Lot 48
  • 48

Piet Mondrian

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
1,084,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Piet Mondrian
  • signed with the initials PM and dated 28 (lower left); signed Piet Mondrian and inscribed on the reverse
  • gouache with traces of pencil on paper laid down on card


Acquired by the family of the present owner prior to 1935

Catalogue Note

The present work is one of the rare surviving abstract gouaches and represents an exciting rediscovery of a previously unknown work in Mondrian's oeuvre. The painting appears to be closely related to Tableau I, with Black, Yellow, Blue and Light Blue (fig. 1), a major oil from a seminal period in Mondrian's career, during which he laid down the austere strictures of Neo-Plasticism. Acquired by the family of the present owner in the 1930s, the work is a pristine example of Mondrian's unique style that evolved during his resolute pursuit of a purified aesthetic vision. His project, to liberate painting from the domination of sensory perception and articulate universal principles that would give a new spiritual dimension to art, would become a template for both the aesthetic and the ideals of twentieth century modernism.


Mondrian's return to his studio in Paris in 1919 marked the beginning of a period of intense activity devoted to developing the style that would dominate his work of the 1920s. The return to an urban environment was a crucial influence; as the artist himself commented: 'In the metropolis, beauty expresses itself more mathematically; therefore it is the place out of which the mathematically artistic temperament of the future must develop, the place out of which the New Style must emerge' (P. Mondrian, De Stijl, I, 132). Whilst the outlines of Neo-Plasticism had been articulated two years earlier with the publication of De Stijl, an aesthetic manifesto created in collaboration with Theo van Doesburg, it was in his austere Parisian studio that Mondrian painted his first Neo-Plastic compositions using a completely abstract, geometric pictorial language.


From 1920 onwards Mondrian confined his pictorial lexicon to planes of pure primary colour, planes of non-colour and black lines, abandoning the modular grid and colour gradations which characterised his works from 1918-19. Over the next decade the artist sought to refine this new vocabulary to the highest degree of balance and economy. Mondrian created several series of similar works, but each new composition features minor variations; the precise shades of the primary colours, the thickness of the black lines, and the size and shape of the geometrical grids that delineate his compositions. Each work is a unique attempt to express a principle of equilibrium borne out of opposing elements that was the essence of Neo-Plasticism.  


Despite being at the vanguard of modernism, Mondrian's Dutch background and Puritan upbringing were formulative influences on his ideas and work. Brought up in a strict Calvinist household, Mondrian's aversion to the attractions of sensory perception, attachment to strict discipline and technique and wish to depict a universal reality beneath the phenomenal world are all rooted in the Dutch Calvinist tradition. A religious impulse was at the core of his art, and underlaid the utopian direction of his social theory; as he comments in De Stijl, 'Art, although an end in itself, is, like religion, a means by which the universal may be revealed, that is to say, plastically contemplated' (P. Mondrian, De Stijl, vol. I, p. 52). It is this concern with revealing the universal principles beneath surface reality that link him to the Dutch tradition of Vermeer, Heda and van der Heyden, artists whose work is united by a serene sense of compositional balance and spatial order.


Mondrian infused this religiously inspired Dutch aesthetic with a radical, modernist fervour, illustrated by the dedication of his 1920 work Neo-Plasticism: 'to the men of the future'. The experience of the First World War convinced Mondrian that mankind needed to outgrow the wasteful disparities of individualism towards a new universal harmony. This social vision was based on the notion that subjectivity and materialism led to the social disequilibrium that underpinned the cataclysmic events of 1914-18. His art is a messianic vision based on the conviction that 'a feeling for beauty freed from matter could regenerate this materialist society' (P. Mondrian, De Stijl, vol. III, p. 44). The austere geometry of his compositions constitute a blueprint for a new society: 'The pure plastic vision should set up a new society just as in art it set forth new plasticism. This will be a society based on the equation of the material and the spiritual, a society composed of balanced relationships'. This work can therefore be seen as a step on Mondrian's dialectical pilgrimage towards a modernist utopia; as he wrote in his essay, Towards the True Vision of Reality towards the end of his life in New York, 'Our way leads towards a search for equivalence of life's unequal opposites. Because it is free from all utilitarian limitations, plastic art must move not only parallel with human progress but must advance ahead of it. It is the task of art to express a clear vision of reality'.