Page 21 - Studio International - December1996
P. 21

Mondrian in London

                                 From September 1938 to September 1940, when he left for New York taking with him
                                 many uncompleted canvases, Piet Mondrian lived and worked in London. Little has
                                 been recorded of this period of his life.
                                  Charles Harrison's outline of Mondrian's history during those two years introduces
                                 reminiscences by some of Mondrian's friends who were in London at the time.

                                 In 1931 Piet Mondrian had been among the founder  where it had much in common with Mondrian's both in
                                 members of the Paris-based  Association Abstraction-  aim and in quality. In 1936 Nicolette Gray's exhibition
                                 Creation.  His disciple Marjorie Moss, the stained-glass  Abstract & Concrete illustrated just how close the relation-
                                 designer Evie Hone, and Edward Wadsworth were  ship had become between certain English painters and
                                 among the British artists whose work was illustrated the  sculptors and the avant garde of European abstraction.
                                 next year in the first of the Association's annual Cahiers. In   Another visitor to Mondrian's studio in 1934 was a
                                 1933 Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth had pro-   young American called Harry Holtzman. Holtzman kept
                                 duced their first truly abstract works, and on a visit to  closely in touch with Mondrian and in 1938 began to
                                 Paris that summer they were invited to join the Associa-  send him sums of money under pretext of buying paint-
                                 tion. On the same visit Nicholson met Mondrian for the  ings which he never intended to receive. Early in Sep-
                                 first time and on his return to Paris the following year he  tember, 1938, convinced, after Munich, that war was
                                 visited him in his studio in the Rue de Depart. In the  inevitable and believing that Paris would be the first
                                 mid-thirties English painters and sculptors awoke to  target for German bombers, Mondrian wrote to Holtzman
                                 many of the interests and ideals that had been governing  in New York asking for a formal invitation to the United
                                 Continental artists through the twenties. Nicholson gained  States which he could produce for the immigration
                                 ground faster than any of his English contemporaries and  authorities. Naum Gabo had left Paris for London in
                                 during the years 1934-7 his art developed to a point   1936, spurred by a feeling that London was becoming
                                                                                    what Paris was ceasing to be—an environment in which
         Piet Mondrian, photographed                                                creative work was possible. Mondrian had been in touch
         by Cecil Stephenson in 1938                                                with Gabo and Nicholson through his considerable
         or 1939
                                                                                    contribution to  Circle  (published in 1937) which they
                                                                                    edited together with Martin. He wrote to them to expect
                                                                                    him and left for London on September 21, 1938, on his
                                                                                    way, as he believed, to America. Nicholson's first wife
                                                                                    Winifred travelled with him across France.
                                                                                     Nicholson, Hepworth and Gabo were living in Hamp-
                                                                                    stead, as were Herbert Read and Henry Moore, and they
                                                                                    found Mondrian a studio at 60 Parkhill Road. Nichol-
                                                                                    son's studio was at the bottom of the garden. Immediately
                                                                                    he was installed Mondrian began to work. The classically
                                                                                    simple canvases of the early thirties were giving way to
                                                                                    more architectonic works built up of taut grids with few,
                                                                                    if any, precisely-poised areas of colour. In the finest of
                                                                                    these the tense beauty of the earlier works is transmuted
                                                                                    on a larger scale into a grander poetry, wider in scope,
                                                                                    stable and assured.
                                                                                     At the outbreak of war Mondrian found himself in
                                                                                    virtual isolation as his immediate neighbours left London;
                                                                                    Gabo, Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth for St Ives, and
                                                                                    Henry Moore for Much Hadham. Ironically the blitz
                                                                                    came not to Paris but to London. The work which for
                                                                                    Mondrian required so great a concentration, had become
                                                                                    impossible. London had suddenly become too close to
                                                                                    Europe. He wrote to Winifred Nicholson in July 1940,
                                                                                    `Since Paris fell I did no more creative work'. He
                                                                                    remained until a bomb destroyed the house next door.
                                                                                    Late in September he left for New York, arriving on
                                                                                    October 3, 1940. Sadly he wrote back to a friend, Tor
                                                                                    art it was too difficult in London'.
                                                                                                                     Charles Harrison
   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26