From the age of fourteen, when Mondrian decided to become a painter, he specialized in calm landscapes, often with isolated buildings and shadowy twilight effects of dull gold and silver. Starting around 1908, he was deeply influenced by the bright colors of Fauvism, applied in rows of rectangular brushstrokes to indicate such textures as stonework. But his exposure to the Cubism of Braque and Picasso in 1911 quickly converted him to ever deeper abstraction, and brought him back to the coloration of the poetic works of his early career. The scumbled atmospheric tones of ocher, blue gray, and pink in Composition are typical of this development.
Mondrian moved to Paris in 1912 and developed his own luminous style of Cubism with paintings of trees and clusters of buildings. He based a series of compositions, including the Kimbell painting, on the complicated geometry of the streetscape near his studio in Montparnasse. He may have been inspired in part by Monet’s close-up images of Rouen Cathedral from the early 1890s, each recording delicate golden, pink, and blue tones of reflected daylight. In these Cubist-inspired works, Mondrian “drew” his subject with a scaffold of black lines within, across, and around which he delicately added color as if orchestrating atmospheric effects.“The masses generally find my work rather vague,” he wrote in January 1914, around the time he painted Composition. “I construct lines and color combinations on a flat surface, in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness.”
As is characteristic of Mondrian’s working technique, numerous pentimenti are clearly visible in Composition. In some places, the earlier horizontal and vertical dark bands are only partially obscured by the overlying paint. In other areas, they appear as slight depressions in the paint film when the picture is viewed in a raking light. There is a thicker build-up of paint in the upper half of the painting due to the artist’s extensive reworking. Overall, the lower half of Composition is more directly painted. The brush strokes here appear determined and distinctive, while in the upper half the handling seems blurred and less resolved.
Prior to the Mondrian retrospective exhibition in 1994, Composition was reframed with a bronze-colored set -back frame to reflect Mondrian’s initial conception. The original frame had been replaced by a previous owner. In the beginning of 1914 the artist began to present his work in set-back frames, which he continued to use on his paintings through the 1920s and 30s, and which are described in a letter by Mondrian to the architect J. J. P. Oud, dated 31 March 1921. The artist would attach narrow slats to the sides of his paintings with nails slightly set back from the picture plane. he would then paint the slats and the exposed tacking margins with a bronze color. Traces of this paint can still be seen along the edges of Composition. An example of this type of original frame can be seen on the painting Still Life with Ginger Pot, I, in the Hague.
S. B. Slijper, Blaricum, The Netherlands.
C. G. Hannaert, Laren, The Netherlands, 1915 for fl. 200.
Kunsthandel G. J. Nieuwenhuizen Segaar, The Hague, c. 1951-1958;
Galerie Beyeler, Basel, 1958;
(Sidney Janis Gallery, New York);
Sir Edward G.and Lady Hulton [he: 1906-1988], London, 1958-1981;
(Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London) by 1981;
(Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York);
acquired by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1983; gift of the Burnett Foundation of Fort Worth in memory of Anne Burnett Tandy, 1983.