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Exactitudes of Perfection: La Prairie and Fondation Beyeler on discovering Piet Mondrian’s raison d’être

You may not know his face, his temperament or minute details of his life, but you do know his work. Undoubtedly. Unequivocally. This the legacy Piet Mondrian left behind; an incredible oeuvre of instantly recognisable paintings in red, blue and yellow, precisely etched out and separated by scores of black and rigid ninety-degree angles. This is, too, the legacy La Prairie and Fondation Beyeler continue to remain fascinated by, in the second year of their collaborative Piet Mondrian Conservation Project.

Art, as in beauty, is breathed into life, into existence, in the eye of its beholder. Efforts towards preservation, conservation and restoration are, then, akin to bequests of immortality, ensuring age-old artefacts and works of art, much like Mondrian’s, continue to see another day — and yet another still.

La Prairie’s continued patronage of the arts is a demonstrated exercise within the brand’s history, from the Clinique La Prairie in Montreux, inspiration derived from contemporary artist Niki de Saint Phalle and, for the most recent edition of Art Basel, a golden-hour installation alongside Hong Kong artist Carla Chan.

“La Prairie’s mission of celebrating timeless beauty is mirrored in its support of the Piet Mondrian Conservation Project. In helping to achieve a better understanding of the impacts of time — be it beauty or in art — La Prairie, along with the Fondation Beyeler, is ensuring that future generations can find joy and meaning in the fruits of true artists,” said Greg Prodromides, La Prairie’s Chief Marketing Officer.

In provision for a planned exhibition of Mondrian’s canon at Fondation Beyeler in 2022, the Piet Mondrian Conservation Project continues to work towards preserving the artist’s work for generations ahead. However, beyond that already respectable goal, the project delves into painstaking, technology-based research  that hopes to discover Mondrian’s what, Mondrian’s how and, ultimately, Mondrian’s why — his raison d’être.

Mondrian joins the likes of Da Vinci; of Picasso. The Mozarts and the Beethovens, too. A company of one-named savants that presumes a kind of preternatural talent that simply is; of talent willed into existence, just because. The Piet Conservation Project, however, proves it’s not quite so for Mondrian. Instead, it’s more of a work-in-progress; a slow-going marathon towards perfection that does not preclude time, effort and edits.

“The more I get involved with Mondrian, the more I am fascinated by this painter,” said Ulf Küster, Senior Curator, Fondation Beyeler. “He is full of surprises.” 

These surprises are revealing; revealing of the complexity of Mondrian’s work, yes, but also revealing of Mondrian’s humble modus operandi.

Rather than start paintings afresh, Mondrian — as discovered through careful research of Tableau No. 1 — is no stranger to revision. Under infrared reflectology, conservators discovered three separate dates layered one under another and evidence of wiping, scratching and scraping in Tableau No. 1. Conservators also unearthed minute adjustments of placement, lines and size in Composition with Yellow and Blue, all but confirming Mondrian’s approach to his work as something ongoing; something ever-changing. This is an approach that’s not too proud or too unrelenting. This is, rather, an approach unafraid of newness; unafraid of experimentation.

“Works by a master like Piet Mondrian hide a lot in the details. A line is not simply a line, a colour field is not a flat colour field,” said Markus Gross, Chief Conservator at the Fondation Beyeler. “There is much more behind it.”

What’s immediately discernible through a casual perusal of Mondrian’s works, though, is his fastidious attention to detail. His every line scored, every angle righted at ninety-degrees disclose a level of exactitude described as unlikely to be achievable freehand. Perfection, then, to Mondrian, is an exact science.

Learn more about the Piet Mondrian Conservation Project, courtesy of La Prairie and Fondation Beyeler, here.

Joey Wong
Constantly in pursuit of a multi-hyphenated career, Joey has written her way through fashion trends, youth culture and luxury retail in New York and Hong Kong. Beyond internet adventures tracking down the perfect vintage find, you can probably catch her sipping on her third oat milk latte of the day in the city’s newest café. She’s currently mourning the loss of TikTok in Hong Kong.