Week 11 - 2016

Well composed portrait

Arnold Newman, Piet Mondrian, New York City, 1942. Property of Preus museum's collection.

Well composed portrait

The posture is stiff, the look direct. In the background we see geometric shapes, just as erect as the person being photographed. The easel also picks up the straight lines. The only things breaking the pattern are the round eyeglasses and the hand resting mildly on the lower crossbar of the easel.


Arnold Newman photographed a portrait of the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, known for his compositions consisting of rectangular shapes of yellow, red, and blue separated by thin black lines. Newman let the surroundings and the objects tell something about the person whose portrait was being created.  Mondrian's studio was without furniture and painted white, and on the walls he had hung red, yellow, and green rectangles.  "Otherwise it would be too harshly uninviting," as Mondrian put it.


Newman said he didn't imitate Mondrian's style in the picture but created an echo, and that Mondrian was enthusiastic about the result.



Eyes and hands are decisive tools for the painter. Mondrian is stiff and formal, but the vulnerability emerges in the hand lying on the side of the easel—as if it lies ready for an execution, and the easel is a guillotine.


The picture can be found in the exhibition From Vision Machines to Instagram at the Preus Museum.