1913 | “Composition in Brown and Gray” by Piet Mondrian


(light music) Leah: I’m in the museum’s
conservation studio with Piet Mondrian’s “Composition
in Brown and Grey” from 1913. It was done while he was
in Paris, and in 1913 he showed a group of related works in the Salond des Independant, one of the big alternative exhibitions that was held in Paris. His work was noticed
by the poet and critic, [Guillermo Poloner], who
said these were among the most celebrated
pictures in the exhibition, and called them a form
of very abstract cubism. Mondrian was preoccupied
with Picasso’s work and his cubist practice
and you see references to it in his writing of this time; and he’s very careful to say that he’s very influenced by him, but at the same time he didn’t think Picasso went far enough on
the road to abstraction. Mondrian decides that his
project is a following up the implications of what Picasso does. He begins to take the
[scaffetoling] that emerges in cubism, and to regularize it as a grid. He works from his sketchbook images of the motif of trees, and the branches of the trees are systematized here along here the horizontal
and vertical axis; they even begin to look
a bit like architecture. The horizontal and vertical become the common vocabulary, hen you see a whole
variety of brush strokes. He’s exploring the relationship between center and peripheral, and this is a real problem for this pioneering generation of abstract artists; once objects are no longer the primary thing in a work of art, how do you figure out
how to end a picture? How do you decide what’s foreground? How do you decide what’s background? Here he is working very much on the edges of the picture to suggest what happens when you move away from the structuring composition. Piet Mondrian sent this
picture from Paris, and a group of others,
back to the Netherlands for his first one-man exhibition, and then he traveled to The
Hague a few weeks later, but by that time World
War I had broken out and he was unable to return to Paris. (light music)

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