Nelly van Doesburg

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Nelly van Doesburg from the catalogue for the Piet Mondrian Centennial Exhibition, Guggenheim Foundation, 1971

Some Memories of Mondrian

"This brings us to the question of Mondrian's relation to women. Although he was in his fifties when I knew him in Paris, the subject of women was ever on his lips. He would interrupt any type of conversation in order to comment with boyish enthusiasm upon the physical attractiveness of some admired example of the opposite sex. His taste was catholic in this respect, ranging from the refined beauty of a number of female acquaintances to the more direct appeal of pin-up posters. 6 He was completely captivated by the charms of Mae West, who at the time was quite young, but nonetheless used artificial make-up in a way that Mondrian found attractive. Indeed, his ideal wife would have been precisely this kind of youthful love goddess, whose chief virtue of character would be the patience to spend long hours in a corner of his pristine studio knitting or watching him paint — a Mae West in crinolines, so to speak. Perhaps Mondrian himself realized that these two ideals were difficult to combine, as his often repeated disappointments in love graphically illustrated. Like Brancusi, whose personality was otherwise so different and who was much less inhibited in his enjoyment of female company, Mondrian had adopted a pattern of life which did not allow any realistic prospect of ordinary domestic relationships. Each of these artists was so devoted to his profession that there was, in fact, little room left over in their lives for the daily companionship of any woman. It is as difficult to imagine any ordinary woman feeling comfortably at home either in the sparsely furnished atelier of Mondrian or amidst the clutter of statuary with which Brancusi surrounded himself. This is not to say that Mondrian did not feel a need for female companionship. Its absence in his life, I sensed often, was regretted deeply by Mondrian and came as close as anything could to constituting a personal tragedy. To some extent this unfulfilled need was relieved by the attention of various female acquaintances and friends, such as two Polish girls living in Antwerp who occasionally would visit him in Paris and share an evening of dancing with him. Yet, something always seemed to "happen" which prevented the creation of more lasting bonds. Probably underneath it all such bonds would have been felt to constrict him as an artist, and, in any case, it would have taken an extraordinary type of woman to adapt to the life provided by Mondrian."

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