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Courtauld Gallery announces Mondrian ║ Nicholson. In Parallel

The Courtauld Gallery in London presents Mondrian ║ Nicholson: In Parallel an exhibition on view 16 February to 20 May 2012.


Ben Nicholson, Painting 1937, 1937, The Courtauld Gallery, London

This exhibition tells the remarkable story of the creative relationship between Piet Mondrian, one of the most celebrated painters of the 20th century, and Ben Nicholson, one of this country’s greatest modern artists. It has been conceived around The Courtauld’s important Nicholson canvas, 1937 (painting) (fig. 5), and will unite a group of major paintings and reliefs to explore the parallel artistic paths charted by the two artists during the 1930s. Their friendship culminated with Mondrian moving from Paris to London in 1938, at Nicholson’s invitation, and the two working in neighbouring studios in Parkhill Road, Hampstead (figs. 1 & 3), when for a short period London was an international centre of modernist art. The works selected for the exhibition each have a particular historical significance. Paintings and reliefs that were shown together in exhibitions or included in avant-garde publications during the 1930s will be reunited (figs. 2, 6 & 7). Other works were originally bought by influential members of their circle in London, or were produced whilst the artists occupied neighbouring studios in Hampstead (fig. 9). In addition, a selection of archival material, including photographs and a group of Mondrian’s and Nicholson’s letters, will offer further insights into this fascinating relationship.
Nicholson first visited Mondrian in his Paris studio in the spring of 1934. Stepping into the purity and calm of its white-painted interior, from the hustle and bustle of the street, was an extraordinary experience. “His studio…was an astonishing room”, Nicholson later recalled, “he’d stuck up on the walls different sized squares painted with primary red, blue and yellow… I remember after this first visit sitting at a café table on the edge of a pavement…for a very long time with an astonishing feeling of quiet and repose… The feeling in his studio must have been very like the feeling in one of those hermits’ caves where lions used to go to have thorns taken out of their paws”.
The visit marked the beginning of an enduring friendship and sparked an extraordinary creative relationship, lasting until Mondrian’s death ten years later. When they met, Nicholson was a rising star of modern British art and Mondrian, twenty years his senior, was already recognised as a leading artist of his generation. Their friendship spanned a turbulent decade of 20th century history as Europe headed towards the Second World War. In the art world different movements vied for prominence on this fraught international stage with Surrealism becoming a powerful force. Against this backdrop, Mondrian and Nicholson pursued a refined form of abstraction with a restrained vocabulary of colours and geometric forms, offering an alternative modern vision for art. They believed in the potential of abstraction to attain the highest aesthetic and spiritual power, with the balance and harmony of their compositions offering an antidote to the violent discord of the modern world.

The Courtauld Gallery
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