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RKD confirms authenticity of new portrait by Mondrian

November 23, 2018

The RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History has found a photograph in which Piet Mondrian can be seen working on his portrait of Elisabeth Sophia Maria (Betsy) Cavalini. This portrait from 1901 was recently discovered and was presented by the E.J. van Wisselingh Gallery at the PAN Art Fair in Amsterdam on Saturday 17 November 2018.

The photograph shows Piet Mondrian, aged c. 29, sitting in front of his easel on which the portrait of Betsy Cavalini can be seen. For years, art historians asked if the picture on the easel could really be a work by Mondrian. Now that we know that the picture is the portrait of Betsy Cavalini of 1901, we can also date the photo. It turns out to be the earliest known image of the studio at 158 Albert Cuypstraat, Amsterdam, where the artist lived and worked between December 1898 and May 1903. The photo is a key piece of evidence establishing that the portrait is indeed an autograph work by Piet Mondrian.

The photo belongs to the archive of Mondrian’s good friend and fellow painter Simon Maris (1873-1935), which was given on long-term loan to the RKD by the Stichting Schone Kunsten rond 1900 (Foundation for the Fine Arts around 1900) in 1998. In that year a group of unknown photographs was published in the periodical Jong Holland. The author of the article, Paul Gorter, executor of the Maris Archive, suggested then that the photo showed the studio in the Albert Cuypstraat. However, he was unable to identify the painting on the easel. The mystery has now finally been solved thanks to the discovery of the painting shown at the PAN Art Fair.

The portrait of Betsy Cavalini will be included in the digital Catalogue Raisonné launched by the RKD in March 2018. The portraits of Cornelis Bergman and his son Cornelis Junior (1903-?) have already been catalogued.