Lucy Lethbridge

On the Northern Line

Mondrian in London: How British Art Nearly Became Modern


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When the art critic Charles Darwent travelled to north London to look at the house where the great Dutch painter Piet Mondrian had stayed for two years, he was disappointed to find that there was virtually no remaining trace of the high priest of abstractionism. In particular, there was nothing left of Mondrian’s studio, the destruction of which, writes Darwent, is ‘an art historical disaster’. Mondrian’s studio was of vital importance to his work: the artist strived to eliminate the boundaries between the painting and the space in which it hung. His studios, in Paris, New York and, during his brief sojourn, in London, were always places of absolute order. In Paris, the floors and some of the furniture were painted black; in London his studio was filled with white-painted old orange-boxes. Pilgrims were impressed by the presence of a single tulip in a vase. The Daily Express critic, who in 1936 dismissed Mondrian’s paintings as a ‘house-painter’s job’, hit on something important about Mondrian’s work without remotely understanding it.

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