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
  • Description

    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

Back Printing

Detail showing Guilleminot manufacturer logo (horse’s head in horseshoe/star) with postal type printed in ink on the verso of the photograph. In image processing, contrast was adjusted to enhance the readability of the logo. The area of detail is 2 x 4.5 cm. Department of Conservation, MoMA


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