Piet Mondrian - Screenprints 1957
16 September 2020
This series of screenprints includes the only period versions in print of Mondrian’s epoch-making paintings which were authorised by the Mondrian Estate. They are also outstanding examples of the superb quality of 1950’s screenprinting at its finest and its synergy with the geometric forms of Mondrian’s ‘Neoplasticism’.
Almost no other artist influenced the development of abstract art in Europe to a greater degree than Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). Together with the painter Theo van Doesburg he founded the ‘De Stijl’ movement (the title means ‘The Style’). His aim was to create a totally ‘non-objective’ art language. Mondrian was born at Amersfoort in the Netherlands in 1872. In the 1890’s he lived in Amsterdam and studied art at the Rijksakademie – the state art college. In 1912, seeking to broaden his art environment and wanting to move beyond the Impressionist-inspired landscapes he had been painting (See no. 12 in this catalogue - ‘The Blue Tree’) he moved to Paris.
In Paris he met Picasso and Braque and greatly admired their early Cubism. His studio was on the top floor of a building and looked over the roof tops. The multiple angles of the roofs seemed to him to echo the form lines of cubism and he then started to see the pattern of these lines as a visual entity in itself. In 1914 the outbreak of war forced him back to Holland but his ideas of abstraction continued to develop. By 1917 he had begun to paint his first totally abstract works, arrangements of colours with no naturalistic starting point.
It was in 1918 that he started to experiment with how areas of flat but strong colour separated by a ‘grid’ of intersecting lines could create a powerful but abstract visual structure, the blocks of colour either supporting the balance or deliberately upsetting it. It was the beginning of his formalisation of his unique concept of a means to express the inherent spiritual quality of lines and colour as a visual language (See no. 4 in this catalogue). He wanted to focus on expressing the inner essence of the natural world through a balance of shapes and colours, not on specific elements.
It was also at this period that he decided to join his friend the painter Theo Van Doesburg, whose ideas echoed his own, to form the famous ‘De Stijl’ – ‘The Style’ group, one of the greatest and most influential moments in the development of 20th century abstract art. They wanted it to be more of a forum for artists with linked ideas of abstract composition than a ‘co-exhibiting group’ in the normal sense and indeed it had a huge effect on ideas of design and architecture as well as art.
After the end of the First War in 1919 Mondrian decided to return to Paris as it was a centre of avant-garde thinking. Over these inter-war years up to 1940 Mondrian was to create the key series of rectilinear ‘Grid Paintings’, with their arrangements of the primary colours of red, blue and yellow. These changed the whole concept of painting as an art form, and of art in a broader sense, for the remainder of the 20th century (See nos. 5 to 9 in this catalogue).
In 1940, fearing the restrictions on art and thinking that might be imposed by the Nazi occupation, Mondrian decided to leave Paris and Europe and go to New York. There he found the atmosphere of life and the artistic world a total contrast to Europe. It stimulated him to introduce a new freedom and vitality to the language of his painting whilst still within the same constructional structure. It was in New York in 1942-43 that he painted one of his most famous pictures ‘Broadway – Boogie-Woogie’ which epitomized his feelings about the new world he had found. In 1944 Mondrian died in New York.
The publication of this series of exceptionally fine quality screenprint images derived from Mondrian’s paintings was due to the association between Mondrian’s long-time close friend the Belgian geometric abstract painter Michel Seuphor and Denise René, the Paris champion of ‘Art Concrete’ and the Modernist movement. Seuphor had apparently tried to interest Mondrian in working in a print medium in the inter-war years, as he had himself. In fact Mondrian never found time for it and may also have felt that lithography, probably then the most sympathetic medium for him, would not truly capture the imagery he wanted.
In 1957, Seuphor and Denise René, working with the Mondrian Estate, decided that the new perfection of surface and line possible in the medium of screenprint would express Mondrian’s images to perfection. The works were created and printed at the studio of Wilfredo Arcay, the leading emigré Cuban geometric-modernist painter and great admirer of Mondrian’s art. Arcay, working from the Paris print studio which he had set up in the 1950’s, was also a champion of the screenprint process and a genius in its use as a creative art medium.
The works in this series are the only period print images of Mondrian’s art which were authorised by the Mondrian Estate.