Mondrian's Friends - New York 1940-1944

Holland - Paris I - Holland & De Stijl - Paris II - London - bottom - up

Masters of Abstract Art

Harry Holtzman offered to pay his passage and act as his guarantor [and] Mondrian was quick to accept. On 1st October [1940] he arrived by ship in New York. It was here, at two different addresses, that he spend the last years of his life, years that proved extraordinarily active and prolific. He painted and wrote, devoted a great deal of time to decorating his studio, and even had time for quite an active social life, at any rate in comparison with his years in Paris. He moved in circles associated with the American Abstract Artists, where he was much admired and attracted a number of followers, such as Burgoyne Diller, Fritz Glarner and Charmion von Wiegand. He was also a part of that group of prominant exiles from the Paris avant-guard, the core of which was formed by Peggy Guggenheim with her gallery Art of this Century, André Breton, Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. (Blotkamp p 225).

This photograph is from the opening of the Masters of Abstract Art exhibition on 1st April 1942 and shows Burgoyne Diller, Fritz Glarner, Carl Holty, Mondrian and Charmion von Wiegand

Harry Holtzman

Burgoyne Diller
1906 - 1965

Burgoyne Diller is recognized as the first American artist to work in a geometric abstract style.
Born in New York, he grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan, and attended Michigan State College on a track scholarship. Visits to the Art Institute of Chicago nurtured his artistic interests and brought him into contact with the work of Paul Cezanne, an artist he deeply admired. Desirous of pursuing an artistic career, Diller studied at the Art Students League in New York from 1929 to 1933, working under Jan Matulka, Hans Hotmann and others. During this period, he explored aspects of Analytic and Synthetic Cubism. However, inspired by examples of Russian Suprematism and Constructivism, and especially by the Neoplasticism of Piet Mondrian, he evolved an abstract mode of painting based on rigorous configurations of lines, angles, and primary colors. Diller championed the cause of nonrepresentational art through his membership in American Abstract Artists, and as managing supervisor of the Mural Division of the WPA Federal Art Project in New York, he secured commissions for many of his fellow abstractionists. Diller also taught at Brooklyn College and the Pratt Institute.
His oeuvre includes paintings, sculptures, collages, and drawings.
[source now dead]
Second Theme
Joan T. Washburn Gallery
Third Theme Abstraction, 1940-45
oil on canvas, 20 by 20 in.
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery
Fritz Glarner
1899 - 1972

Born in Zurich, Glarner trained in Naples and Paris, but emigrated to the United States in 1936. In New York he became affiliated with Dutch artists who formed the De Stijl group of Abstract Expressionism. He was a close friend and associate of Piet Mondrian and was deeply influenced by him. Glarner is listed in all the major art dictionaries and his works hang in major museums including the National Gallery of Art. He also produced paintings for vast interior spaces such as the Dag Hammmarskjold Library at the United Nations and the lobby of the Time-Life building in New York.

Relational Painting #89, 1961
oil on canvas, 77 by 46 3/4 in.
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery
see photograph above
Charmion von Wiegand
1900 - 1983

An early champion of American abstraction, Charmion von Wiegand was born in Chicago in 1896. Her father was a correspondent and editor for Hearst Newspapers, and as he advanced his career, the von Wiegand family lived in such varied locals as Florida, Arizona, California, and Berlin, Germany. In 1915, Charmion attended Barnard College in New York City for one year before enrolling at Columbia University. With her father’s encouragement, she took classes at the School of Journalism while nurturing a growing interest in art history. Shortly after college, von Wiegand married and moved to Darien, Connecticut. She quickly tired of life as a wealthy suburban housewife, and in 1926, while undergoing intense psychoanalysis, she had a revelation that she wanted to become a painter.
Von Wiegand’s marriage was short lived, and when her husband moved to Germany, they divorced. Although von Wiegand had begun to paint in earnest, her primary career was journalism, and in 1929 she took a trip to Moscow and secured a position as a foreign correspondent for Hearst Newspapers. While in Russia, she continued to advance her artistic skills by painting the Russian landscape.
In 1932 she returned to New York City and married journalist Joseph Freeman, editor and co-founder of the leftist journal New Masses. Von Wiegand herself wrote articles on the art world for New Masses, as well as several other publications including New Theatre, ARTnews, Arts Magazine, and The Journal of Aesthetics.
As part of the cultural avant-garde, von Wiegand developed a close circle of acquaintances that included artists John Graham, Carl Holty, Hans Richter, Joseph Stella and Mark Tobey. In 1941, Holty arranged for von Wiegand to meet the great Dutch modernist Piet Mondrian, who had arrived in New York six months earlier. This initial meeting lead to a close friendship that was vital to von Wiegand’s pursuit of the spiritual in abstract painting. Mondrian had such an effect on her that she temporarily stopped painting, devoting a year and a half to the study of Neo-Plasticism. Through this period of intense study she came to the conclusion that Mondrian’s art was intuitive, not analytical, and she became extremely interested in the spiritual aspects of Neo-Plastic theory. In 1941, she also became a member of the American Abstract Artists, exhibiting regularly with the group from 1948 through the 1950s, and later serving as its president from 1951 to 1953.
With the death of Mondrian in 1944, von Wiegand dedicated herself to painting full time. Although many of her abstract compositions incorporate the Neo-Plastic grid, she was never limited by the formal constraints of pure Neo-Plasticism, and she drew inspiration from other European modernists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Jean Arp, Joan Miró and Kurt Schwitters. She also experimented with the Surrealist technique of automatism and worked in collage. By 1946, von Wiegand had become absorbed with Theosophy, a spiritual movement popular in the early part of the twentieth century that had also interested Mondrian, Kandinsky and the Surrealists. Her readings in Theosophy lead her to Tibetan Buddhism, and during the 1960s and 1970s, von Wiegand followed a course of spiritual study in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, traveling to India and Tibet, where she even had an audience with the Dalai Lama. While von Wiegand would regard all of her art as spiritual, her work from the 1960s and 1970s is overtly mystical, as many works incorporate metaphysical images and symbols drawn from Theosophical color charts, Chinese Astrology, and Tantric Buddhism.
In 1980, von Wiegand was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1982, the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach, Florida organized her first retrospective. She continued to work and live in New York City until her death in 1983. Today, von Wiegand is represented in numerous museum collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art.
[source now dead]
Transfer to Cathay , 1948
Advancing Magic Squares , 1958
Peggy Guggenheim

André Breton
1896 - 1966

French poet, essayist, critic, and editor, chief promoter and one of the founders of Surrealist movement with Paul Eluard, Luis Buñuel, and Salvador Dali among others. Breton's manifestoes of Surrealism are the most important theoretical statements of the movement.

Ma Femme à la chevelure de feu de bois
Aux pensées d'eclairs de chaleur
A la taille de sablier
Ma femme à la taille de loutre entre les dents du tigre
Ma femme à la bouche de cocarde et de bouquet d'étoiles de dernière grandeur
Aux dents d'empreintes de souris blanche sur la terre blanche
A la langue d'ambre et de verre frottés
Ma femme à la langue d'hostie poignardée
A la langue de poupée qui ouvre et ferme les yeux
A la langue de pierre incroyable (...)
(from 'Ma Femme à la Chevelure de Feu de Bois')

André Breton was born in Tinchebray (Orne) the son of a shopkeeper. He spent his childhood on the Brittany coast and started early on to write poems - he knew the poet Paul Valéry while still young. Breton studied medicine and later psychiatry, and in 1921 met Freud in Vienna. He never qualified but during World War I he served in the neurological ward in Nantes and made some attempts to use Freudian methods to psychoanalyze his patients, whose disturbed images he considered remarkable. Among Breton's friends was Jacques Vaché, a wounded, rebellious soldier, who declared art to be nonsense. Vaché died of an opium overdose in 1919 in a hotel room with another young man, but his views, expressed in Lettres de guerre (1919), continued their life in the Dadaist movement.

Breton joined first in 1916 the Dadaist group, but after various quarrels continued his march forward: "Leave everything. Leave Dada. Leave your wife. Leave your mistress. Leave your hopes and fears. Leave your children in the woods. Leave the substance for the shadow. Leave your easy life, leave what you are given for the future. Set off on the road." He turned then to Surrealism and cofounded with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault the review Littérature. Very important for his literary work were his wartime meetings with Apollinaire. His MANIFESTE DU SURRÉALISME was published in 1924. Influenced by psychological theories, Breton defined Surrealism as "pure psychic automatism, by which an attempt is made to express, either verbally, in writing or in any other manner, the true functioning of thought. The dictation of thought, in the absence of all control by reason, excluding any aesthetic or moral preoccupation." In the Second Manifesto Breton stated that the surrealists strive to attain a "mental vantage-point (point de l'esprit) from which life and death, the real and the imaginary, past and future, communicable and incommunicable, high and low, will no longer be perceived as contradictions."

Breton and his colleagues believed that the springs of personal freedom and social liberation lay in the unconscious mind. They found examples from the works of such painters as Hieronymus Bosch and James Ensor and from the writings of Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Alfred Jarry - and from the revolutionary thinking of Karl Marx. The Surrealist movement was from the beginning in a constant state of change or conflict, but its major periodicals, La Révolution surréaliste (1924-30) and Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution (1930-33), channeled cooperation and also spread ideas beyond France.

In the 1930s Breton published several collection of poems, including Mad Love (1937), a defence of an 'irrational' emotion of lovers, which used the Cinderella myth. Humor was an essential part of the Surrealists' activities and Breton also edited in 1937 an anthology on l'humour noir, which featured such writers as Swift, Kafka, Rimbaud, Poe, Lewis Carroll, and Baudelaire. "When it comes to black humor, everything designates him as the true initiator," Breton wrote on Swift. His prose has been more highly rated than his poetry, and among his masterworks from the 1920s is NADJA (1928), a portrait of Breton and a mad woman, a patient of Pierre Janet. The title refers to the name of a woman and the beginning of the Russian word for hope. Breton's first-person narrative is supplemented by forty-four photographs of places and objects which inspire the author or are connected to Nadja. In LES VASES COMMUNICANTS (1932, The Communicating Vessels) Breton explored the problems of everyday experience, dreams, and their relationship to intellect. "Anyone who has ever found himself in love has only been able to deplore the conspiracy of silence and of night which comes in the dream to surround the beloved being, even while the spirit of the sleeper is totally occupied with insignificant tasks", he wrote. "How can we retain from waking life what deserves to be retained, even if it is just so as not to be unworthy of what is best in this life itself?"

From 1927 to 1935 Breton was a member of the French Communist Party. Although he broke with the party in disgust with Stalinism and the Moscow show trials, he remained committed to Marxism. In Nadja he had said: "Subjectivity and objectivity commit a series of assaults on each other during a human life out of which the first one suffers the worse beating." With Leon Trotsky, whom he met in Mexico, he founded in 1938 the Fédération de l'Art Revolutionnaire Independant, and produced a paper on the civil liberties of an artist. When the Nazis occupied France, Breton fled to the United States with Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. He held there a broadcasting job and arranged a surrealist exposition at Yale in 1942. On a boat ride to Martinique in 1941 Breton met the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and discussed with him artistic creation. Lévi-Strauss criticized that Breton's definition of a work of art as the spontaneous activity of the mind opens the question of the aesthetic value of the work. Breton answered that he is "hardly interested in establishing a hierarchy of surrealist works (contrary to Aragon who once said: "If you write dreadful rubbish in an authentically surrealistic manner, it is still rubbish") - nor, as I have made clear, a hierarchy of romantic or symbolist works." (from Look, Listen, Read, by Lévi-Strauss, 1997)

During the war Breton wrote three poetic epics in which he dealt with the theme of exile. After WW II Breton traveled in the Southwest and the West Indies and returned to France in 1946. He soon became an important guru of a group of young Surrealists. In the 1940s and 1950s Breton wrote essays and collections of poems, among them ARCANE 17 (1945), a mythological work set in Canada. Breton's last poetical work, CONSTELLATIONS (1959), paralleled a series of poems with Joan Miro's gouaches. André Breton died in Paris on September 28, 1966. His three-room studio at 42 Rue Fontaine became a research center, preserved by his third wife Elisa. Breton's daughter Aube from his marriage to Jacqueline Lamba decided to put his books, drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other items on the market in 2003 after the French government did not buy the personal collections.

Marcel Duchamp

Max Ernst



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Original page 2001, rewritten October 2010