Catalogue entry

Bart van der Leck 1876-1958

T00896 Composition 1918

Inscribed 'Bvd Leck '18' b.l.
Oil on canvas, 21 3/8 x 16 3/4 (53.5 x 42.5)
Purchased at Christie's (Grant-in-Aid) 1966
Prov: Sold by the artist's daughters at Christie's, London, 2 December 1966, lot 106, repr. in colour
Exh: [?Werken door Bart van der Leck, Vereinigung 'Voor de Kunst', Utrecht, January-February 1919 (one of 64-8 as 'Mathematical Image')]; XXVI Biennale, Venice, June-October 1952 (De Stijl 13 or 14, - both as 'Composizione' 1918 and described as lent by the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo); Bart van der Leck, Kunsthandel Monet, Amsterdam, April-May 1961 (no catalogue)
Lit: Rudolf W. Oxenaar, 'The Birth of de Stijl, Part Two: Bart Van der Leck' in Artforum, XI, June 1973, pp.42-3
Repr: Studio International, CLXXV, 1968, p.117 in colour

In a note written in 1956 for the catalogue of his exhibition at the Venice Biennale, van der Leck described how his way of painting gradually developed from pictorial representation in the usual, so-called realistic sense, and a concern with perspective and three dimensions, to an art based on the reality of the two-dimensional picture plane, its rectangular format, the vertical, horizontal and diagonal. 'When carrying through these principles, one arrives at the triangle and the square, and as derivative elements on the upright plane the vertical and horizontal line with the diagonal ... Now the plane retains its expression when it remains intact, so that the image is broken up and opened, being composed of squares, triangles and forms derived from them, as well as the two opposite directrices and the diagonal. In this way form is virtually generalized and becomes rooted in pure objective values. The same with colour, which is restricted to the three distinct colours of red, yellow and blue, on a white ground, relying all the while on real and essential values and dispensing with nuance or blending. With these virtual, objective means painting can be transposed from natural forms which are, from the pictorial viewpoint, chaotic and contrary to the significance of the plane.'

This particular painting may have been one of van der Leck's few completely non-figurative compositions, but it is possible that it too was abstracted from some image such as a vase of flowers, and that the preliminary drawings have been lost or destroyed. In the course of 1918 van der Leck dissociated himself from de Stijl and abstract art as too restrictive, and began to paint pictures made up of geometrical elements but with a recognisable image. Thus his exhibition in January-February 1919 included four oils of 1918 entitled 'Mathematisch Bild' (Mathematical Image) and another five of the same year with the titles 'Eleanor', 'Woman with a Cow', 'Tree-Cutting', 'Girl with a Goat' and 'Man on Horseback'. This work may have been one of those exhibited as 'Mathematical Image'. There were altogether about eight paintings known under this title.

Inspection under ultra-violet light shows that the whites in this picture have been almost entirely repainted, with the exception of the area around the signature and date. Rudolf W. Oxenaar confirms that van der Leck repainted the whites in some of his earlier pictures towards the end of his life; for instance he is known to have repainted those in 'Tree-Cutting' (his first 'figurative' picture after the 'Mathematical Images') in the early 1950s.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.414-5, reproduced p.414