Lot 14
  • 14

Piet Mondrian

6,000,000 - 8,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Piet Mondrian
  • Composition with Double Line
  • Oil and charcoal on canvas
  • 22 1/2 by 21 3/4 in.
  • 57 by 55.3 cm


Estate of the artist

Harry Holtzmann, New York (acquired from the above)

Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1962)

Galerie Tarica, Paris (acquired from the above in 1972)

Acquired from the above


New York, Valentine Gallery, Mondrian. Paintings, 1946, no. 13 (titled Composition Noir et Blanc and dated circa 1935)

New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Paintings by Mondrian: Early & Late & Work in Process, 1962, no. 18, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Composition and dated 1936-44)

Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Mondrian, 1964-65, no. 56 (titled Komposition (unvollendet) and dated 1936-44)

Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie & 's-Gravenhage, Haags Gemeentemuseum, Mondrian: Zeichnungen, Aquarellen, New Yorker Bilder, 1980-81, no. 122 (titled Komposition (unvollendet) and dated 1936-44)

Baltimore, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Mondrian: Drawings and Watercolors, 1981, no. 125 (titled Composition (unfinished) and dated 1936-44)

Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Piet Mondrian: Oleos, Acuarelas y Dibujos, 1982, no. 63, (titled Composición and dated 1936-44)

The Hague, Gemeentemuseum; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art & New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Piet Mondrian, 1994-96, no. 173, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Brescia, Museo de Santa Giulia, Piet Mondrian, 2006, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Copenhagen, Ordrupgaard, Piet Mondrian. The road to Modernism, 2007


Michel Seuphor, Piet Mondrian: Life and Work, New York, 1956, p. 588 (titled Composition inachevéeand dated 1936-44)

Virginia Pitts Rembert, Mondrian, America, and American Painting, London, 1979, p. 306 (titled Composition, Untitled)

Joop M. Joostens, Piet Mondrian, Catalogue Raisonné of the Work of 1911-1944, vol. II, New York,1998, no. B246, illustrated p. 373

Marty Bax, Complete Mondrian, London, 2001, illustrated p. 531


Very good condition. Original canvas. The surface and edges are clean and fresh. Under UV light, there is some retouching in the upper-right corner and along the extreme framing edges on the left and right, and a few minor specks in the upper left and right quadrant.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Sleek and highly structured, this composition of lines and planar fields of white embodies the tenents of Neo-Plasticism, the highly intellectual and avant-garde artistic movement which Piet Mondrian championed in the 1920s and 1930s.  The present composition from 1934 is among Mondrian's most radicalized embodiments of his objective to abolish form in his compositions.  "I think that the destructive element is too much neglected in art," Mondrian professed at the end of his life.  Indeed, the high-point of the artist's career would be spent obliterating not only representation, but also shape or any other formal entity that could impart identity to his painting.  This very negation of art was at the crux of Mondrian's aesthetic, and it is no more exemplified than in his pictures where color is all but obliterated. 

Composition with Double Line qualifies as one of Mondrian's rare "unfinished" canvases, and provides us with a valuable behind-the-scenes look at the artist's creative process and the intentionality of every movement he made on his canvases.  Joop Joostens emphasizes the need to consider these pictures, including Composition with blue, unfinished, (Museum Moderner Kunst/Museum des 20.Jahrhunderts in Vienna) as integral to our understanding of Mondrian's aesthetic objective: "In this instance, as in others, his decision regarding the precise width and density of the black lines, as well as the dimensions and painterly handling of the edges of the planes thus determined, was left until the very last moment.  The present unfinished canvas, with these ultimate decisions unresolved, bears witness to the subtlety with which Mondrian approached every pictorial problem, and the extent to which every adjustment in the relationship between a given line and the contiguous planes posed questions of the greatest significance" (J. Joostens in Piet Mondrian (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Modern Art, op. cit., p. 299).

The genesis of  Mondrian's Neo-Plastic aesthetic dates from his return from Holland to his Paris studio in 1919.  While the outlines of Neo-Plasticism had been articulated earlier in 1917 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. This return to an urban environment marked the beginning of a period of intense activity devoted to developing the style that would dominate his work. "In the metropolis, beauty expresses itself more mathematically," he had written prior to his return to the French capital. "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).

From 1920 onwards, Mondrian confined his pictorial lexicon to planes of pure primary color, planes of non-color and black lines. Over the next two decades 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 colors, 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 born 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 provided the foundation for 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 links 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's writing on his own work sought to counter the assumptions that his contemporaries made about his pictures, yet his plain-spoken explanations only served to highlight the visual complexity and theoretical sophistication of these sophisticated works of art.  The same year he painted the present work, he told the artist Gorlin that his "double" line pictures were actually made of single lines of different widths.  "You speak of the double line and say that it causes symmetry.  I disagree because there is only one 'line,'...in my latest work the double line widens into a plane, and yet remains more of a line..."   (reprinted in Piet Mondrian (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Modern Art, op. cit., p. 64).  And when asked in 1934 about what he wanted to express in his work, Mondrian replied: "Nothing other than what every artist seeks: to express harmony through the equivalence of relationships of lines, colors, and planes.  But only in the clearest and strongest ways" (ibid.).

A few months after beginning the present work, the French critic Anatole Jakovski published a comparison between the paintings of Mondrian and the Russian Constructivist, Kasimir Malevich.  Concluding that Malevich was no match for Mondrian, the critic recognized the theoretical brilliance and exacting detail at the heart Mondrian's process.  His description in January 1935 of Mondrian's working method here provides a wonderful narrative for what we see in Composition with Double Lines: "P. Mondrian works at a picture for many months.  For years almost.  He varies the elasticitiy of the colour, of one colour very often, and he alters the distances between the black lines to get micrometrical differences.  Infintesimal.  But the amazed spectator sees only a square.  He does not see that it is the perfect relationship between existence and nonentity.  The square marking the limits of the outermost zone of art" (reprinted in J. Joostens (op. cit.), p. 159).