23 May 2018 – Updated May 31st 2018 CLICK HERE
This article is an update of the one published in April 2018 and represents the continuation of the long history involving two works by Mondrian: “KOMPOSITION I: Lozenge with Three Lines” and “Composition Lozenge with Two Lines”, the latter kept at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
These works have been studied in the research that involves all the Mondrian Disappeared Works, contained in this publication: MONDRIAN – The Disappeared Paintings – Study for Reconstruction (freely available online).
Below, as an update of the April 2018 article, the NEW CHAPTER is written for work B169 taken from the above study.
B169 – NEW CHAPTER
On 18 May 2018 an important communication was received on the basis of which it is necessary to develop a New Chapter for the work B169.
Before starting, it is right to expose a premise.
The “Study of Reconstruction” examines all the missing works of Mondrian and its sole objective is to collect the essential data to be able to “replicate” the works themselves. The main intent is to provide an “original” image, that is to say in color, as, to date, such works are known only through photographs and reproductions in black and white.
Therefore, it does not have an “investigative” character aimed at tracing the works themselves.
Nevertheless, a study of this kind must necessarily take into account the history that these works have had, so the research should also be extended to the origin and, if appropriate, trace the path as far as it is possible. In cases where, then, doubts or uncertainties emerge, the analysis must extend beyond the boundaries of the mere reconstruction of the image, in order to make historical reconstruction even more exhaustive.
B169 is one of these cases.
Moreover, with the last chapter in “APPENDIX“, a further analysis was developed that invests all the works of Mondrian produced in the second Parisian period, focusing the attention on the time period 1923-1927 in which there are a large number of missing works. From this analysis it has emerged that much of the work weighs heavy questions and that one of the decisive moments for their disappearance, was the exhibition “Der Stuhl” of Frankfurt in 1929. Also it emerged a close relationship with two key figures of that period, which are Sophie Küppers and the Kunstausstellung Kühl Gallery in Dresden. At the end of all, a DIAGRAM was also drawn that visually traces the path of each work.
B169 falls within these works and there is a common thread (rather mysterious) that unites them all. Inevitably the curiosity and the desire to know, have generated the study described in the previous pages.
The communication referred to, came just at the time when the entire Study of Reconstruction was finished with the final draft, but fortunately before the final editing, thus allowing the inclusion of this New Chapter.
The decision to insert a New Chapter is dictated by the desire not to modify what has already been elaborated, as it is right that it remains the memory of the whole analysis.
Now it is necessary to retrace some salient steps.
In the previous pages, starting from page 95, a reconstruction was developed that followed the various phases of the research. In essence, step by step, every question that emerged was tried to find answers. At the end of all, in order to make the whole route clearer, a summary contained in pages 118 to 125 has been drawn up.
The first step was to perform the simple graphic reconstruction of the work (the basis necessary to achieve the “replica”). Then a historical examination began.
First, an old hypothesis by E. A. Carmean Jr. (contained in his book entitled “MONDRIAN – The Diamond Compositions”) was analyzed, according to which B169 could be a work recycled by Mondrian to produce B173. Hypotheses that then, evidently, over time has not found confirmation (moreover, as can be seen from the diagram of the chapter in “Appendix”, also B173 has had a rather significant historical path).
On the false line of what Carmean explored and having noticed a perfect correspondence between B169 and B229, inevitably a study of comparison and then of deepening began.
The curiosity arose essentially from an unavoidable fact: in all the production of the abstract period, Mondrian has NEVER realized two works that are so perfectly identical, both in the design and in the dimensions. They can be found very similar, but not so perfectly overlapping. It was “physically” impossible for him to do such a thing, he does not fit his style, much less in his personality. Less than ever he could have performed two works that are so identical after 5 years.
So it is possible that it is the same work?
With this question a further study began.
In the “Catalog Raisonnè” (which, remember, contains all the data collected by Joosten until 1994), in the notes to comment on the work B229, it is clearly indicated that he underwent a series of interventions, among which, a very significant one, the replacement of the stretcher. Now, the replacement of a stretcher can only take place in two cases: either the work is heavily damaged, or the canvas itself is reused.
Tracing the path of B229, we arrived until 2007, when the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam decided to restore the entire collection of Mondrian’s works, including B229.
In the restoration report, the image of an X-ray examination performed in 1979 appears, showing a “third line” on the right side that has been erased (an examination that is not mentioned in the “Catalog Raisonnè”).
By overlapping B169 and B229, the “third line” is also in the exact same position.
At this point the hypothesis that it is the same canvas, begins to take shape.
At first the possibility was assessed that this intervention was the work of the same Mondrian and the sequence of the entire transformation was developed.
But in this case there remained the question of how Mondrian had returned to work B169.
Recall that he had sold it to Sophie Küppers in 1926, which in turn had transferred it to the Kunstausstellung Kühl Gallery in Dresden and that after the exhibition “Der Stuhl” in Frankfurt, this work had also disappeared. So between 1929 and 1930 Mondrian could have recovered the canvas, but there is no trace of this passage. Moreover Mondrian used to write many notes and, above all, many letters in which he talked about his work and none of this refers to the recovery of B169.
At this point a new question arose: is it possible that the recycling of the canvas was not the work of Mondrian but of someone else?
Returning, therefore, on the report of the restoration in 2007/10, some transcriptions are more prominent.
First of all, the justification given regarding the presence of the “third line”, which states that it was only a “intention” of Mondrian, but that then no longer realized it.
Then, in the description of the state of conservation of the work, there are listed a series of significant interventions performed practically throughout the work, attributing the same to a previous restoration carried out in all likelihood in the period 1945-1951 of which, however, does not exist no documents. In this case two aspects emerge. The first: it is impossible to understand why, after about fifteen years from the creation of the work B229 (Mondrian realized it in 1931), it was necessary to carry out a “restoration”. For the other, until then, the work had remained in the Arch. Dudok in the City of Hilversum. City that has not been minimally touched by the events of the Second World War. The second: all the interventions described (replacement of the stretcher, application of a further coat of the white background, increase in the thickness of the horizontal line and much more), are entirely attributable to the “recycling” of B169. Last but not least that of the variation of the horizontal line, on which in the work B169 Mondrian had placed his signature.
Moreover, from the “Catalog Raisonnè” there are many other interesting aspects about the history of the work B229, reported on pages 116-117. For example, apart from the shape of the painting, dimensions are never indicated.
Among these then, one in particular, has attracted the utmost attention and considered, in the end, a conclusive proof, even if not the definitive one. In the sense that it does not represent the key element of the whole affair.
Among the notes of the “Catalog Raisonnè”, a note was transcribed with which Mondrian gave precise indications on how to hang the work, also producing a drawing. In the “Catalog Raisonnè”, the note and relative drawing, have not been reproduced, so that the interpretation of what described, could go in one direction.
He writes: “to be hung lozenge-shaped according to this sketch. Please hang in such a way that line B is vertical and that at A the initials P.M. are in the correct position ” (Fig.1).
Knowing that the painting has two lines, inevitably if the vertical one is indicated with the letter B, the one indicated with the letter A must necessarily be the horizontal one. Therefore, if the initials PM are on the latter, it emerged that the work B229 presents the signature in the wrong place, ie at the end of the vertical line B.
At this point, the reconstruction of the work B169, with the consequent result that may have been used to “replace” the work that Mondrian created for Hilversum (B229), was considered completed. But not taken as a definitive result. It obviously needed a series of much more in-depth checks performed by industry experts.
At the end of the entire reconstruction, two possible further researches were indicated. The first: that of tracing the note and the design of Mondrian with the assembly instructions. The second: to ascertain if on the horizontal line there is a trace of the signature that Mondrian placed on the work B169.
We arrive then to the important communication received on 18.05.2018.
With an e-mail, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, in the person of the Director of Interim Dr. Jan Willem Sieburgh, announces that in the design of the instructions to hang the work, there is a line with which Mondrian connects the letter A with the terminal part of the vertical line B, so the signature is in the right place. Also enclosing the copy of the note by Mondrian with its drawing (Fig.2).
In the same e-mail, he also announced that the B229 radiography detected only an “opening”, which may appear to be a line, but in reality it is an interruption of the white paint layer. He also adds that Mondrian has created the same “openings” for the other two lines, therefore, the conclusion that the artist can only have planned to realize the third line is certainly correct.
Let’s start with this last statement.
If what is detected by the X-Rays represents an “opening”, ie an “interruption” of the white surface, with the sole purpose of leaving space for a black line, which then “has not been realized”, the result should not be that of a dark surface.
We explain better. Mondrian may have made the work in two ways. The first: he traced the lines on the canvas, he painted the white surface “jumping” the clutter of the lines and finally he painted the lines with the black color. The second: he traced the lines on the canvas, painted them with black and then completed the rest of the surface with white. Wanting there would be a third hypothesis, namely the one that gave a white base coat all over the surface and then painted the black lines.
Both in the first hypothesis and in the third, if it had decided to “not realize” the third line, the X-Rays would not have detected a dark surface.
Otherwise, if the third line “has been created and then erased”, the pigments of the black color have certainly penetrated into the weaving weft of the canvas, so that, even if covered by white color, on the canvas remains a trace that can be detected by X-Rays as a dark area (Fig.3).
Therefore the third line is not an “intention”, but it is certainly a black line “made and then canceled”. The whole was then covered with a further coat of white background, exactly as shown in the restoration report describing the state of conservation of the work.
Now we come to Mondrian’s instructions.
Analyzing the image, in fact, it turns out that the interpretation provided with the Study of Reconstruction is completely wrong. Although, it should be recognized, in the absence of the design it was practically impossible to imagine that Mondrian with the letter A meant a fraction of the vertical line B!
Now, this important novelty shows that the signature is certainly in the right place, but this does not mean that it erases all the other doubts that emerged during the historical reconstruction of the works B169 and B229. Surely it represents a definitive answer only to one of the further exams indicated above and only to one of the many doubts that emerged during the study phase.
In any case, even in the image of the Mondrian note, there is no indication of the measurements of the work.
But let’s continue to analyze the image.
First, in order to prevent someone else from falling into the same error of assessment, we immediately clarify that the other “signs” present on the connection line of the letter A with the terminal part of the line B, are the “overlay” of the note added on the back of the sheet by Mrs Van Leer-Eichmann, as indicated in Joosten’s transcription on the “Catalog Raisonnè” (Fig.4). For greater clarity, with the image in Fig.5, the reversed note was reproduced.
Now, however, another element emerges that we can consider “anomalous”.
As can be clearly seen, the Mondrian note goes on. After the last sentence between the brackets, there is still something written, but it is “cut” (Fig.6).
Even Joosten’s transcription on the “Catalog Raisonnè” ends at the same point and “omits” what Mondrian has continued to write.
What is it about? What else did Mondrian write about having to be “cut”?
At this point it would be really interesting to be able to see “the complete image”.
On 21.05.2018 an official request was sent to the Stedelijk Museum.
To conclude, it should be emphasized that there is no intention of affirming at all costs that the B169 work has been recycled to “replace” B229. The only intent is to shed light on the many doubts that have emerged during the reconstruction, doubts that currently remain.
All this work, does not want to be an “investigative” inquiry, but has the sole purpose of providing a more accurate research, aimed only at analyzing the Disappeared Works and, where it is necessary, when uncertainties emerge, try to do clarity and reach the only “truth”.
The feeling, however, is that which perhaps will not come to any conclusion, unless “someone else”, with greater authority, does not want to deal with the story and perform further survey. Moreover, if what has emerged is completely wrong, it is certainly good news. Otherwise if there is a fund of truth, one can only hope for good faith and the will to do justice.