Hans Janssen, the former chief curator of The Hague’s Kunstmuseum, which has the largest collection of Mondrians in the world, paints a particularly vivid portrait of these hazardous peripeties in Piet Mondrian: A Life. But most of all, Janssen’s book, which is the first comprehensive biography of Mondrian to be published in English, is a fascinating study of an artist so obsessed with his life’s work that he would let nothing and no one get in its way ... Janssen makes no secret of the fact that he sometimes resorts to fiction—always derived from Mondrian’s own writings, letters, and articles—as a way of creating revealing dialogue.
... audacious in structure ... Janssen drew on his profound knowledge to dispense with strict chronology and to write not only about his subject’s prodigious mind and eye but also from within them. He openly employs devices of fiction to parse intellectual insights and emotional states and, now and then, to cobble together imagined conversations between Mondrian and some of his significant contemporaries, with lines taken verbatim either from Mondrian’s own writings and letters or from the diaries, letters, or recollections of others, such as the American sculptor Alexander Calder. The readerly effect is a bit uncanny, recalling Marianne Moore’s definition of poetry as 'imaginary gardens with real toads in them' ... Janssen’s expert citations of parallels in music for Mondrian’s art are a treat and a revelation for a musical doofus like me ... Janssen successfully quashes any tendency to regard Mondrian as an oddball, or to rank him pragmatically with the many other moderns whose legacies have informed developments in fine and applied arts ... Even the critically consummate Janssen, with his magnum opus of a biography, can merely dance around, and not penetrate, the adamantine conundrum of the Dutch magus’s dead stops in lived time.
Mr. Janssen is rightly generous to his predecessor; to the pleasures of Seuphor, he adds an extraordinary feel for the paintings and an uncanny sense of Mondrian’s inner self ... [Janssen] travels back and forth across time, beginning with 1918-1932, shifting backward to 1872-1918, ending in 1932-1944. And, most unusually, he resorts occasionally to fictional dialogue in order to frame complex ideas and render them 'more immediate.' Whether or not the reader agrees with the latter two choices, they do little to diminish the book’s fascinations ... By starting at 1918-1932, he makes Mondrian’s early landscapes and still lifes seem works worthy of revisiting in light of the artist’s mature achievements, rather than juvenilia to slog through.