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Piet Mondrian was by no means a specialist in botany art but paintings such as White Phloxes offer an interesting alternative body of work within his overall career.
He would cover many different genres within his lifetime, including landscapes and portraits but it was his later abstract shapes and lines which would become his most famous accomplishment. He would have found still life painting to be a logistically straight forward alternative, where one just needs to prepare a few everyday items within an indoor setting. Fruit was commonly used for this purpose, as were flowers in vases which is how Mondrian chose to operate for this painting. He would have selected the species of flower carefully as it needed to be suitable for his composition and artistic style. White Phloxes bring light to the piece, bouncing it off its large petals all around the rest of the scene. Mondrian is also careful in how he moves them around vertically, which stretches the white touches of paint further up and down the composition, brightening up a large part of the top half of the painting as a result.
White Phloxes is dated at circa 1899-1900 and measures 46.5cm in height by 24 cm in width. The painting has been frequently exhibited over the past century, appearing as far afield as Italy and Switzerland at different points. It has also passed through several different private collections, all of which were based in the Netherlands and despite that it has been made available to the public several times. This is an interesting piece, no doubt, with an expressive use of paint for the flowers, and also loose brushwork for the background. It is contemporary for its time and underlines how Mondrian was seeking to find a modern approach, but was undecided on his preferred content at that time, though he would eventually switch to abstract works such as Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow.
Most of Mondrian’s less famous paintings, such as this one, would enter private collections soon after being completed. Some would then be passed on through future generations to arrive at their present owners whilst others would later be acquired by Dutch galleries who wished more of the public to see a wider selection of the artist’s work. Only the keenest of Mondrian followers would even be aware of his flower paintings and the general public regard him purely as an abstract artist, even though it was several decades into his career before he started to perfect this approach. He was always contemporary in his thinking, but switched between different expressive styles before slowing becoming more and more abstract, ultimately reducing his forms into just the simplest of shapes and colours.