Mondrian Moves to London and New York

In September 1938, Mondrian left Paris in the face of advancing fascism and moved to London.

After the Netherlands were invaded and Paris fell in 1940, he left London for New York City, where he would remain until his death. Some of Mondrian's later works are difficult to place in terms of his artistic development, because there were quite a few canvases that he began in Paris or London which he only completed months or years later in New York. However, the finished works from this later period demonstrate an unprecedented busy-ness, with more lines than any of his work since the 1920s, placed in an overlapping arrangement that is almost cartographical in appearance. He spent many long hours painting on his own until his hands blistered and he sometimes cried or made himself sick.

Mondrian produced Lozenge Composition With Four Yellow Lines (1933), a simple painting that introduced what for him was a shocking innovation: thick, colored lines instead of black ones. After that one painting, this practice remained dormant in Mondrian's work until he arrived in New York, at which time he began to embrace it with abandon. In some examples of this new direction, such as Composition (1938) / Place de la Concorde (1943), he appears to have taken unfinished black-line paintings from Paris and completed them in New York by adding short perpendicular lines of different colors, running between the longer black lines, or from a black line to the edge of the canvas. The newly-colored areas are thick, almost bridging the gap between lines and forms, and it is startling to see color in a Mondrian painting that is unbounded by black. Other works mix long lines of red amidst the familiar black lines, creating a new sense of depth by the addition of a colored layer on top of the black one.

The new canvases that Mondrian began in New York are even more startling, and indicate the beginning of a new idiom that was cut short by the artist's death. New York City (1942) is a complex lattice of red, blue, and yellow lines, occasionally interlacing to create a greater sense of depth than his previous works. An unfinished 1941 version of this work uses strips of painted paper tape, which the artist could rearrange at will to experiment with different designs.

His painting Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1942–43) at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City was highly influential in the school of abstract geometric painting. The piece is made up of a number of shimmering squares of bright color that leap from the canvas, then appear to shimmer, drawing the viewer into those neon lights. In this painting and the unfinished Victory Boogie Woogie (1942–44), Mondrian replaced former solid lines with lines created from small adjoining rectangles of color, created in part by using small pieces of paper tape in various colors. Larger unbounded rectangles of color punctuate the design, some with smaller concentric rectangles inside them. While Mondrian's works of the 1920s and 1930s tend to have an almost scientific austerity about them, these are bright, lively paintings, reflecting the upbeat music that inspired them and the city in which they were made.

In these final works, the forms have indeed usurped the role of the lines, opening another new door for Mondrian's development as an abstractionist. The Boogie-Woogie paintings were clearly more of a revolutionary change than an evolutionary one, representing the most profound development in Mondrian's work since his abandonment of representational art in 1913.

At 71 in the fall of 1943, Mondrian moved into his second and final New York studio at 15 East 59th Street, and set about again to create the environment he had learned over the years was most congenial to his modest way of life and most stimulating to his art. He painted the high walls the same off-white he used on his easel and on the seats, tables and storage cases he designed and fashioned meticulously from discarded orange and apple-crates. He glossed the top of a white metal stool in the same brilliant primary red he applied to the cardboard sheath he made for the radio-phonograph that spilled forth his beloved jazz from well-traveled records, Visitors to this last studio seldom saw more than one or two new canvases, but found, often to their astonishment, that eight large compositions of colored bits of paper he had tacked and re-tacked to the walls in ever-changing relationships constituted together an environment that, paradoxically and simultaneously, was both kinetic and serene, stimulating and restful. It was the best space, Mondrian said, that he had ever inhabited. Tragically, he was there for only a few months: he died of pneumonia in February 1944.