April 2018

PROBABLY IT IS MUCH MORE THAN A SIMPLE THEORY

 

After reading, consult the update of the story in the NEW CHAPTER of May 23, 2018

 

This article traces, in summary form, the story of one of Mondrian’s works considered missing.
Further details can be found in the publication “MONDRIAN The Disappeared Paintings – Study for Reconstruction”freely available online.

Before starting, I want to hope that this whole story is not a new “Altamira”, obviously not for of the importance of the discovery, but for the epilogue it had.

To enlarge the images accompanying the article, click on the image itself … enjoy!

The main official reference for the reconstruction of (B169) KOMPOSITION I: Lozenge with Three Lines, is the (CR) “Catalog Raisonnè” published in 1998 by V + K Publishing / Inmerc. The authors are Robert P. Welsh (1932-2000), American art historian and expert on the naturalistic work of Mondrian, and Joop M. Joosten (1932-2017), considered the greatest expert of Mondrian for the abstract period. From this period Joosten has cataloged 413 works, assigning to each work a numerical code preceded by the letter B. These go from 1911 until the death of Mondrian, 1944. In addition to the code, he attributes a title, a date and associates an image. He also provides indications about the measurements, the technique, the signature and reconstructs the whole story: origin, references in literature and exhibitions.
Another official source is the website of the RKD Netherlands Institute for Art History, where in essence there is the CR in online version, to which recently they have dedicated a special website catalogue.pietmondrian.nl and it is possible, in many cases, to download the images of the works.

All data, listed below, have been acquired solely from these official sources.

1926 – Mondrian realizes a work, cataloged B169 and title KOMPOSITION I: Lozenge with Three Lines, which he sells at the Kunstausstellung Kühl Gallery in Dresden. The dimensions are 80 x 80 (diagonal 112). The signature is placed at the bottom left on the horizontal line: PM 26.
The only images available are: the one on the CR “Figure 1”, the one from the RKD website “Figure 2”, the one from of the only publication of the period dating back to 1931 in the magazine “Cahiers d’Art” “Figure 3” and that taken from the book by E.A. Carmean Jr. “MONDRIAN The Diamond Compositions” which states that it is a photograph belonging to a private collection “Figure 3.A”
From the CR it appears that this work has participated in a series of exhibitions, probably until 1929 (Der Stuhl – Frankfurt), then traces are lost and is now considered “disappeared”. The work on Rkd website

Figura 1 2 3 sito piet mondrian 3

FIGURE 1, 2, 3 e 3.A

1931 – Mondrian realizes a work, cataloged B229 and title Lozenge Composition with Two Lines, which he sells to the Dutch Art Association (Het Nederlandsch Kunstverbond). The latter, on behalf of the Department of Utrecht (Afdeeling Utrecht), donates it to the City of Hilversum (Gemeente Hilversum).
The dimensions are 80 x 80 (diagonal 112). The signature is placed on the lower left, in red, on the black line: PM 31. The CR associates this work with an image reproduced in “Figure 4”.
The most dated image that exists, is that of “Figure 5”, in a photo of 1951/1952 taken in the “Council Chamber” of the City of Hilversum.
This detail is fundamental, because what was really the image of the work at the time of its realization in 1931, it is not possible to know. The work on RKD website

Figura 4 5 sito piet mondrian

FIGURE 4 e 5

The only reference to the “lozenge-shaped” of the work can be found on the CR in the transcripts of all the correspondence that was exchanged at the time, among the various subjects involved in the purchase of the painting.
Letter dated 2 July 1931, written by Mrs. E. van Leer-Eichmann, to the Architect Willem Marinus Dudok “Figure 6”.
And in a letter, dated January 14, 1932, that Mondrian writes to JJP Oud, from which it is possible to know that it is a “large black and white canvas” “Figure 7”.

Figura 6 e 7 sito piet mondrian

FIGURE 6 e 7

In January 2011, the magazine “ZKK (Zeitschrift fur Kunsttechnologie und Konservierung) – Journal for Art Technology and Conservation”, published an article entitled “Mondrian in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam: Research and conservation of five early abstract paintings”, in which shows the restoration work carried out between 2007 and 2010 on all the works in the Stedelijk Museum collection, among which also B229 Lozenge Composition with Two Lines.
In the various images accompanying the report, one finds an extremely important one: “Figure 8” concerns an “X-ray” examination (probably performed in 1979) where a “third line” appears in the right-hand corner “Figure 9”.

Figura 8 e 9 sito piet mondrian

FIGURE 8 e 9

The comparison study between the work B229 and the work B169, reported in the publication “MONDRIAN – The Disappeared Paintings”, shows a perfect correspondence both in the dimensions and in the drawing, with the exception of the “third line” “Figure 10”.

Figura 10 sito piet mondrian

FIGURA 10

At this point the hypothesis that it is the same work begins to take shape. Work that someone has modified, turning B169 KOMPOSITION I: Lozenge with Three Lines, in B229 Lozenge Composition with Two Lines. Fundamental data: it should be noted that the “title” of the latter was assigned during the preparation of the CR and that the data of the same (size, technique, signature) are always an attribution of the CR. There are no documents of the time that provide these elements.

At first the hypothesis was formulated that the “someone” could be the same Mondrian and, before proceeding with further verification, to better understand the nature of the changes, the sequence was developed: from the creation of the painting, until to its final appearance. “Figure 11, Figure 12 and Figure 13.

Figura 11 sito piet mondrian 2

Figura 11

Figura 12 sito piet mondrian 2    Figura 13 sito piet mondrian 2

 

Once the perfect correspondence between the “two” works was ascertained, there remained a series of great questions.
For Mondrian it was not news to make more or less radical changes after some time. For all the works where this has happened, the CR carefully reconstructs each passage, assigning the condition of “first state” to the work begun and “second state” to the finished one.
Why in this case nothing appears?
The CR was published in 1998, several years after the result of the “X-ray” examination (1979), but is not mentioned.
Even the report of the restoration published in the journal ZKK, while affirming the presence of the “third line”, does not mention the possible connection with B169 KOMPOSITION I: Lozenge with Three Lines, indeed, in a small article, provides a very superficial interpretation if compared to the detail, accuracy and skill with which the work was performed. In practice it’s said that the presence of the third line was an “intention” of Mondrian, but that in practice has not performed it anymore. “Figure 8”
Basically one should believe that in 1926 Mondrian realizes a work, then 5 years later in 1931, he realizes another perfectly identical, with the exception of the third line. Or rather, the third line, in the exact same position, begins to paint it, but then thinks about it and erases it!
Obviously the restoration work is not in question, which with this affair has nothing to do, but only this “strident interpretation”.
In short, wherever you look, the correspondence between the two works is not considered, indeed seems to do everything to deny it and to remove it as much as possible.
Why this? What do you want to hide?
If it was Mondrian to make the changes, WHY DENY THIS? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

It should now be noted that Mondrian, in all of his production, has NEVER performed two works that are so perfectly overlapping (same dimensions, same design). We can be found very similar, but not so identical. And when we have a very similar design, they still have different sizes. For example, a work that looks a lot like B169 KOMPOSITION I: Lozenge with Three Lines, is B211 Fox-Trot A Lozenge with Three Lines of 1929, in which the similar composition appears even if overturned, but the dimensions are 78.2 x 78.2. (see here)
So the big question is (in addition to the previous questions): why would Mondrian have done such a thing? It was not his style, let alone his personality.
Starting from this series of puzzles, research has been deepened.

Returning, therefore, to the CR for the work B229 Composition with Two Lines, you can find other data, rather significant, useful to then fix all the pieces of the puzzle.
These are: in literature the first reproduction of the image of the painting dates back to 1956 in the first complete Mondrian catalog by Michel Seuphor, then after the death of Mondrian; the first public appearance, is that of an exhibition dedicated to him, from November 6 to December 12, 1946, at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, shortly after his death (February 1, 1944 in New York). There is no reference if a catalog has been published during this exhibition. Moreover, from 1931 to 1946, Mondrian had many exhibitions between personal and collective, possible that in 15 years this work has never been exposed? In practice, “reappear” only after his death!

Retracing the transcripts of the correspondence of the time, finally COMPARE THE KEY ELEMENT that eliminates any remaining doubt.
When Mondrian sent the painting to Hilversum, he also added a sketch accompanying a note with which he gave indications on how to hang the painting. He writes: “please hang in such a way that the line B is vertical and that at A the initial PM in the correct position” – “Figure 14”
This means that the work prepared for Hilversum, has two lines (one vertical and one horizontal) and that the signature is placed on the horizontal line.
The painting currently kept at the Stedelijk Museum, presents the signature at the end of the vertical line “Figure 15”. Moreover, in all other similar works, he has always signed on the horizontal line. For example compare with: B169, B173, B176, B211, B218, B241, B282.

Figura 14 e 15 sito piet mondrian

FIGURE 14 e 15

Now the hypothesis definitely takes shape: someone, which is certainly not Mondrian, has modified B169 KOMPOSITION I: Lozenge with Three Lines, turning it into what the CR indicates with B229 Lozenge Composition with Two Lines. From which it derives that the latter is not the painting prepared by Mondrian for Hilversum. THIS IS THE WORK REALLY DISAPPEARED.

Therefore, the most likely definitive thesis is that the work currently kept at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam is not a “fake Mondrian”, but worse, the modification of another original work by Mondrian, with the intent of replace the one he had sent to the City of Hilversum.
If this “thesis” (even if it seems much more than a simple theory) will be confirmed, the rest of the story will have to be written in other locations.
In any case, the reconstruction has shown that on these works weigh heavy questions to be answered.

Summarizing, the determining elements are: same size, identical design, presence of the third line and signature placed where it should not be. It should also be added that in the “report” of the restoration all the modifications that the work has undergone in the past are described: replacement of the original stretcher; interventions on the entire surface of the canvas with the application of additional coats of color; increase in the thickness of the horizontal line; and so on. In practice these are extremely significant interventions. These are attributed to a previous “hypothesized” restoration in 1950, but, incidentally, there is no documentation! See comment 113 of the report (NEED ANYTHING ELSE?)

It can be affirmed that the tests so far produced are sufficient clues to seriously consider the possibility of carrying out further analyzes on the work and ascertain, for example, if on the horizontal line there is a trace of the work’s signature KOMPOSITION I: Lozenge with Three Lines. It is an element of which the image exists: it is found in the book of E.A. Carmean Jr. “MONDRIAN The Diamond Compositions” reproduced on page.88 – Fig.70.

Mondarin The Diamond Compositions.pdf

A further, very important verification, may be to perform a search in the Joosten archive or in the Mondrian Papers archive, both stored at the RKD. If Joosten in the “Catalog Raisonnè” transcribes the note of Mondrian with which he provides indications on how to hang the work sent to Hilversum, evidently this document must exist. But more importantly, the sketch of Mondrian could also exist with the indications of the lines A and B, so finally we can find out what the true image of the painting was.

Finally, if this story is definitively confirmed, it will remain to be discovered how the work KOMPOSITION I: Lozenge with Three Lines, has arrived in the Netherlands since it was in Germany and who is responsible for its “transformation”. But above all, what happened to the work that Mondrian sent to Hilversum? And what reasons have led to its replacement?

Francesco Visalli

AFTER IMPORTANT NEWS, CONSULT THE UPDATE HERE

 

SOME OBSERVATIONS ON THE REPORT OF THE RESTORATION
(you can consult the report HERE)
As mentioned, the restoration work itself, performed between 2007 and 2010, has nothing to do with this affair. But some important observations on the report can not be avoided.

The report published in the ZKK magazine, in a very detailed way, describes the work performed and the conservation status of the paintings.
Regarding the conservation status of Lozenge Composition with Two Lines, it highlights a series of defects and interventions, attributable to a previous restoration project, which is supposed to have been carried out in 1950, but there is no certainty of this date. In fact, in a commentary, it is indicated that it certainly was not performed during the Second World War, but it could come back in the period between 1945 and 1951.
The nature of the interventions themselves can easily be traced back to the “transformation” of KOMPOSITION I: Lozenge with Three Lines. In fact it turns out that the work has suffered: the replacement of the stretcher; there are many areas of the surface where an additional coat of color has been applied; even the black lines have been changed, and so on.
Therefore, one can safely consider that, just after the death of Mondrian (1944), between 1945 and 1946, KOMPOSITION I Lozenge with Three Lines was used, to modify it and replace the work that Mondrian prepared for the City of Hilversum.
But there are two extremely important elements on which the report does not provide detailed explanations, indeed one of these is even omitted.
The first, which has already been discussed above, concerns the presence of the “third line” detected with X-rays, for which a very superficial interpretation is provided.
The second, the one related to the signature, detail of the utmost importance, which is not mentioned at all. Yet, in the report itself, it can be read that the research conducted before starting the restoration work, was based on an official source such as the “Catalog Raisonnè”, in which, as illustrated above, the Mondrian note appears with the which he claims to have signed on the horizontal line.
Now, with such an important restoration work and such a detailed report, why omit such a significant data?
Basically, according to the report, all the interventions carried out in the past on the painting are due to a previous restoration that can not be placed in time; the third line is there, but it was only an intention; and the detail on the position of the signature does not exist!

Every other detail and all the evaluations / analyzes on this matter are contained in the publication “MONDRIAN – The Disappeared Paintings” (freely available online).

For all the images of the original works of Mondrian
© Mondrian /Holtzman Trast c/o HCR International USA

For all the reconstruction graphic elaborations
© Francesco Visalli

For images of texts extracted from the Catalogue Raisonnè
© Joop M. Joosten e V + K Publiscing

For all images that reproduce the publication of ZKK
© Wernerschen Verlagsgesellschaft mbH