Victory Boogie Woogie is the last artwork by abstract artist Piet Mondrian, although it was never completed. It encapsulates the buzzing energy of boogie woogie music and New York, where Mondrian relocated in 1940. Victory Boogie Woogie is considered amongst Mondrian’s greatest artistic achievements, showcasing a new direction for his primary-colored, meticulously planned art. In this article, Singulart will examine the composition of Victory Boogie Woogie, its controversial purchase by the Dutch government, and the influence Mondrian has had on popular culture since his death in 1944.
Victory Boogie Woogie
Victory Boogie Woogie echoes the frenetic energy of Mondrian’s penultimate painting Broadway Boogie Woogie – the main difference being Broadway Boogie Woogie’s typical square canvas as opposed to Victory Boogie Woogie tilted diamond, or lozenge, shape. This piece builds upon the small blocks of color visible in the previous artwork, adding even smaller planes onto the geometric lines intersecting the piece.
Instead of paint, Mondrian experimented with using small pieces of cellophane and colored tape to create the tiny squares (over 600 squares appear in the piece). For the first time, white spaces no longer dominate the canvas, replaced by lines composed of blocks of color and intersected with rectangles of white and grey. Multiplicity is the main theme portrayed in Victory Boogie Woogie.
When speaking about the artwork, Mondrian stated, “Many appreciate in my former work just what I did not want to express, but which was produced by an incapacity to express what I wanted to express – dynamic movement in equilibrium. A continuous struggle for this statement brought me nearer. This is what I am attempting in Victory Boogie Woogie.”
Where is Victory Boogie Woogie today?
After Mondrian’s death, the piece was left in the possession of Valentine Dudensing, an art dealer and gallery owner. He refused to sell the artwork until he found a buyer who would offer enough to buy “a small castle in France”. The piece remained in Dudensig’s gallery unsold, until buyer Emily Tremaine offered him $8,000 for it – an extraordinarily large amount for the time.
After the Tremaines passed away, Victory Boogie Woogie was bought by Samuel Irving Newhouse, an American publishing heir, for the princely sum of $11 million. After realising that he did not want to keep the piece, but did not want to damage it by moving it to a museum, Irving entered into a bidding war with the Gemeente Museum in the Hague, raising the price every time the museum tried to match his asking price. Originally asking for $14 million, his final request for the painting had raised to $30 million.
Eventually, in 1988, the Dutch government purchased Victory Boogie Woogie for the astonishing price of 80 million Dutch guilders (about 40 million American dollars). The acquisition of the piece was meant to commemorate the introduction of the euro, however the purchase was questioned by the Dutch House of Representatives. The public were outraged that their tax dollars had contributed towards its purchase, and did not believe that this painting was worth the extravagant amount that had been paid for it.
At the time, Dr Bob van der Boogert of the Rembrandt House Museum stated, “This was a setup organised in the back rooms by high officials. It is outrageous. It does not reflect the wishes of the Dutch people. The majority actually hate Mondrian. It is also an unfinished painting. On the free market, it would never have made such a price.”
Mondrian’s lasting legacy
While it appears the Dutch people might not have been Mondrian’s biggest fans, his clean, simple lines and block squares of color have influenced fashion, art and design since his death in 1944. Perhaps most notably, they served as inspiration for Yves Saint Laurent’s Autumn/Winter 1965 collection, where models strutted the catwalk in shift dresses decorated with Mondrian’s geometric designs. The dresses were created using pre-dyed fabrics, with each color in the dress being made up of a different piece of fabric. This way, Saint Laurent experimented with a seam-free look, and also used a heavy weight fabric to ensure the dresses hung straight as to best showcase the design. Saint Laurent loved art, and said of Mondrian, “Mondrian is purity and one can go no further in purity in painting. This is a purity that joins with that of Bauhaus. The masterpiece of the twentieth century is a Mondrian.”
Mondrian proved influential for other artists, including pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. In 1964, Lichtenstein created Non-objective I, in which Mondrian’s typical black lines and blocks of color are represented, but with Lichtenstein’s signature Ben Day dots filling the grey spaces. He also greatly influenced the minimalist movement with his pure, distilled artform serving as inspiration.
Music artists have also used Mondrian as inspiration for album artwork. Australian band Silverchair’s album Young Modern features a cover heavily reminiscent of Mondrian’s art, with the theme also carrying through to their music video for ‘Straight Lines’. His style can also be seen on the cover for the White Stripes’ album De Stijl, with the name being another reference to Mondrian’s history. A tetris-style interpretation of Mondrian’s blocks can also be seen on the album cover for Coldplay’s X&Y.
Moreover, architecture was influenced by Mondrian, particularly with regards to the De Stijl movement. The Eames House, home to Charles and Ray Eames, was modelled after the Rietveld Schroder House designed by architect Gerrit Rietveld in 1924. The Mondrian Hotel was established in 1985, in Mondrian’s spiritual home of New York, and featured a composition named L’Hommage a Mondrian.