The abstract artist Piet Mondrian had a life-long interest in music. Despite his well-documented interest in music and dance, relatively little scholarship has approached these topics and their manifestations in his abstract work. Much time and energy has been spent exploring the artist’s other influences such as Hegelian theory and theosophy. These influences are more readily accepted as theoretical underpinnings that define Mondrian’s approach to abstraction. But what if we consider sonic and kinesthetic aspects in the same way? This paper seeks to reconsider Mondrian’s oeuvre in the light of music and how it entered his life through dance and complex improvisatory forms such as jazz. This paper includes a critical review of the standing literature on Mondrian and music, exploring the work of scholars such as Nancy Troy and Harry Cooper. This paper also offers new insights into Mondrian’s musical world based on primary resources heretofore unstudied by scholars. By examining Mondrian’s body of work through the lens of music it provides an opportunity to think about the interconnected nature of music and visual art. Questions of structure and improvisation are raised in regards to abstraction and jazz. Through examining Mondrian’s musical world, we also encounter powerful intersections of race and transnationalism emerging in the first half of the 20th century. This research provides a new approach for research into one of the world’s most well-known abstract artists.
This essay was also published through the Jacob Lawrence Gallery's journal MONDAY in volume 3.