La Prairie does a mondrian makeover
Replacing “Lozenge Composition with Eight Lines and Red” (1938)
La Prairie does a mondrian makeover
Scott and Therese Garceau (The Philippine Star) - September 28, 2020 - 12:00am

Dutch artist Piet Mondrian was so obsessed with symmetry that he took to shaving his mustache with meticulous care, to balance with the overall shape of his face.

This we learn from Ulf Küster, one of the art curators at Fondation Beyeler in Switzerland, where seven key Mondrian works are housed. “Apparently he shaved his mustache, when he had one, according to the symmetry of his face, like he did with his paintings, which is kind of weird, really,” notes Küster.

Not so weird when you consider Mondrian’s obsession with line and color as the essence of expression in nature. He even developed his own vocabulary of abstraction — neoplasticism — to arrive at his iconic grid canvases splashed with layers of yellow, blue and red.

Like Mondrian, Swiss skincare giant La Prairie has, since its start in 1987, been concerned with precise definitions of line and color. No wonder, then, that they chose to work closely with Fondation Beyeler, one of the most popular museums in Switzerland, to help preserve four of its Mondrian canvases for future generations.

La Prairie chief marketing officer Greg Prodromides, Fondation Beyeler art curator Ulf Küster, Fondation Beyeler chief conservator Markus Gross

Mondrian was a pillar of modern art, contributing key concepts to Bauhaus, modern architectural ideas that survive even today, even in the design of Fondation Beyeler. His distillation of essence down to black lines and primary colors seems simple today, but his artistic journey began with more pastoral landscapes before going into pure abstraction. “His quest was not only for beauty, but for purity in art, through concentration: concentration to what is laid out in the grid, the black line, the white ground and three main colors,” Küster tells media during a Zoom session from Switzerland.

La Prairie (locally available at Rustan’s) has had links to the art world since the beginning: from its creative endeavors at the Clinique La Prairie in Montreux, through its regular support of Art Basel, to a collab with contemporary artist Niki de Saint Phalle; it’s only natural that they would support Fondation Beyeler in preserving four Mondrian paintings — “Tableau No. I,” “Composition with Yellow and Blue,” “Composition with Double Line and Blue” and “Lozenge Composition with Eight Lines and Red” — all produced between 1921 and 1938.

For La Prairie, this involved recruiting a team of Mondrian experts from Amsterdam, to work with Fondation Beyeler curators including Küster and chief conservator Markus Gross. “It’s very important to first go with traditional observation,” Gross says, “and then with magnifications: closer and closer in the end with microscopes, X-rays, UV light, infrared light, to try to figure out what the artist is doing. One interesting thing we saw with X-rays is that Mondrian really changed his color compositions.”

Primary restoration of “Tableau No. 1” (1921-1925)

He points to “Tableau No. 1” in which several rectangles were originally painted red, while another was blue. Mondrian kept shifting his color symmetry over years of reworking the paintings. Perhaps like he meticulously groomed his mustache.

According to La Prairie chief marketing officer Greg Prodromides, Fondation Beyeler and Mondrian share common values with the makeup brand. “Why this project? First of all, Fondation Beyeler is another Swiss house like us, sharing the same values of perfection and the quest for very high quality,” he says. “And also, because it is Piet Mondrian: an artist who deeply influenced the expression of the La Prairie house. Also because it is in line with a vision that we have, as a house, to build luxury with a higher meaning; to be able to contribute back to our communities, and do our little part in making this world more beautiful for today, but also for the generations to come.”

Timelessness becomes a key metaphor here. There is visible cracking in some of the Mondrian surfaces, which are now almost a century old. Fondation Beyeler will start with two meticulous restorations this year, then tackle two more next year.

“Composition with Yellow and Blue” (1932)

Of course, one can’t escape the connection between anti-aging makeup and art conservation. Beauty is said to be eternal, after all.

“If you consider this as a metaphor, then first and foremost, yes, the purpose of the La Prairie house is time,” says Prodromides. “Starting back in the ‘30s with its founder Dr. Paul Niehans, his quest was to unlock someday the secrets of time, the secrets of living. The dedication of the brand is to achieve a timeless beauty, and this specific project is also about timelessness, about ensuring that beauty endures. So I see this collaboration as very much at the core of what the house is all about.”

Fondation Beyeler team analyzing the Mondrian paintings for restoration
“Composition with Double Line and Blue” (1935) (Photo credit: Robert Bayer, Mondrian Holtzman Trust)

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La Prairie cosmetics are available at Rustan’s. Visit laprairie.com and look at the Art Journal, or search hashtags #LaPrairieXFondationBeyeler, #TheArtJournal and #Mondrian to learn more about the Piet Mondrian Conservation Project.

PIET MONDRIAN
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