Unknown letters Piet Mondrian


At the end of December 2022, the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History acquired fifteen unknown letters from Piet Mondrian at a New York auction. The letters are addressed to the Swiss-American artist and collector Amalia de Schulthess-Loew (1918-2021), whom Mondrian met in June 1941. A wonderful acquisition for the RKD, because these letters provide new insight into the status Mondrian had in New York for a younger generation of artists, as well as changes in Mondrian's style at the end of his life.

Swiss artist and collector

The female artist and collector Amalia Loew (1918-2021) was born in Thurgau, Switzerland. Her parents collected contemporary art and were friends with painters like Paul Klee. She quit her studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich early 1941 because of her emigration to New York. There, in the middle of that same year, she married Hans Georg Martin de Schulthess Rechberg, a descendant of a wealthy banking family who was also Swiss. In New York, the De Schulthess-Loew couple started collecting art. Their collection included works by Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet, Alberto Giacometti and René Magritte. Although the letters reveal that the couple would have been interested in acquiring a work by Mondrian, this never happened, partly due to Mondrian's death on 1 February 1944.

Letter of Piet Mondrian to Amalia de Schulthess, June 27th, 1941, with envelope, collection RKD

Fled to New York

Piet Mondrian and Amalia de Schulthess arrived in New York at about the same time, having fled Europe because of the impending war. They came into contact with each other in June 1941 through a mutual friend, the Swiss architect and visual artist Max Bill. Later, De Schulthess wrote: ‘he lived and worked in New York at the time. I visited him several times and we corresponded via letters. He encouraged me to paint and gave me many good ideas as to exercises in painting that could prove helpful to my technique.’ The letters demonstrate a mutual involvement. She regularly sends Mondrian flowers and fruit and he congratulates her on her marriage in August 1941. Mondrian's first (and only) one-man exhibition is also discussed. Among other things, he sent her the invitation card and the brochure that accompanied this exhibition, entitled Toward the True Vision of Reality. In this text, Mondrian looks back on his artistic development. The RKD did not yet own a copy of this rare brochure in its collection.

Letter of Piet Mondrian to Amalia de Schulthess, January of February 1942, with an invitation card for the Mondrian exhibition at Valentine Gallery, New York, 1942, collection RKD

Artistic breakthrough

Additionally, the letters contain information about the latest changes in Mondrian's style. After years of working in his classic imagery of black lines and colored rectangles, Mondrian began to merge lines and colour planes for the very first time after his emigration. He wrote of this in June 1943: ‘I have changed a little my way of painting and this effort has taken me entirely. But I found a way which pleases me better: I have broken my lines so that they appear as little color-squares and broken also the white planes. In this way the picture becomes more dynamic.’ This new dynamic would ultimately be realised in just two works. One was his last painting, Victory Boogie Woogie, which was left unfinished on the easel in his studio when Mondrian passed away.

Mondrian Edition Project

The RKD houses the largest collection of documentation and archival material regarding Piet Mondrian, such as his personal archive, more than 700 original letters and hundreds of portrait and studio photos. Mondrian's letters to De Schulthess are a wonderful addition to this collection and will also be included in the Mondrian Edition Project, the digital, scientific edition of all letters and theoretical writings by Piet Mondrian. The first part of this edition will be published in December 2023 and contains approximately 300 letters and five theoretical writings from the period 1892-June 1919.

The purchase of these fifteen letters was made possible because of the financial support of the Gifted Art Foundation.

1 and 2. Letter of Piet Mondrian to Amalia de Schulthess, January 1942, with the brochure for the Mondrian exhibition at Valentine Gallery, New York, 1942, collection RKD
3. Card with a reproduction of a painting by Mondrian, collection RKD