Victory Boogie Woogie

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Victory Boogie Woogie
1943–44. Oil paint, pieces of paper and plastic, and black chalk on canvas, 127 x 127 cm (50 x 50")

At the time of Mondrian’s fairly sudden death in early 1944 at the age of seventy-two, Victory Boogie Woogie was still unfinished. The lozenge-shaped painting was covered with loosely attached bits of coloured paper and plastic which Mondrian was using to try out new emphases and rhythms. Given the time, he would probably have replaced them by a rather more regular, painted version of the fragmented visual rhythms. He never had the chance to do so but, even in this state, Victory Boogie Woogie is an impressive painting and provides moving evidence that Mondrian died at the very height of his creative powers. Its distinctive lozenge shape underlines the fact that Mondrian was seeking to maximise the spatial spread of his composition. The interwoven colours and the rhythm of the fragmented network of lines undoubtedly reflect the bustle of big-city life in New York.

A feast for the eye

Victory Boogie Woogie is a feast for the eye. Blue, yellow, red and white are interwoven over the entire surface, fragmented into larger and smaller planes and small blocks of colour. White is varied by shades of grey, blue by blocks so dark that they look almost black, and yellow in a couple of conspicuous places by shades of ochre. Even the red is varied here and there, though less obviously so. The dynamic of the composition is based on horizontal and vertical lines, but these now provide little firm footing. They are, as it were, fragmented by the small blocks of colour, and are repeatedly doubled, interrupted before they reach the edge of the canvas and fanned out. A striking feature is the way smaller and larger elements of the composition interlock, creating startling syncopations in the often driving visual rhythms and ensuring that the composition remains open on every side.

Title

Although the title Victory Boogie Woogie was not invented by Mondrian, it is known that he saw this painting as a follow-up to his 1942-1943 painting Broadway Boogie Woogie and that he used the word ‘Victory’ in relation to it. The term Boogie Woogie refers to a new kind of jazz then popular in New York, in which short melody lines were interrupted by open rhythmical patterns. Victory undoubtedly refers to the triumph of a new form of art in a free world, something in which Mondrian continued to have unshakeable faith even in the darkest days of the Second World War.

Importance

Victory Boogie Woogie was recognised immediately as a major work with a magic all its own. Over the years, that recognition has only increased. Very many people have come to see this outstanding painting not merely as the climax and culmination of Mondrian’s entire fascinating oeuvre, but also as one of the most important emblems of abstract or non-figurative art in the twentieth century.

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