I was visiting family in Washington DC recently, and enjoyed a visit to The Phillips Collection. While browsing the temporary exhibitions and the permanent collection, I happened upon this painting, titled “Composition No. III” by Piet Mondrian. One thing that caught my attention about this particular piece was the wall label: it states that the painting was made circa 1921, but “repainted 1925.” Despite being a former art history student, I don’t ever recall hearing about Mondrian repainting his canvases. Why would he do that?
I tried doing Google searches for “Mondrian repaint canvas” and other such phrases, but came up with almost nothing. I did find one other canvas that had a similar description over at the MoMA site, Composition No. II, which states that the date is “1929 (original date partly obliterated; mistakenly repainted 1925 by Mondrian).” That is even more confusing to me: if it was repainted in 1925, then why is the date initially listed as 1929? And how did he “mistakenly” repaint it? Seems like it would have been a conscious decision.
There’s definitely something that ties these two works together, by title (Composition No. II and Composition No. III) and the fact that both are stated to have been repainted in 1925. I wonder if the MoMA date is a typo? One would assume that “No. II” would come before “No. III,” and “No. III” is dated 1921 but “No. II” is dated 1929? What was going on in 1925 that caused Mondrian to repaint both of these?
On a side note, I included the detail of the surface quality in the image (above right) because it fascinates me, for two reasons: one, I would assume that the surface was more-perfect when Mondrian originally painted these, so I wonder how and when the surface started to change and crack like this, and how much more it might change in the future? The second reason is: I think it would be fun to create my own Mondrian, but in order to make it interesting and seem real (and not just a flat, poster-like copy), I would need to find a way to mimic these surface qualities. I did see one item online – and I forget where I saw it – that suggested that Mondrian didn’t paint the surface of these paintings in a uniform way; it is suggested that he painted the black lines more thin (surface-wise), more flat, but then allowed more brushstrokes and paint quantity on the various rectangular shapes. That might help explain the cracking – if there was a lot more yellow paint applied, the thickness of the paint could help cause that cracking to take place.
As you can see, I have plenty of questions, but not many answers. If you’re a Mondrian expert and can give us some additional information, please let us know in the comments section below.