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“Broadway Boogie Woogie” by Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian, 1942 - Broadway Boogie Woogie

“Broadway Boogie Woogie” by Piet Mondrian

“Broadway Boogie Woogie” by Piet Mondrian was created after the artist moved to New York in 1940. Compared to his earlier work, the canvas is divided into many more smaller squares. Although Mondrian spent most of his career creating highly abstract work not directly related to reality, this painting was inspired by the real-world examples of the city grid of Manhattan, and the Broadway boogie-woogie, a type of music that Mondrian loved. The piece is made up of shimmering squares of bright colour that leap from the canvas, and seem to shimmer, drawing the viewer into those neon lights of New York.

This painting is a more complex version of his well-known work of abstraction “Composition with Red Blue and Yellow” in which thick, black brushwork define the borders of the different geometric figures. This painting is a product of the Dutch De Stijl movement, and Mondrian is regarded as the most prominent artist of the movement. He proclaimed in 1914:

“Art is higher than reality and has no direct relation to reality. To approach the spiritual in art, one will make as little use as possible of reality, because the reality is opposed to the spiritual.”

In 1940, after the fall of Paris to the Nazis, Mondrian left Europe for New York and the art that he began in Manhattan was the beginning of a new mode of expression in art. His painting called New York City (1942) is a lattice of red, blue, and yellow lines, occasionally interlacing to create a greater sense of depth than his earlier works.

Piet Mondriaan, 1942 - New York City I

New York City (1942)

He followed this new idiom with his painting “Broadway Boogie-Woogie “(1942–43) which is displayed at The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. It was highly influential in the school of abstract geometric painting. In his next picture the unfinished “Victory Boogie Woogie”(1942–44), Mondrian replaced former solid lines with lines created from small adjoining rectangles of colour, formed in part by using small pieces of paper tape in various colours. Larger rectangles of colour punctuate the design, some with smaller concentric rectangles inside them. Mondrian created this bright and lively art to reflect the upbeat music that inspired them and the city that was so different from his European experience.

Piet Mondriaan Victory Boogie Woogie

Victory Boogie Woogie (1942–44)

Piet Mondrian

Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan (1872 – 1944) who after 1906 changed his name to Piet Mondrian, was a Dutch painter and art theoretician. He was one of the pioneers of 20th-century abstract art. He started with figurative painting but changed to an increasingly abstract style and continued to innovate until he reached a point where his art was simplified to simple geometric elements and colours.

Mondrian’s art was utopian as he searched for universal aesthetics. In 1914, he proclaimed:

“Art is higher than reality and has no direct relation to reality.
To approach the spiritual in art, one will make as little use as possible of reality,
because reality is opposed to the spiritual.
We find ourselves in the presence of an abstract art.
Art should be above reality, otherwise it would have no value for man
.”

He was a contributor to the De Stijl, a Dutch art movement which he co-founded in 1917. As he evolved a non-representational form and to create what he called ‘universal beauty’, Mondrian eventually decided to limit his art to a few colours and shapes. He chose to only use the three primary colours of red, blue and yellow, the three fundamental values of black, white and grey and the two principal directions of horizontal and vertical.

Mondrian’s arrival in Paris from the Netherlands in 1911 marked the beginning of further profound change. He saw experiments in Cubism and with his enthusiasm for the Parisian avant-garde, he removed an ‘a’ from the Dutch spelling of his birth name. In 1938, Mondrian left mainland Europe in the face of the advancing fascism, and he moved to London. After the Netherlands, where he was born, was invaded and Paris fell in 1940, he left London for Manhattan, where he would stay until his death.

Mondrian’s work had an enormous influence on 20th-century art, influencing not only the course of abstract painting and many major styles and art movements but also design, architecture and fashion.

Boogie-woogie

Boogie-woogie is a musical genre that became popular during the late 1920s, developed in African-American communities in the 1870s. It was extended from piano to piano duo and trio, guitar, big band, country and western music, and gospel. While the blues traditionally expresses a variety of emotions, boogie-woogie is mainly associated with dancing.

Boogie-woogie gained New York’s attention in 1938 and 1939, thanks to the “From Spirituals to Swing” concerts in Carnegie Hall. After the Carnegie Hall concerts, the swing bands incorporated the boogie-woogie beat into some of their music. Tommy Dorsey’s band recorded an updated version of “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” in 1938, which as “Boogie Woogie” became a hit in 1943 and 1945, and was to become the swing era’s second-best seller. The Andrews Sisters sang some boogies, and then every big band had one or two boogie numbers in their repertoire. Upon his arrival in New York, Piet Mondrian must have been inspired by the Boogie-woogie music and named these historically epic art pieces after the music.

Reflections

  • Do you agree that “Art is higher than reality and has no direct relation to reality”?

 Explore the Museum of Modern Art, NYC

Broadway Boogie Woogie

  • Title:                      Broadway Boogie Woogie
  • Artist:                    Piet Mondrian
  • Year:                      1943
  • Material:              Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:        50 × 50 in (127 × 127 cm)
  • Museum:              Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), NYC

Piet Mondrian

  • Name:              Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan
  • Born:                1872 – Amersfoort, Netherlands
  • Died:                1944 (aged 71) – Manhattan, New York, U.S.
  • Nationality:    Dutch
  • Movement:    De Stijl, abstract art
  • Notable works:

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“I invent nothing, I rediscover.” 
– Auguste Rodin

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Photo Credit: Piet Mondrian [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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