Piet Mondrian

The Tree A


In Tate St Ives

Piet Mondrian 1872–1944
Original title
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1003 × 673 mm
frame: 1205 × 870 × 85 mm
Purchased 1977

Display caption

Mondrian’s fascination with trees developed out of his earlier landscape painting. This is one of his last paintings of trees and is based on realistic sketches made in the Netherlands. After settling in Paris and absorbing the influence of Cubism, Mondrian reworked the image almost to abstraction. The trunk and branches are condensed to a network of verticals and horizontals. He acknowledged the inspiration of nature but added, ‘I want to come as close as possible to the truth, and abstract everything from that until I reach the foundation of things’.

Gallery label, April 2013

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Catalogue entry

Piet Mondrian 1872-1944

T02211 Arbre (Tree) c.1913

Inscribed 'MONDRIAN.' b.l.
Oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 26 1/2 (100.2 x 67.2)
Purchased from a Swiss private collector through the Galerie Beyeler (Grant-in-Aid) 1977
Prov: Swiss private collector (purchased in Holland c.1914); by descent to the previous owner
Exh: Piet Mondrian, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, October-November 1949 (6); Delaunay-Mondrian, Galerie Beyeler, Basle, April-May 1977 (4, repr. in colour) as 'Arbre' 1912
Lit: Michel Seuphor, Piet Mondrian: Life and Work (London 1956), No.368, p.423, repr. p.374 (c.c.196) as 'Tree' 1912; Michel Seuphor, Piet Mondrian: sa Vie, son Oeuvre (Paris 1970), No.391, p.421, repr. p.374, pl.196; Maria Grazia Ottolenghi, L'Opera Completa di Mondrian (Milan 1974), No.263, p.105, repr. p.104 (dated 1912)
Repr: The Tate Gallery 1976-8 (London 1978), p.53 in colour

This picture is one of Mondrian's last paintings of trees, a theme which was developed out of his earlier landscape paintings and which became the subject of a series of paintings and drawings over the period 1909-13. This particular work, which appears to have been painted in Paris towards the end of 1912 or early in 1913, shows the influence of the analytical Cubism of Braque and Picasso of 1910-12, but carried almost to the point of complete abstraction. Stylistically it falls between 'Trees in Flower' (Seuphor c.c.178) which was exhibited at the Moderne Kunst Kring, Amsterdam, in October-November 1912 and 'Oval Composition with Trees', probably the final work of the series (Seuphor c.c.200), now in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, which was shown at the same place in November-December 1913. Whereas the former has a more regular all-over network of arcs and straight lines, and is predominantly purplish-grey in colour, with touches of blue and ochre, the latter has a still more fragmented and abstracted composition, and is painted like this in a range of greys and ochres.

J.M. Joosten, who thinks that it was painted at the beginning of 1913, points out that it is a further development of the relatively naturalistic charcoal drawing Seuphor c.c.185, which was possibly made directly from nature, and of the paintings Seuphor c.c.195 and 198, both of which are now in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. The treatment of the section at the top shows the beginnings of a development towards a grid of interlocking rectangles.

In a letter of 24 May 1942 to James Johnson Sweeney in which he attempted to summarise his development from the influence of Cubism through to his late style, Mondrian drew a sketch very similar to the present work to illustrate the point that he had not at this stage reached an equivalence of vertical and horizontal expression: 'Vertical predominates, gothic expression result [sic]'.

It was bought by the grandfather of the previous owner in Holland about 1914, at the same time as a second painting by Mondrian of 1912 called 'The Sea' (Seuphor c.c.223).

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, p.533, reproduced p.533


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