Mondrian: Perfect Harmony at the Complesso del Vittoriano

Mondrian: Perfect Harmony at the Complesso del Vittoriano
Composition No. 12 with Blue © Mondrian/Holtzman Trust
One of the best places in the world to view the work of Piet Mondrian is undoubtedly the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague, where Dutch architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage created a Municipal Art Gallery designed to fully exploit natural light wherever possible. When I visited the museum as an art student over twenty years ago, the dazzling colours and light in Mondrian's early landscape paintings had an enormous and lasting impact on me – these works were sheer perfection. I was genuinely excited, therefore, when I discovered that the current Mondrian exhibition at the Complesso del Vittoriano in Rome would consist almost entirely of works on loan from the Gemeentemuseum's vast collection of works by the Dutch painter.

Mondrian's primary coloured Neo-plastic paintings are truly iconic and instantly recognisable the world over. They are represented at the close of this retrospective by a handful of paintings in the final room, and include the Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue (1921) used in the poster campaign across the city, as well as Composition No. 12 with Blue (started in Paris in 1936 and completed after his move to New York in 1942), on loan from the National Gallery of Canada. As familiar as these paintings may be, no reproduction can ever quite match the thrill of the encounter with real paint on canvas – the dynamism of Composition No. 12, with its flickering optical effects, kept me transfixed.

Study for Five Trees along the Gein with Moon (1907)
© Mondrian/Holtzman Trust
Perhaps the greatest achievement of this exhibition, however, is in the way it traces the logical progression of Mondrian's artistic journey from his origins as a painter of Dutch impressionist landscape paintings in the style of the Hague School, through the various artistic movements of the twentieth century, until the influence of cubism set him on the path towards first, De Stijl and eventually, total abstraction. Symbolism, luminism, pointillism, and the vivid colors of fauvism, all played a part, as did his interest in theosophy, and it is these earlier paintings and varied styles which will surely surprise and delight any visitor with only a passing knowledge of the artist.

The Red Cloud © Mondrian/Holtzman Trust
Whilst Mondrian would eventually pare down his artistic vision into vertical and horizontal lines and blocks of saturated primaries, this tendency can also be seen in his charcoal studies of trees, which are well represented in this show, and in the architectural forms such as the lighthouses, windmills and churches that break the flat Dutch landscape, or even gorgeous splashes of colour such as a solitary salmon-coloured cloud in an azure sky in The Red Cloud (1907).

The awkward spacial layout and lack of natural lighting at the Vittoriano make this exhibition space less than ideal for showcasing the shimmering beauty of Mondrian's early landscapes, but this is nevertheless, a must-see show and an excellent introduction to the artist's entire oeuvre.

Mondrian: Perfect Harmony continues at the Complesso del Vittoriano until 29th January, 2012.

Copyright on paintings in this post as indicated (web-resolution, fair use rationale).