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Exhibition at Bucerius Kunst Forum examines the relevance of colour in Piet Mondrian's works
Piet Mondrian (1872–1944): Komposition mit großer roter Fläche, Gelb, Schwarz, Grau und Blau, 1921, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, © 2014 Mondrian / Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA.

HAMBURG.- In Mondrian. Colour the Bucerius Kunst Forum presents one of the most influential painters of the 20th century from 1 February to 11 May, 2014. The show examines for the first time the relevance of colour in Piet Mondrian’s works. Around 50 works on display follow his artistic development beginning with the earthy tones found in his early work, to his paintings in red and blue which emerged from his interest in theosophy through to the colour fields he painted in the period following 1921. The exhibition brings together loans from internationally renowned collections such as Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, the Denver Art Museum and the Tate National in London.

Avant-garde artists of the early 20th century were marked by their desire to break with tradition. Revolution was the talk of the town. Piet Mondrian’s (1872–1944) abstract work was also seen in this context. Today his non-representational painting style is part of the avant-garde canon. It liberated itself from everything that had been associated with painting up until that time. However, Mondrian’s work did not come about through revolution but through evolution. He carefully and continuously worked to set himself apart from his fellow students at the Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam, from his role models in 17th century Dutch painting against whom he measured himself, and then from the international movements at the beginning of the twentieth century with which he competed.

Although Piet Mondrian‘s reduction to and fixation on the three primary colours red, yellow and blue have repeatedly been acknowledged, they have never been placed in relation to the various stages of his avant-garde evolution. For the first time an exhibition will examine the development and significance of colour in Mondrian’s work in Mondrian. Colour.

In spite of Mondrian’s contributions to the movement De Stijl and its application to architecture, typography and design, he dedicated himself first and foremost to painting and its expression in colour. He initially viewed colour as the material of reality in the tradition of Rembrandt. However, in the landscapes he created shortly after 1900, Mondrian painted the rays of the sun and the glow of the moon in order to make a new statement about colour. He was no longer interested in capturing fleeting external reality in the Impressionist sense; instead, his goal was to express spirituality in painting and return it to its essential nature. During a stay in Paris in 1911, Mondrian was influenced by the work of the Cubists who had abandoned the use of bright colours and for a short period in his work he ceased to deal with colour. Under the influence of the Cubist grisaille palette which he became acquainted with in Paris, Mondrian began to draw in the new style, developing the geometrical construct during these years to which he began to add colour after 1918. At first the ochre and light blues tones of Paris buildings linger on in his work. However, a short time later, from 1921 onward, Mondrian decided to paint only in the three primary colours, red, blue and yellow, which he balanced with white in black grids. His renunciation of secondary colours developed out of the Cubist reluctance to use pure colour. On the basis of this difference to Cubism, Mondrian constructed his Neo-Plasticism – a reduction to design that begins with colour.

Curated by Ortrud Westheider, the exhibition Mondrian. Colours illustrates the artist’s transition from the dark colours of his early work to the clear tones of his seascapes and dune paintings to the paintings in red and blue associated with theosophy. A second section focuses on the development of his grid paintings. It clearly demonstrates that Mondrian's abstract works were not simply mathematical exercises in form but also articulated his search for universal harmony. The exhibition brings together 40 of the artist’s major works from the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and around 10 other loans from renowned collections in Europe and the USA such as the Tate National in London, the Wilhelm-Hack-Museum in Ludwigshafen, the Fundación Juan March in Madrid and the Denver Art Museum.

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