Room 7: Transatlantic

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red 1937 - 42

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red 1937 - 42


© Tate Photography, 2014

© 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA

Mondrian’s moves through four studios in three countries during the last eight years of his life were extremely disruptive and, as if to mark the deep sense of displacement he felt, Mondrian gave the work he completed in New York a start as well as a finish date. These have become known as ‘transatlantic’ works to indicate their movement in space as well as time; begun in Paris, continued in London and finished in New York.

Commenting to the American art dealer, Sidney Janis, about the new qualities his practice had acquired in New York, Mondrian referred to having ‘more boogie woogie’. The fascination with rhythm and duration that Mondrian had experienced much earlier looking at the waves of the ocean was now most directly referenced in his passion for Jazz music, particularly the boogie woogie craze that Mondrian discovered on arrival in New York. This piano style, where rhythm and melody cross over and collapse into one another, seemed the perfect analogy for the latest incarnation of neo-plasticism, where previous distinctions between line and plane no longer seemed to apply. Overlapping lines, of now variable width, made his paintings spatial in ways he had not dared before, while sequence of lines spanning the entire canvas suggested rhythm. 

The importance of the interplay between space and time is captured by Mondrian’s heir Harry Holtzman, who decided to make a film of his final studio after his death in 1944, as if still images would no longer do it justice.