque motifs.

Is it too much to say, moreover, that the whole concept of the taut, linear, interwoven grid is remarkably analogous to the real, stretched fabric of the canvas? Or that the bands themselves, uniform in width and similar in width to the thickness of the stretcher, are even in formal analogy with the physical support? By absorbing color—from what were before contained, passive shapes controlled by quite separate forms that were linear and black—and by recasting it as the very substance of motive and structure, New York City discharges pictorial incident and reveals a continuity of artistic and physical form that had been blocked by an older, dualistic notion of composition. Although for New York City there is a small, loosely drawn pencil sketch (c.1941), the real developmental thrust lies in Mondrian’s use on full-sized canvases of palpably real and intrinsically colored “bands” in the form of masking tape.

Directly related to New York City are three (or even four) unfinished taped canvases which display Mondrian’s working procedure and which have telling implications for the very last works of the artist and for later New York painters: New York City ||, New York City III, another which can be called New York City IV (despite the fact that it may have come firsts), and perhaps a New York City V.9 The satellites are all large, on the order of the finished New York City (which in their context can be called New York City I). On them strips of real masking tape locate projected color bands which could be replaced by painted bands once they were definitively positioned. The artist got the idea of using tapes from seeing black paper tape in Harry Holtzman’s New York studio. Mondrian sometimes used masking tape for guidelines in earlier compositions, but what seems to have excited him about using the tapes right on the painting, in place of bands with drawn edges, was their ease of handling: they could be easily shifted whenever he changed his mind about the composition. Mondrian saw this as an engaging benefit of American efficiency—just as he used only commercially stretched canvases in New York10)—which led him to do more of his composing right on the canvas than ever before. This was almost an alla prima approach (historically associated with coloristic and expressive styles of painting), except—ironically—for the actual laying-on of paint.

New York City II and New York City III were exhibited side-by-side with the finished New York City I at the Sidney Janis Gallery last spring. They are obviously unfinished: the tapes are ripped and patched, thumb-tacked where they lost adhesion; some tapes are in nonprimary colors; and black tape is admitted (unlike New York City I). Why should Mondrian both embrace a new, easy way of working out his composition and at the same time keep three or four other versions in their working states while one alone was completed? It seems reasonable that New York City I, dated 1942, was inspiring a closely related series of works, like the three earlier “city” pictures in their similarity of format but produced simultaneously.

The satellites of New York City are loaded with implications. The overlap of the tapes is more pointedly physical where tapes of different colors cross than where they are the same. Also, Mondrian’s active sense of the edge seems heightened by the aptness with which the tapes wrap around the side of the stretcher, as much for stability as for design. A high degree of edge sensitivity is already apparent in his works of the 1930s in which black bands stop shy of the edge, like the wraparound effect in Composition with White, Red, and Yellow, 1938;11 Mondrian’s distinctive habit of mounting his canvases against a flat background with a thin white wooden baguette recessed from the surface is evidence of similar concern. Now, with the easily manipulated tapes, it became easier to wrap the band_ around and discover that even the spaces between the tapes on the sides were integrally related to the bands and interstices on the face of the painting (thanks to the identity between tape width and stretcher thickness).

In their own way the taped studies are as untidy as the smeared and erased compositions that Mondrian brought from Europe, reworked here, and never finished. They are not simply unfinished; they are visibly incomplete. What is needed is less a tune-up than an overhaul, and this in itself is an indication of an astonishing loosening-up in Mondrian’s approach to painting once he became a New Yorker. In New York City II the field is overcrowded with taped bands, and there is a clumsy, obviously problematic, buildup where five bands all but touch across the bottom. New York City III, by comparison, appears even less resolved: the bands are far from being in equilibrium and, because their weave has not yet been worked out, the web hangs slack on the surface.12 The finished New York City I overcomes both problems: the outer bands cluster toward the edges, and four blue and four red bands assert both sameness and difference (1 vertical blue, 3 horizontal; 2 vertical red, 2 horizontal), balance and asymmetry. Meanwhile, a multitude of yellow-and-yellow intersections tightens the surface, and the overall sameness of the yellow grid enhances the differentiation of red from blue. Such finality and resolution is lacking in the tape studies, revealing them as not merely incomplete mock-ups but as altogether unfinished projects.

The taped satellites of New York City I retain their independence. Thanks to Mondrian’s new American quick-change method of composing directly with tapes, there would be little need for a dependent modello, let alone for three or four of them, all full-sized. In fact, if Mondrian had wanted to play with several alternatives before choosing the best one, it would have been important to maintain some uniformity of format, whereas the dimensions and proportions of the canvases vary. The idea must have been to make a set, probably interrupted by a kind of backfire from the technique that had made it possible—the shortcut of the tapes. Otherwise there might have been a whole constellation of compositions in the new mode, all worked out on their own canvases, all more advanced than before in the relation of their forms to their format, and perhaps all homages to the city in which Mondrian found refuge from the War and a certain realization of De Stijl ideals.

(It is surprising that the analogy between tape width and stretcher thickness in New York City has escaped notice in light of Stella. Actually, Stella’s work has other affinities with De Stijl, notably with the architectural facades of J. J. P. Oud. Adumbrations of Stella’s classic concentric banding can be found in the banded siding of Oud’s temporary manager’s cabin for the Oud-Mathenesse housing project of 1923, and an assertive horizontal L-shape with concentric banding was a prominent feature of Oud’s most famous facade, the Café Unie at Rotterdam, 1925 [destroyed].)

The tapes and prestretched canvases do seem to have led to a leap effect in New York. To find an easy solution to one kind of working problem could have produced a hydralike multiplicity of new alternatives. At the very end Mondrian may have become overwhelmed by the proliferation of possibilities, although the whole situation seems to have become evidence in New York of the critical idea (reflecting the analytic/synthetic dialectic of Cubism) that a painting is a problem solved. In any case, in the midst of the incomplete versions of New York City a quite different major, completed, work emerged: Broadway Boogie-Woogie, 1942.

Mondrian loved jazz in a way that seems to have been more genuine and less patronizing or campy than much of the European fascination in the 1920s and ’30s with Negro culture. It is possible that New York City was to have been called Boogie-Woogie,13 but, perhaps as part of the racing-ahead effect, the designation got held over for the Broadway and Victory Boogie-Woogies. For Mondrian boogie-woogie was more than entertaining non-European escapism (although he certainly enjoyed it). It was an inspiration to escape from the inhibitions of European Cubism:

Perhaps I do not express myself clearly in this, but it may give you some idea why I left the Cubist influence. True Boogie-Woogie I conceive as homogeneous in intention with mine in painting: destruction of melody, which is the equivalent of destruction of natural appearance, and construction through the continuous opposition of pure means—dynamic rhythm.14

In Broadway Boogie-Woogie the domination of a yellow grid carries over from New York City. The colored squares which punctuate that grid in turn subsume the ambiguities of the color weave in New York City—illusory overlap of translated taped bands, optical dazzle at the intersections. Furthermore, the Cubistic, qualified flatness of the previous setup is radically overcome. The “problems” of one situation become the building blocks of the next. Contained color patches return in a more active way. Some are suspended within larger contrasting rectangles of the type Mondrian added more shyly to European canvases (including the city pictures) in New York, connecting lines that themselves consist of pulsing micro-rectangles of unbounded color.

A small (9“ x 9”) charcoal study for Broadway Boogie-Woogie is signed and dated 1942. The composition is almost complete, except that everything is solid and black. Why, in the face of the new efficiency of the tapes, should so much organizational thought have gone into a charcoal drawing? Why this regression to an earlier procedure? Perhaps Mondrian was saving his new device for the next problematic level. Broadway Boogie-Woogie is the first painting by Mondrian to have more broken vertical bands than horizontal ones, and it may be that, after being able literally to cut his lines, he established a grid scheme like the classic black ones (but more broken) in order to use the properties of the tape for the next step, the rhythmic inflection of the bands. Thus, after using tapes as movable stand-ins for painted bands, he could cut or tear them into fragments and see what they could do. Breaking the bands so readily no doubt destroyed a governing/subordinate relation implicit in the old black grids and color patches, and produced an irregular but overall distribution of small, rather Neo-lmpressionist, units of bright optical color—which also served to undermine the Cubist notion of the grid as a conceptual and formal armature, template, or filter. All this followed on the crossing of two tapes.

Broadway Boogie-Woogie is more antigravitational than the finished New York City, partly because of the buzz of activity all over the tight plane, as well as because of the architectural suggestiveness of the configuration. Actually, this planar composition is in no way descriptive of a plan or elevation; it is allusive. To the extent that Broadway Boogie-Woogie suggests either a map or the facades of skyscrapers it refers backbeyond the Cubist involvement to Mondrian’s lighthouses and church towers of 1909–10. Here the concept of a flat, maplike, downward approach to the streets and avenues of midtown Manhattan is an obvious evocation. Many observers are struck, on the other hand, by suggestions of the window patterns of skyscrapers or even of advertising signs with blinking lights that seem to move in fixed paths. Either way, and even at their most prosaic, such notions corroborate the architecturally planar character of the work. Even to compare it with a Frank Lloyd Wright stained-glass window of 1912 in the Metropolitan Museum, with its own checkered bands of color and light, is to affirm the architectural planarity of Broadway Boogie-Woogie.

It is worth mentioning that the evocation in Broadway Boogie-Woogie of skyscraper fenestration, with incandescent rectangles in intersecting ranges, perhaps seen at night, seems to depend on New York modernism of about 1930. Stieglitz’ photographs—especially Evening, New York from the Shelton, 193115—are a likely iconographic source. And a significant influence on Stieglitz’ photographs of this kind would have been, in turn, such paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe as The American Radiator Building of 1929.16

Broadway Boogie-Woogie must have had a shocking impact, considering its radical revision of New York City (and its unborn siblings) as well as its remarkable dialectical return to, and transcendence of, the format of the classic phase. When it was shown under the title New York Boogie-Woogie as a new acquisition at The Museum of Modern Art in 1943, Clement Greenberg felt that Mondrian had “not yet possessed himself” of his radical disruptions, although he admired the daring of the work. It is also significant, in view of the apparent change in Mondrian’s working pace and spirit in New York, that Greenberg was disappointed by a lack of “that very neat and precise mechanical execution that used always to characterize a Mondrian painting,” and sensed that the colors were off-base.17

But Mondrian’s unfinished last painting, Victory Boogie-Woogiee, 1943–44, must have seemed even stranger when, just after Mondrian died, Harry Holtzman opened his studio to New York artists. The painting rested on a simple easel (it was drawn on an easeI but painted flat on a work table18). Not the least odd thing about it would have been its return to the lozenge—or rotated square—format of classic paintings of around 1925, which themselves take off from preclassic lozenges of 1918–19. The lozenge rotation implicates diagonality and a consequent sacrifice of static order to thrust and movement, which is close to the very issue on which Mondrian and Van Doesburg parted company in 1926.

Hans Jaffé has discussed the diagonality of Mondrian’s lozenge paintings in comparison with 45° rotated squares by Van Doesburg. For him the question of who actually rotated first is complicated by the fact that Van Doesburg’s Composition (alias Counter-Composition VIII) of 1924 in the Art Institute of Chicago, a pivotal work in the argument, may or may not have been intended to hang as a lozenge. However, Mondrian’s preclassic Lozenge with Gray Lines, 1918, is as undeniably rotated as his lozenges of the next year signed with the initials “PM” on the bottom point. These works are not yet freely asymmetric grids; they are symmetrical in overall structure and asymmetrical in emphasis only. Nevertheless, they were a real precedent for Mondrian’s lozenge format in the mid-1920s. By the time of a Classic Drawing of c. 1926, the deliberateness of the lozenge orientation is certified by setting the lozenge into intersected coordinates.

The Mondrian-Van Doesburg dispute centered on the issue of whether the activating twist of a diagonal was desirable. In Jaffe’s words, “the 45° angle . . . brings a dynamic movement which breaks out of the austere and rigid equilibrium of neo-plastic composition, conferring on these paintings a new and almost aggressive energy.”19 In a nutshell, Van Doesburg liked that (while Mondrian would never have felt his equilibrium was ”rigid"). In any event, the excitement of the diagonal rotation is a significant part of its return, in extension of the measured excitement of Broadway Boogie-Woogie, in Mondrian’s last work.

Mondrian and the other De Stijl artists, architects, and designers were dedicated to a purification and subsequent harmonization of the plastic arts. Mondrian’s own design for the Salon of Madame B . . . at Dresden, 1926 (executed in formica at the Pace Gallery in 1970), relates back as a total plastic environment, through Theo van Doesburg and Cornelius van Eesteren’s (highly diagonal) 1923 lecture hall at the University of Amsterdam, and El Lissitzky’s Proun Room at the 1923 Grosser Berliner Kunstaustellung, to international Secession ideas at the turn of the century, and ultimately to Whistler’s Harmony in Blue and Gold: the Peacock Room, of 1876–77. Furthermore, an even earlier design by Gottfried Semper is specifically related to the lozenge principle and its revival in Victory Boogie-Woogie.

Semper’s “Plan for an Ideal Museum,” published in 1852, shows the groundplan of his ideal museum as a square, drawn as if approached on a corner rather than on a side. The four sides of the building were intended to concentrate on four basic modes of design in objects—textiles, ceramics, “tectonics,” and “stereometry”—while objects falling between stools could be placed in diagrammatically appropriate corners. With Semper the 45° rotation of the square building plan encourages an antihierarchical shift of emphasis onto hybrid objects in preference to those not susceptible to interartistic relations, an attitude that anticipates to De Stijl. Semper himself was looking for such catholicity when he wrote in his description of the project, “A collection of industrial and artistic objects would perhaps best be realized when divided into five classes, namely one for each fundamental motive and a fifth class for the union of the four elements: for high art [die hohe Kunst] and architecture.”20

Mondrian could himself have encountered Semper’s museum plan through the influence of the contemporary Dutch architect H. P. Berlage, who was an active advocate of Semper’s protofunctionalist ideals in design and, especially, of Semper’s treatise Der Stil in den technischen und tektonishcen Künsten, oder praktische Ästhetik (1860–63).21 Semper’s influence on the De Stijl groups is evident in the very borrowing of the name of the group (and its house organ) from the German short title of Semper’s book, Der Stil.22

Also, the dispute between Mondrian and Van Doesburg recalls the differing views on diagonals of Heinrich Wöfflin and Alois Riegl in early modern art history. For Wöfflin in the diagonal was the symptom of a declassicizing loosening of pictorial organization, notably in the dynamic reorganization of Baroque, vis-à-vis Renaissance, space. Riegl, however, saw in the very pyramidal groupings of Italian Renaissance paintings pairs of “unifying diagonals” and called this type of diagonal a “combining line on the picture plane.”23 If Mondrian would have shared Wöfflin’s suspicion of the diagonal as a disruptive factor (as in Van Doesburg), he could also have pointed to Riegl’s notion of symmetrical, paired diagonals as the formal basis of his own lozenges. In other words, the paired diagonals of the lozenge format are not asymmetrical and not anticlassical.

Other ideas of diagonals could have occurred to Mondrian in the course of sketching regular rectilinear designs. In many pencil drawings of the classic period there is a natural tendency to identify, among the otherwise confusing palimpsest of a very worked sketch, just which ones he wanted to retain, by crossing them from corner to corner with an “X”—the way windows of unfinished New York skyscrapers are inscribed in soap with an “X” to make them safely visible (a practice quite different from European circular smudges, and which Stieglitz pointed up in his photograph called Looking Northwest from the Shelton, 1932). Such X’s do appear in Mondrian’s pencil sketch, c. 1943, for Victory Boogie-Woogiee.

Victory Boogie-Woogiee is obviously a lozenge and not a square “countercomposition” of the Van Doesburg type; this is guaranteed by photographic documentation of it in its drawing position, en point, on the easel. That is fortunate because although Mondrian commonly identified tops, as with the letter “H” for “haut” on drawings, there is at least one case—Classical Drawing No. 28, drawn on an 8 1/2’’ square—in which there are two H’s in opposite corners. And because Victory Boogie-Woogiee was painted down onto, flat, and remains unfinished, the evidence of orientation is important.

The tapes, which encouraged Mondrian to leap from one implicit issue to the next explicit one, break down in Victory Boogie-Woogiee into snippets—fragmentary, nervous, staccato impulses of color quite unlike the micro-squares of Broadway Boogie-Woogie, which seemed to derive from the tape overlaps in the New York City project. The pieces of tape pile up hectically, and Mondrian impatiently adds torn bits of paper as well. Like the bedridden Matisse ten years later, Mondrian was in a hurry, but much less graciously than Matisse. Now the canvas, with its once easily manipulated tapes, is overtaken, with some frustration, by the desire for a still higher order of complexity, one beyond even Broadway Boogie-Woogie in its uncool, un-European agitation.

According to Sidney Janis, who saw it in the studio and who discussed it with Mondrian, Victory Boogie-Woogiee once was complete. What we see today is an interrupted overhaul that never settled down to the definitiveness required for translation into paint. It is fascinating that in the end such a close involvement with process overtook Mondrian. Here he is with his intuition dramatically exposed. Victory Boogie-Woogiee is formidably muddled, so much so that only our knowledge that it was once finished allows us to consider it at all. (Can we possibly conceive that Mondrian was transcending the idea of an absolute resolution or “finish?”) Compared with the other New York pictures there are undeniable losses, as in a retreat back from the edge necessitated by having to just touch the corners of so many rectangles to the rim, leaving vacant triangular areas—some of them even gray—in between. But to imagine Victory Boogie-Woogiee propped up on the easel after Mondrian’s death, four months before D-Day, is not to picture a defeat; it is perhaps to greet the man as a naturalized New Yorker.

Joseph Masheck



1. Interestingly, the theme of the first title had already suggested for Le Corbusier a progression toward ultimate purity of design:
From the primitiveness of the Early Christian chapel, we pass to Notre Dame of Paris, the lnvalides, the Place de la Concorde. Feeling has been clarified and refined, mere decoration set aside and proportion and scale attained, an advance has been made; we have passed from the elementary satisfactions (decoration) to the higher satisfactions (mathematics). (Vers une architecture [192–31, trans. Frederick Etchells, London, 1946, pp. 128–29.)

2. Robert We)sh, “Landscape into Music: Mondrian’s New York Period,” Arts Magazine, February, 1966, pp. 33–39, points out that Mondrian’s adjustments of European compositions took the form of adding small unbounded color squares and of filling out triads of the primary colors.

3. John Coplans, in “Mondrian at Santa Barbara,” Artforum, March, 1965, pp. 28–31, draws attention to the “personal, subjective, non-mechanical, unique, unrepeatable” features of Mondrian’s classic facture, claiming that his hurried neglect of technical problems “brings him closer to Pollock than Purism.” Barbara Rose’s “Mondrian in New York” (Artforum, December, 1971) considers Mondrian as a challenge and stimulus to New York School painters, as in the relation between Newman’s “zip” and the stretcher.

4. I am grateful to Lee Krasner for this information, as well as the comment on Mondrian and her own work.

5. In this there may be a compensation for the phenomenon described by Kandinsky, in his Punkt und Linie zu Fläche, 1926, whereby the right-hand and lower edges of a square format pose increased forces against the resistance of the plane. See Wassily Kandinsky, Point—Ligne—Plan: Contribution à l’analyse des éléments picturaux, trans. Suzanne and Jean Leppien, ed. Phillippe Sers, Paris, 1970, pp. 136–37 (with diagram).

6. Ibid., p. 138.

7. Except for the second yellow vertical from the right, which looks accidentally narrower.

8. Harry Holtzman informs me that his canvas may well have come first, since it reveals an obliterated yellow rectangle.

9. Holtzman remembers a fourth satellite _New York City- having gone to the Marlborough Gallery, but this has not been traceable. Michel Seuphor, Piet Mondrian: Life and Work, New York, 1956, only lists the two recently exhibited at Sidney Janis with New York City I—New York City II and |||; see pp. 431–32, cat. nos. 617, 620.

10. This also according to Mr. Holtzman.

11. Coplans , p. 31, after examining the canvas.

12. Needless to say, my intention is not to subject these obviously unfinished canvases to final criticism.

13. Welsh, p. 35.

14. James Johnson Sweeney, “An Interview with Mondrian,” in his Museum of Modern Art catalogue Mondrian, New York, 1948, p. 16.

15. Illus., Dorothy Norman, Alfred Stieglitz: an American Seer, New York, 1973, pl. lxviii.

16. Illus., Milton W. Brown, American Painting from the Armory Show to the Depression, Princeton, 1970, p. 128.

17. Clement Greenberg, “Art,” The Nation, October 9, 1943, p. 416. Greenberg corrected his description of the colors as exaggeratedly nonprimary in the next issue (p. 455), but the intuition was worthwhile. The problem of Mondrian’s chromatic precision (or imprecision) relates to the questions of to what degree, in the classic grid intersections, optical dazzle is meant realistically to be acknowledged or idealistically thought away, and of whether the classic works are really “flat” or not.

18. Welsh, p. 37.

19. Hans Jaffé, “The Diagonal Principle in the Works of Van Doesburg and Mondrian,” The Structurist, No. 9, 1969, pp. 14–21.

20. Gottfried Semper, “Plan eines idealen Museums,” in Hans M. Wingler’s edition of his writings, Wissenschaft, Industrie und Kunst und andere Schriften über Architektur, Kunsthandwerk und Kunstunterricht (Neue Bauhausbücher), Mainz and Berlin, 1966, pp. 72–79.

21. Henry-Russell Hitchcock kindly called my attention to Berlage and to Peter Singelenberg’s H. P. Berlage: Idea and Style: the Quest for Modern Architecture, Utrecht, 1972; see esp. p. 198. Edgar Kaufmann’s review of this work, Art Bulletin, March, 1974, pp. 144–45, claims that Semper’s influence on Berlage was less decisive than Singelenberg maintains, but see also Hans Ludwig Jaffé, De Stijl 1917–1931: the Dutch Contribution to Modern Art, Amsterdam, 1956, pp. 50–51, for Berlage as a link with Semper.

22. As has already been pointed out by Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, London, 1960, p. 143.

23. See Alois Riegl, “Deertgen tot Sint lans’ ‘The Legend of the Relics of St. John the Baptist’,” from his Das höllandische Gruppenporträt, 1902, trans, (thank God) Steven S. Kayser, in W. Eugene Kleinbauer, ed., Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: an Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts, New York, 1971, pp. 135–36.

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