White Irises against a Light Blue Background, I
signed 'P. Mondrian' (lower left)
oil on canvas
14 1/8 x 13 3/4 in. (36 x 35 cm.)
Painted in Amsterdam, circa 1909-1910
Artist or Maker
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
R.P. Welsh, Piet Mondrian, Catalogue raisonné of the Naturalistic Works (until early 1911), New York, 1998, vol. I, p. 412, no. A628 (illustrated).
Wobien C. de Sitter, Domburg (acquired from the artist by 1914).
Mrs. Eleanor Kanegis, Boston (gift from the above, 1957); sale, Christie's, London, 24 June 1966, lot 97.
Alpha Gallery, Boston (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1975.
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The present painting is one of two versions in which Mondrian depicted white irises against a blue background (the other is Welsh, no. A629). He also painted blue and purple irises in two other pictures around this time (Welsh, nos. A630-A631). These paintings were done while the artist's interest in Theosophy was its height; Mondrian joined the Dutch chapter of the international society in May, 1909. The Theosophists, an organization founded by the American Helena Blavatsky in 1875, formulated syncretist beliefs drawn from the major world religions, studied mysticism and the occult, and were an active force in the Symbolist movement at the turn of the century. Prof. Robert P. Welsh (op. cit.) has noted that the iris, in medieval lore, was associated with the sword that pierced the heart of the Mater Dolorosa, the Virgin Mary, at the death of her son Jesus. The colors blue and white are traditionally associated with Mary. Moreover, the arrangement of three flowers may invoke the Trinity, and their conjoined shapes appear to resemble a figure with upraised, beseeching arms, perhaps an allusion to Mary as she stood weeping at the foot of the cross.
In regard to the formal aspects of the iris compositions, Prof. Welsh noted that "all four paintings concentrate upon a strong color contrast between the hue of the flower blossom and that of the background. In this respect they correspond with one major aspect of the artist's contemporary experiments with flower pieces, although they also provide archetypes for a number of the mostly watercolor flower renderings from later years [see lot 121, Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper, May 5th]" (op. cit.).
According to Prof. Welsh, the lower part of the artist's signature on this painting was lost when the canvas was cut from its stretcher during the Second World War.