Page 22 - Studio International - December1996
P. 22

Reminiscences of                                  When one thought of visiting Mondrian one had to tele-
                                                                                 phone beforehand—no free and easy knocking at his door
                               Mondrian                                          —this was not because he might be working—he was

                               by Winifred Nicholson,                            always at work; but so that he could put on his patent
                                                                                 leather shoes and his black striped trousers. His studio
                               Barbara Hepworth, Miriam Gabo,
                                                                                 was in a noisy street of Paris up many flights. There was
                               Herbert Read, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo
                                                                                 no lift, no water, nor heating in it. What there was, was
                                                                                 clarity and silence. The silence in which one could com-
                                                                                 pose and create. The clarity did not come from windows
                                                                                 but from the many canvases of which the studio was full,
                                                                                 in all stages of their creation, for he worked at each one,
                                                                                 for long periods, considering each charcoal horizontal,
                                                                                 each charcoal vertical and moving them an inch or a
                                                                                 millimetre one way or another. When at last the positions
                                                                                 were settled then there were many coats of white to be
                                                                                 applied one after another and only last of all after many
                                                                                 months or even years the rectangles of colour. Yellow,
                                                                                 blue or red were painted, sometimes only one colour,
                                                                                 sometimes a duet of two, sometimes but more rarely a trio
                                                                                 of three. For if the studio was full of the silence of human
                                                                                 voices, the voices of the pictures were all the more audible
                                                                                 —and what they said, clear, fundamental without frills or
                                                                                 fancy—but sometimes did their speech become insistent to
                                                                                 their creator, or was he lonely in his hermitage of purest
                                                                                 art ? Anyhow he had a cheap square little squeaky gramo-
                                                                                 phone painted vivid dutch red—and on it he played the
                                                                                 hottest blue jazz—only jazz, never that classical stuff— I
                                                                                 don't remember any other objects in the studio except
                                                                                  that gramophone, I doubt if there was any room for
                                                                                 anything except all those canvases—sometimes we had
                                                                                  tezanne made of cherry stone stalks, that was if he had
                                                                                 sold a picture in Switzerland and was in funds. He seldom
       Mondrian in 1908 and, below,
       in 1911. (Reproduced from                                                 sold a picture, and when he did he lived on the proceeds
       Michel Seuphor's Piet                                                     for long periods. He liked flowers, he told me that in his
                                                                                 regenerate days he lived on the pictures that he had
                                                                                 painted of them—but in Paris he had never had any. One
                                                                                 would not have dared to bring any to him. Too fancy; one
                                                                                 took flowers when one visited Brancusi—he loved them
                                                                                 and kept them for ever, dead and dry as beautiful he said
                                                                                 as when they were in bloom. Mondrian bought Cam-
                                                                                 bridge colours not because they were less expensive than
                                                                                 others, but because he thought that Oxford and so also
                                                                                 Cambridge was the most reliable English commodity. I
                                                                                 regret that in this reliability we English let him down. He
                                                                                 was just and honest and Dutch and stern, friendly to those
                                                                                 who were people of progress, harsh to those who were not,
                                                                                 surrealists, Fascists, reactionaries, people who tolerated
                                                                                 green, purple, or orange all impure. 'You are the first
                                                                                 person who has ever painted Yellow', I said to him once,
                                                                                 `pure lemon yellow like the sun.' He denied it, but next
                                                                                 time I saw him, he took up the remark. 'I have thought
                                                                                 about it,' he said, 'and it is so, but it is merely because
                                                                                 Cadmium yellow pigment has been invented.'
                                                                                  The painter he liked best of the old painters he said was
                                                                                 Fra Angelico —no surrealism there. There was war in the
                                                                                 air—but the war between nations was not so bitter as the
                                                                                 war between the constructivists and the surrealists—once,
                                                                                 only once, I went to a constructivist studio party where a
                                                                                 surrealist had slipped in. He was a Japanese critic—a
                                                                                 brash fellow. He did not know what one did in Paris. But
                                                                                 when the war of nations burst into our  quartier  life—I
                                                                                 packed up my flat overlooking the Seine—no place for
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