Front / Recto
- Title Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe
- Negative Date 1926
- Print Date 1926–c. 1928
- Medium Gelatin silver print
- Dimensions Image 3 1/8 × 3 11/16" (7.9 × 9.3 cm)Sheet 3 3/8 × 5 3/8" (8.5 × 13.6 cm)
- Place Taken Paris
- Credit Line Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund
- MoMA Accession Number 1721.2001
- Copyright © Estate of André Kertész
Upon arriving in Paris from Budapest in September 1926, André Kertész knew only one person—Gyula Zilzer, who introduced him to a circle of Hungarian artists who were “like a big family and each of us borrowed artistic ideas from the other.” Kertész became particularly close to Lajos Tihanyi, a painter whose art had progressed, thanks to his association with the avant-garde artists at the journal MA, from Cubist-style facets to flat, posterlike simplicity, and whose stark distillation of ordinary objects, such as a pipe in a bowl on a triangle of white cloth, influenced the young photographer.
Through Zilzer, Kertész also met the Belgian poet and painter Michel Seuphor, who introduced him to Piet Mondrian. Mondrian had made a similar transition from Cubist fracture to simplified planarity, but he went further, jettisoning all particulars of appearance to create pure abstractions from straight lines and planes of primary colors. In his obsessive pursuit of a holistic spiritual harmony, he had even painted his apartment according to his aesthetic principles.
In 1926 and 1927, Kertész photographed Mondrian and his studio. In one image Mondrian sits with Seuphor and Zilzer, with their pipes, ash bowl, and papers at the white worktable. In another image he followed his own dictum, “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” With Mondrian’s lozenge-shaped abstractions in his mind’s eye and perhaps Tihanyi’s painting in his memory, Kertész photographed only the table, cropping the top of the image and blackening the corners through overexposure, leaving only the emblems of their leader’s concentration and rigor. (He may also have retouched the worktable to achieve a clean white plane, in keeping with the purity of Mondrian’s example.) The strictness of the abridgment, the harmony of the geometric elements, and the human character clinging to the spare, personal attributes, made this photograph an icon of European modernism from the first time it was exhibited, at Galerie Au Sacre du Printemps in Paris, in 1927.
The print in the Walther Collection, unlike the larger, vellum-mounted version from that exhibition, is a small contact print on Guilleminot postcard paper, made in France, and it demonstrates all the qualities of Kertész’s larger prints of that time. To make his photographic postcards he masked the borders of a 9 by 12 centimeter (3 9/16 by 4 ¾ inch) negative and contact printed it with a jeweler’s precision. The velvety tones are rendered by the subtle surface texture of the paper, which contains matting agents that produce less reflectivity than more utilitarian photographic papers (Kertész used this paper in nonpostcard formats as well). The photographer retouched his images with spotting and minor etching; he signed and dated them, and sometimes he titled them and inscribed “Paris” in pencil below the image or on its verso. Although the small-scale cartes postales were a good size for Kertész’s shallow pockets and his simple hotel darkrooms, he did not treat the little pictures as disposable images that might be breezily annotated, stamped, and dropped into a mail slot; rather, he proudly bestowed them on his friends and close colleagues: he considered them finished works, suitable for framing and exhibition. This print belonged to Seuphor.
—Maria Morris Hambourg, Hanako Murata
Back / Verso
- Mount Type No mount
- Marks and Inscriptions Signed in pencil on sheet recto, bottom left: A Kertész. Inscribed in pencil on sheet recto, bottom right: Paris. Inscribed in pencil on sheet verso, right: Kertesz I X. Inscribed in pencil on sheet verso, bottom left: dans le Studio Mondrian.
The artist, Paris; to Michel Seuphor, Paris, c. 1928 ; to Galerie Wilde (Ann and Jürgen Wilde), Cologne, 1979–80 ; purchased by Thomas Walther, 1980 ; purchased by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001.
 Jürgen Wilde, letter to Simon Bieling, May 12, 2005.
 MacGill/Walther 2000, p. 17; Wilde, letter to Audrey Sands, October 1, 2013; and Wilde, letter to Bieling.
 Wilde, letter to Sands.
- Format Metric
- Weight Double weight
- Thickness (mm) 0.28
- UV Fluorescence Recto negative Verso negative
- Fiber Analysis Softwood bleached sulfite 99% Hardwood bleached sulfite 1%
- Material Techniques Developing-out paper Back printing Photographic postcard
This work was determined to be a gelatin silver print via X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry.
The following elements have been positively identified in the work, through XRF readings taken from its recto and verso (or from the mount, where the verso was not accessible):
- Recto: Al, Si, S, Ca, Zn, Sr, Ag, Ba, Pb
- Verso: Al, P, S, Ca, Fe, Zn, Sr, Ba, Pb
The graphs below show XRF spectra for three areas on the print: two of the recto—from areas of maximum and minimum image density (Dmax and Dmin)—and one of the verso or mount. The background spectrum represents the contribution of the XRF instrument itself. The first graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the lower energy range (0 to 8 keV). The second graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the higher energy range (8 to 40 keV).
Nachod, Dr. Hans. “Die Photographie der Gegenwart.” Neue Leipziger Zeitung, August 20, 1929, p. 6 (as Tote Natur).
Galerie Au Sacre du Printemps, Paris. Photo-Kertész Exposition. March 12–22, 1927.
Galerie L’Epoque, Brussels (no. 29, as Nature-Morte). 1928.
Museum Folkwang, Essen. Internationale Ausstellung Fotografie der Gegenwart. Organized by Kurt-Wilhelm Kästner. January 20–February 17, 1929. (traveling exhibition)
Städtische Ausstellungshallen, Stuttgart. Internationale Ausstellung des Deutschen Werkbunds Film und Foto (Fifo) (no. 379, as Glaser). Organized by Deutscher Werkbund. May 18–July 7, 1929. (traveling exhibition)