A gift given by one artist to another in 1920s Paris is destined to spark a bidding war in London this week.
A small but beautiful original painting entitled Chrysanthemum by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (1872 to 1944), will go to auction at Hansons London on October 27 with an estimate of £70,000 to £100,000.
Incomplete, painted on the page of a sketchbook and signed, it features a colourful but dying starburst chrysanthemum.
It was given to German-born British sculptor Elsa Fraenkel by the Dutch artist and was treasured by her throughout her life.
When Mondrian gave the painting to Elsa, he was not that well known but the artist went on to gain acclaim. He is now regarded as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.
His flower studies, albeit showing prettier blossoms in full bloom, have made more than £120,000 at auction.
Chris Kirkham, associate director of Hansons London, said: “Mondrian is regarded as a pioneer of 20th century abstract art and this painting showcases his work at a time of progression and change in his approach.
“His chrysanthemum painting was assessed by experts on TV’s Antiques Roadshow in 2004 and valued at £100,000. They found it interesting because it demonstrated a key stage in Mondrian’s artistic journey as he progressed to becoming a great abstract artist.
“The connection to Elsa and the rich provenance surrounding the painting are also interesting. In the 1920s and 1930s, Elsa studied art and sculpture in Paris and mixed in creative circles. She met Mondrian, bought one of his early geometric paintings and displayed it in her studio.
“It was later stolen and she mentioned to her family that he was delighted someone liked it so much they felt moved to steal it.
“At some stage Mondrian presented Elsa with Chrysanthemum, created on a page from his sketchbook. Elsa died in India at the age of 82 in 1975 and the important painting was inherited by her son.”
Mondrian’s art was highly utopian and was concerned with a search for universal values and aesthetics.
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 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. His art, however, always remained rooted in nature.’
He was a contributor to the De Stijl art movement and group, which he co-founded with Theo van Doesburg. He evolved a non-representational form which he termed Neoplasticism. This was the new ‘pure plastic art’ which he believed was necessary in order to create universal beauty.
To express this, Mondrian eventually limited his formal vocabulary to three primary colours, red, blue and yellow; three primary values, black, white and grey, and the two primary directions, horizontal and vertical.
Mondrian’s arrival in Paris from the Netherlands in 1911 marked the beginning of a period of profound change. He encountered experiments in Cubism and with the intent of integrating himself within the Parisian avant-garde removed an 'a' from the Dutch spelling of his name, Mondriaan.
His work had an enormous influence on 20th century art, not only on abstract painting and numerous major styles and art movements but also fields outside the domain of painting, such as design, architecture and fashion.
Elsa Fraenkel née Rothschild (1892–1975) also made an important mark in the world of art. She sculpted mainly bronze life-size busts of people and family members she came across in her daily life and who struck her as being special in some way.
Examples include a young American girl (1926), a musician (1927), an Arabian dancing girl (1929) and a gypsy boxer (1930). None of these works were commissioned. She exhibited her works in Hanover, Berlin, Brunswick and Mannheim. Her sculpture of a young girl was purchased in 1927 by the Landesmuseum, Hanover.
After the Second World War, many of Elsa’s works went on display in London galleries and museums including the Leicester Galleries, Ben Uri Gallery, Leighton House Museum, Stafford Gallery, the Tate Gallery, and the Royal Academy. Her works have also been on show at the Tel Aviv Museum, the Jewish Museum in New York and the Royal Library in Copenhagen.
Mondrian’s Chrysanthemum will be sold by Hanson London on October 27 at The Saleroom, Normansfield Theatre, 2A Langdon Park, Teddington. Viewing available at the Normansfield Theatre on October 26, 2-7.30pm and also on the day of the auction from 8.30am. To enter an advance bid, or bid live, visit www.the-saleroom.com.