I am one of a seemingly small minority of art lovers who neither made it to Hockney at the Royal Academy (much as I like his work) nor had the foresight to book advance tickets for Leonardo at the National Gallery.
Lack of forward-planning is only part of the explanation. Like Cara Sutherland, who wrote a recent Rant on the subject, I am naturally suspicious of large, crowd-pleasing exhibitions and instinctively averse to the idea of viewing art in the company of lots of other people.
That’s why the current Mondrian and Nicholson exhibition at the Courtauld Institute of Art is such a pleasure. It occupies the Courtauld’s smallish, top-floor exhibition galleries, where you can enjoy the art at close quarters and in an atmosphere of leisurely contemplation. The exhibition is informative, but not insistently so. It shows how the two artists inspired each other between the moment of their first meeting in Paris in 1934 and Mondrian’s sojourn in London from 1938 to 1940.
The show explores their friendship in depth and brings out the human dimensions of their impeccably geometric work. What a surprise to discover in the accompanying display of archive material, for example, that Mondrian was a fan of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. (Sleepy was the character he liked best.)
I was struck anew by the roughness and painterliness of Mondrian’s pictures, in contrast to Nicholson’s much suaver approach. Yet Mondrian was the urbanite, who would later take his inspiration from the streets of New York, while Nicholson’s art was all about landscape. St Ives had no appeal for Mondrian – there was altogether too much water there.
Ernst Wegelin, Head of the Courtauld Gallery, explains his philosophy in the current issue of Museums Journal. “The many visitors to our current Mondrian exhibition have come for the shared experience of the original works in a public setting; their physical presence, size, surface and how they relate to one another… We should have confidence in the attention with which audiences engage with museum displays and build on this through the many means at our disposal.”
I couldn’t put it any better. So if you happen to be in London in the near future, don’t miss this lovely show. It ends on 20 May.