Included in the wonderful exhibit “Seeing Double” at NGA is an emblematic painting by Piet Mondrian and one of the same size by Marlow Moss (1932). The two works are notable for the inclusion of one or more “double line.”
… in 1927. Entering the circle of Piet Mondrian Moss adopted the Dutch artist’s Neo-Plastic vocabulary of square and rectangular planes painted in the primary colors, white, and gray, and bounded by black lines; she developed her first double line painting around 1930.
The double line was for Moss a means to work through Neo-Plasticism, a system that Mondrian had already tested repeatedly after he consolidated it in 1921. In Moss’s White, Black, Red and Gray (1932), a vertical black band bisects the composition roughly in two, yet this solid entity is in turn interrupted by thin parallel lines stretching from left to right dividing the upper half of the canvas from the lower. Rejecting Mondrian’s signature formula of single intersecting lines by inserting the double line in the center of her arrangement, Moss traduces the aim of Neo-Plasticism to achieve a representation of harmony in order to give form to the universal— Mondrian’s “dream of a perfectly equilibrated future society.” The double line in Moss’s painting establishes an extreme tension in the very center of the work, dividing top from bottom and disrupting the “repose” and balance characteristic of Mondrian’s classic style.
The invention of the double line has been much contested. Mondrian, for his part, adopted the format in 1932 and titled some of these works “double line” compositions…Mondrian’s double line introduced a retinal reverberation to the otherwise balanced arrangements. By 1934–1935, the double line was itself doubled. In Composition (No. 1) Gray-Red (1935), two pairs of parallel lines bisect the composition; the optical intensity caused by the pairs of double lines crescendos at the points of their intersection, while the white, gray, and red planes and single lines at the lower right, a zone of Neo-Plastic calm, are shunted to the margins. As line evolved into the dominant element of Mondrian’s art, line itself was quadrupled and multiplied; the double line, embedded in intricate webs of black bands, was no longer legible as a double. It is as if Moss’s discovery, the reward of a rigorous apprenticeship to Mondrian’s art, came along at the very moment the older painter needed it in order to dismantle his system,