8449 - Gemeentemuseum Den Haag presents first complete biography of Piet Mondrian


In 1942 Piet Mondrian began work on a painting he thought might well be his last – and which has since become world-famous under the title Victory Boogie Woogie. The new biography by Hans Janssen, Mondrian expert and curator of modern art at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, discloses previously unpublished photographs of Mondrian at work on the painting. Hans Janssen: ‘For the first time we can see the technique Mondrian used to paint his final masterpiece.’

The hitherto unknown photographs, one of which adorns the cover of the new book, have turned up recently in the archive of the National Gallery of Art in Washington and show Mondrian at work in his New York studio. The painting now known around the world as Victory Boogie Woogie lies flat on the table in front of him. In his right hand the artist holds a narrow paintbrush; in his left are a rag and a flat-ended brush in which the bristles have been replaced by a sharp-bladed object or scraper for use in controlling the paint being applied to on the canvas.

The photographs are part of a series of three taken by an unknown photographer. Two of them have never been published before. The discovery was made by Nancy Troy, a Mondrian specialist attached to Stanford University, who shared her momentous find with Janssen.

Hans Janssen: ‘As soon as I saw the photos I knew this was something big. It had always been thought that there were no pictures of Mondrian at work on Victory Boogie Woogie.’

Pivotal points
Janssen’s biography Piet Mondriaan. Een nieuwe kunst voor een ongekend leven is to be issued this December by Dutch publishing house Hollands Diep. Referring both to Mondrian’s paintings and to photographs, letters, diary extracts and reported conversations/interviews, the author reconstructs a series of pivotal points in the life and work of an artist who changed the world once and for all. The book discusses Mondrian’s Amsterdam, Laren, Paris, London and New York periods, his loves and friendships, the genesis of his key works and the social change movements with which he was involved.

Janssen decisively refutes the image of the artist as a misogynistic recluse and offers new insights into his wide-ranging and progressive approach to life.

Hans Janssen: ‘Mondrian is often portrayed as a passionless puritan. A hermit who shut himself up in his studio to work undisturbed on his paintings. But the historical facts point to precisely the opposite. The artist spent his hey-day in Paris, was a well-known figure in New York and spent time and money in bohemian artistic circles, going out and enjoying the company of women.’

The biography is a historical collage with romantic elements. Based on solid primary source research, it interrelates the subject’s life and work to shed new light on an artist who was crazy about jazz, had a freethinking attitude to love and marriage, but ultimately entertained only one real passion – for painting.

100 years of Mondrian and De Stijl
Piet Mondriaan. Een nieuwe kunst voor een ongekend leven is the fruit of many years of research on Mondrian’s life and work. The book is being issued jointly by Dutch publishing house Hollands Diep and the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, possessor of the greatest Mondrian collection anywhere in the world. With its ongoing programme of research on the artist and on the conservation and restoration of his works, the museum is the leading international centre of expertise on Mondrian.

The book is a prelude to the year of celebrations taking place nationwide in 2017 to mark the centenary of the birth of the international De Stijl movement (of which Mondrian was a member). As its contribution to the Mondrian to Dutch Design.100 years of De Stijl celebrations, the Gemeentemuseum plans to hold no fewer than four different Mondrian exhibitions, including a major overview of his oeuvre showing his development from a conventional landscape painter to a pioneer of abstract art.