Charmion von Wiegand is best known as a leading American practitioner of Neo-Plasticism, an abstract style invented by the influential Dutch avant-garde painter Piet Mondrian [2009.5042]. (The English term Neo-Plasticism is in fact a mistranslation of Mondrian’s Dutch name for the movement,...
Charmion von Wiegand is best known as a leading American practitioner of Neo-Plasticism, an abstract style invented by the influential Dutch avant-garde painter Piet Mondrian [2009.5042]. (The English term Neo-Plasticism is in fact a mistranslation of Mondrian’s Dutch name for the movement, Nieuwe Beelding, which simply means “the New Form” or “the New Shape.”) Mondrian’s Neo-Plastic paintings consist of vertical and horizontal bands of primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) and noncolors (white, black, and gray) arranged at precise right angles. City Rhythm, one of von Wiegand’s most successful Neo-Plastic paintings, shows her debt to Mondrian but also clearly demonstrates her innovative contributions to this distinctive style. Born in Chicago, von Wiegand trained as a writer and eventually became an essayist and art critic. In 1926, spurred by the intense visual memories she experienced while undergoing psychoanalysis, von Wiegand began to paint. She had learned some Dutch as a child while living for a year in Berlin, and she became Mondrian’s friend and supporter after he immigrated to New York City in 1940. Until meeting Mondrian, von Wiegand had never experimented with pure abstraction, considering it cold and bleak. Mondrian introduced her to the idea that abstract painting could be a pathway to what he called “higher consciousness,” a belief she came to share. Deeply indebted to her mentor, von Wiegand played a key role in preserving Mondrian’s legacy, publishing his essays and writing extensively about his art both before and after his death. While von Wiegand clearly draws upon Mondrian’s work in City Rhythm, her style is freer and more intuitive, without the geometric precision of the Dutch artist’s work. Her soaring, irregular arrangement of forms follows no grid pattern, but the shapes expand outward as they rise up the canvas. The tall and narrow format of the painting calls to mind both a skyscraper and an aerial view of the island of Manhattan, while its contrapuntal rhythm of colors and shapes evokes the staccato pace of urban life. “It is only by establishing a dynamic movement of forms and colors that the vitality of life can be expressed in art,” she said.  City Rhythm breaks free of Mondrian’s abstemious, mathematical style to discover a more joyful, spontaneous mode of abstraction reminiscent of the improvisational syncopations of jazz. Notes 1. Charmion von Wiegand, quoted in Charmion von Wiegand: Her Art and Life, exh. cat. (Miami Beach, Fla.: Bass Museum of Art, 1982), 24. Heather Hole
Lower left: CHARMION/WIEGAND.; Reverse: Charmion WIEGAND/MAY 1948/CITY RHYTHM
1948, the artist. May 31, 1985, Important American Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries, Christie's, New York, lot 322, to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 26, 1985)
Robert Jordan Fund
Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY