Style central in The Hague
“When Piet Mondrian died in 1944, the American press wrote that one of the greatest artists of the 20th century had passed away — even though the century was less than half gone.” I am sitting in the grand reception area of the austere art deco Gemeentemuseum in The Hague listening to the museum’s director, Benno Tempel, extol the virtues of one of The Netherlands’ most famous sons.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the De Stijl (The Style) art movement, a collective of forward-looking, solution-seeking Dutch artists, designers and architects whose best-known exponent was Mondrian.
To celebrate, a host of events will be taking place in associated towns and cities across its country of origin throughout 2017.
Since the Gemeentemuseum owns the world’s largest collection of Mondrians, The Hague is hosting three internationally important De Stijl exhibitions, beginning with Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck — Inventing a new art (until May 21).
This world premiere, featuring works on loan from MoMa and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, explores how the two artists worked together and influenced each other to produce the now instantly recognisable abstract paintings featuring blue, red and yellow blocks and black horizontal and vertical lines.
Standing in front of van der Leck’s Composition No 8, 1917, which for me seems to be the pivotal work in the artists’ development, I ask the museum’s head of collections, Doede Hardeman, what makes Mondrian such an important artist. He replies, “There is no other artist in the world where you see the step-by-step development of his art. Mondrian’s work is very constant; all of his experiments are working towards his goal, which was to search in his art for the core of our being. His work is so relevant today, so crucial in the development of contemporary art, and as far as I am concerned there is no other artist as timeless as Mondrian.”
The star exhibition will be The Discovery of Mondrian (June 3 to September 24), which will see all 300 of the Gemeentemuseum’s Mondrians on display, from his colourful early landscapes to his unfinished Victory Boogie Woogie, along with letters, photographs, personal possessions including his jazz record collection, and a reconstruction of his Paris studio. Running alongside will be Architecture and Interiors — The Desire for Style (June 10 to September 17), exploring the themes of colour, space, transparency and technical innovation in the work of De Stijl designers, including Gerrit Rietveld, who appropriated existing techniques and reinterpreted concepts, themes and ideas of their predecessors to create a new idiom that continues to influence domestic and public life today.
The Hague, the third largest city in The Netherlands, is a great place to spend a few days, not least because accommodation is cheaper than in Amsterdam or Rotterdam. Home to a royal palace and the Dutch parliament, along with a cluster of exquisite art galleries — including the Mauritshuis, where you’ll find Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring — the bourgeois city has a charming old quarter filled with hip boutiques and cosy cafes as well as a seaside resort, Scheveningen, a few kilometres to the north. Unsurprisingly, The Hague has embraced the celebrations. From De Stijl architecture walks in the Segbroek district to Mondrian-design socks in the Gemeentemuseum shop and from a Mondrian-inspired meal at the five-star Grand Hotel Amrath Kurhaus in Scheveningen to the artist’s favourite boogie woogie music at the Jazz in the Canal festival in August, you’ll never look at blue, red and yellow in the same way again. • denhaag.com • holland.com
King WillemAlexander of The Netherlands, top, at the Gemeentemuseum, above; Mondrian’s Evening; The Red Tree (1908-1910), above right