Mondrian painting fetches record $51 million at rare auction

Updated 15th November 2022
Abstract art pioneer Piet Mondrian's signature grid masterpiece will be on sale at Sotheby's auction house in November.
Credit: Sotheby's
Mondrian painting fetches record $51 million at rare auction
Written by Amarachi Orie, CNN
This article was updated with the final sale price and other details following the auction's conclusion.
One of Piet Mondrian's iconic abstract paintings sold for $51 million at Sotheby's New York on Monday, setting a new auction record for the Dutch artist's work.
Featuring his signature blue, red, white and yellow squares, "Composition No. II" had been advertised as being among "the most significant" artworks by the painter ever to appear on the collectors' market.
"Quintessential works by Piet Mondrian rarely come to auction as many are housed in the most prestigious museum collections around the world," Julian Dawes, Sotheby's head of impressionist and modern art for the Americas, had said in a statement ahead of the sale.
"The opportunity to acquire a painting of this quality is truly a once-in-a-generation occurrence," he added.
"Composition No. II" is one of only three of the artist's works to feature the dominant red square at the upper right.
"Composition No. II" is one of only three of the artist's works to feature the dominant red square at the upper right. Credit: Sotheby's
The painting, created in 1930, was last auctioned in 1983, when it fetched a then-record $2.15 million. It is one of only three Mondrian works to feature the dominant red square at the upper right, Sotherby's said. The other two artworks with this feature are smaller in size and held in museum collections.
"'Composition No. II' embodies everything you could want from a Mondrian — it is a seminal painting that is both crucial to the development of Modern art and emblematic of the enduring appeal of the Modern aesthetic, characterized by a serene sense of compositional balance and spatial order, and with superb provenance," Dawes said.
While Sotheby's did not identify the successful bidder, it said the painting had been sold to a collector from Asia.
Mondrian moved to Paris in 1912 after being impressed by the early Cubist work of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. There, he began to experiment with abstract and fragmented ways of representing reality. He increasingly used only vertical and horizontal lines.
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The year that his famed composition was produced, American sculptor Alexander Calder visited the artist's Paris studio and recalled that the walls were "painted white and divided by black lines and rectangles of bright color, like his paintings," according to Sotheby's.
"There are few artists who have staked such an audacious claim in the history of Modern art as Piet Mondrian, whose grid-style of abstract painting is a truly singular achievement in painting history," said the auction house's chairman for Europe, Oliver Barker, in the press release.
"The work hums with an electricity that mirrors the energy of painting in Europe at this time and remains as vital as it did when it was painted nearly 100 years ago," he added.
Mondrian's unique geometric style and modern approach preceded the the rise of abstract art in the 1940s and 1950s.