The British artist Marlow Moss (1889-1958) is one of De Stijl's least know members, if she can be considered a member at all. But even as her association is limited to the Paris period of the 1930s her work shows some clear influences, she was co-organizer of the Abstraction-Création publications and movement with Piet Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg amongst others. Because of her insular nature, isolated life and her limited production she has often been seen as a lesser imitator of Mondrian. Trained in London in the late 1910s she attended St. John's Wood as well as Slade School of Art, and lived alternately in Paris and Great Britain until the Second World War. In Paris Marlow Moss became a student of Ferdinand Leger. In 1929 she met her partner, the Dutch bohemian A.H. (Nettie) Nijhof, wife of the poet Martinus Nijhof. Nettie Nijhof and Moss remained lovers for the rest of their lives, living in France, the Netherlands and Great Britain. Most likely it was Nijhof who introduced Moss to Piet Mondrian in Paris in 1931 or '32. Both Nettie and Martinus knew Mondrian from the artist colony in Laren in the Netherlands, where they all lived in the late 1910's. Mondrian's rational abstract approach to painting turned out to be the right progress on the cubist-geometric influences Moss had experienced when she was a student of Leger. It is a point of debate as to the mutual influence Moss and Mondrian had on each other. Letters by George Vantongerloo suggest it was Moss who introduced the double line into the austere compositions they were both making by then. According to Vantongerloo Mondrian copied this characteristic, and refined it. Fact is that both Moss and Mondrian strived for the Pythagorean ideal that a better society based on spirituality rather than factual representation is reached through mathematical harmony, and even though their correspondence has been lost it is known that they exchanged many letters on the subject. It is entirely possible that Moss derived at the double line element through the theory Pythagoras promoted, i.e. that two strings of identical tension and thickness in the right ratio create perfect harmony in sound, and therefore in the spiritual world.
In her further development she abandoned all color to produce white on white relief paintings through which we can find the first signs of the nihilistic, ephemeral qualities Zero and Nul artists were to explore two decades later, based on the same spiritual notions.
Little is left of the works Marlow Moss produced in her early life; bombs destroyed her studio in WWII, and after the war she shifted her attention to sculpture when she started to study architecture. Works by Moss can be found in the collections of the Tate Modern, the Gemeentemuseum The Hague, and the Kröller-Müller Museum.
The present work, having belonged to the estate of Nellie Nijhof, is therefore a rare find and an exceptional example of Marlow Moss's mature period. Painted in Cronwall where she spent the war years it is a very strong example of her personal investigation into universal harmony and truth.
-De Vries, Theun; Antoinette Hendrika Nijhoff-Wind The Hague 9 June 1897 - The Hague, 22 May 1971, Jaarboek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde, 1972, p.233-245).
-Goddijn, Aad; talk: De bomen van Pythagoras II, Geconcentreerde groei, 6 September 2003, Mondriaanhuis Amersfoort.
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