This is a lovely exhibition. Two artists working side by side, each intent on being unique, but inevitably enjoying each other’s echoes. Mondrian||Nicholson:In Parallel at the Courtauld Gallery.
Piet Mondrian left Paris in 1938 to stay with Ben Nicholson in Hampstead, where they worked for two years in neighbouring studios. This exhibition is testament to their shared utopian vision of abstract painting. These are clear headed elegant paintings, reduced to their essential components, and all the more refreshing for being obviously hand-made.
Mondrian’s canvases are all set into rudimentary stepped frames, ziggurat style, integral to their setting and occasionally with traces of paint spilling over from the canvas, but rarely included in photographs of the paintings though they are obviously made by the artist’s hand. These framing devices are crucial to their presentation. Nicholson too was very conscious of framing and often made it an intrinsic part of the painting.
This white relief was carved from a mahogany tabletop, which Nicholson bought in Camden Town and transported back to his studio on the number 24 bus. He had recently whitewashed his studio, strongly influenced by the white interiors of Mondrian’s Paris studio seen the previous year. It is a painting with shadows.
In Hampstead they had worked for two years in two rooms in the same house. Here their paintings share two rooms in an intimate space at the top of the Courtauld Gallery. Some of their letters to each other are also displayed, but their correspondence is best illustrated by their paintings, which often seem to sing to each other. It’s a rare treat to see them both together in such proximity.
The exhibition is beautifully displayed with paintings by each artist alternating in a ping-pong rhythm around the walls. It is this interplay which is so fascinating and particular to this show. Sadly photography was not permitted. I would have loved to take a few installation shots, but then they couldn’t do it justice. It’s best to witness the spectacle for yourself. The exhibition runs from 16 February until 20 May 2012.
60 Parkhill Road, London, NW3 from the front, showing the blue plaque dedicated to Piet Mondrian; and from the rear, showing Ben Nicholson’s garden studio directly below the windows of Piet Mondrian’s room.