Rothko vs Mondriaan

By: Louk Vreeswijk

Apr 24 2016

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Category: Europe, Netherlands

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The painting (Untitled, 1970) in this photograph must be one of Rothko’s last, if not the last. In February of the same year he took his life. For over 20 years he had worked in his typical style: combinations of horizontal blocks of colour, one above the other. Some of his paintings are of great, intense beauty; others are much less convincing as the exhibition in The Hague clearly showed. I don’t know much of Rothko’s psyche or the cause and nature of his final depression, but I can imagine that after 20 years of painting obsessively in what had become his personal, classic style, it had been enough. Maybe it was time for something new, something different. But what?

Rothko vs Mondriaan at the Rothko exhibition in 2015, Gemeentemuseum The Hague, Netherlands 2015

Rothko vs Mondriaan at the Rothko exhibition, Gemeentemuseum The Hague, Netherlands 2015

The comparison with Mondriaan’s last painting (Victory Boogie Woogie, 1944) gives us food for thought. World War II had made Mondriaan move first to London and in 1940 to America.
New York, the city and its vibrant life and culture, had a remarkable influence on his work. Compared to his earlier abstract paintings, works like New York I and II and Broadway Boogie Woogie, show a new development in his style. At Mondriaan’s death in 1944, Victory Boogie Woogie was still unfinished. The title refers to the expected defeat of Hitler’s Nazi regime, a victory Mondriaan was finally not able to see with his own eyes. But in the energetic rhythm of his last painting one senses vitality and optimism.

Photo of the week: Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1970, Acrylic on canvas, Rothko Exhibition (with detail of Mondriaan’s painting Victory Boogie Woogie, 1944), Gemeentemuseum The Hague, Netherlands 2015

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