Listening to Art, by William Denton.
Volume nine, number two: New York City by Piet Mondrian.
Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.
Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter who was born near Utrecht in 1872 and died in New York City in 1944. He lived in Paris from 1919 to 1938, then moved to London because of the Nazi threat, and then in 1940 emigrated to the United States. This painting is dated to 1942, but was begun in 1941 in his apartment at 353 East 56th Street in Manhattan.
Mondrian had a concept of art and architecture and design all working together in harmony, and his apartments and studios looked like his paintings. This is explained in the remarkable book Piet Mondrian: The Studios, edited by Cees W. de Jong, from which I quote (pp. 175–176):
With [Harry] Holtzman’s help Mondrian occupied a studio at 353 East 56th Street. It was very small and filled with paintings—he would live here for almost three years. The only other things in the narrow room were an easel and a drawing board. A small landing held a kitchen table and two stools. There was little space to implement Mondrian’s Total Art concept. But still Mondrian started to put yellow, blue and red rectangles on the walls. Charmion von Wiegand, an American artist and journalist who became good friends with Mondrian, once said that Mondrian in his white, almost laboratory-like studio looked more like a scientist or priest than an artist.
When Wiegand visited Mondrian a few months later, she saw clear differences. The room was no longer cool, but full of energy. “He had put more colourful squares on the walls, big red rectangles sent out rays of light, yellow rectangles spread sunlight and blue ones cool shadows. Ranged around the room were the new pictures, great squares, their powerful forms vibrating in the small space.” Von Wiegand linked the changes in the studio to the new works….
It is well known that Mondrian regularly changed the compositions on his walls, both in Paris and New York. Harriet Janis, who visited him in late 1943, described the “endless amounts of tack holes” in the walls. The colours changed, as did the size of the rectangles and their relationship to the white wall that served as backdrop. It seems that Mondrian used the walls in his studio as a giant sketchbook to try out new creative ideas.
This is a painting, oil on canvas, 114.2 cm wide by 119.3 cm high.
Now let’s listen to New York City by Piet Mondrian, recorded at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, in Paris, on 15 July 2019.
That was New York City by Piet Mondrian. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.
For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit listeningtoart.org.
Listening to Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
All web sites accessed as of date of publication.
Bois, Yve-Alain. “Piet Mondrian, ‘New York City.’” Translated by Amy Reiter-McIntosh. Critical Inquiry 14 no. 2 (Winter, 1988): 244–277. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1343446.
Centre Pompidou. “New York City.” Navigart. https://collection.centrepompidou.fr/artwork/150000000004996.
de Jong, Cees W., ed. Piet Mondrian: The Studios. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2015.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Piet Mondrian,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piet_Mondrian.