A Piet Mondrian painting has been hanging upside-down for 75 years, according to an art historian.
One of the Dutch painter’s iconic Modernist paintings called “New York City I,” features Mondrian’s classic primary color palette and geometric lines.
“New York City I” has been shown with the thickest cluster of lines at the bottom of the frame, according to an exhibition catalog from the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, the German gallery that acquired the painting in 1980.
The painting is part of a series of paintings made between 1941 and 1942 after the artist moved to New York City.
The picture orientation shows the multicolored lines thickening at the bottom, suggesting a skyline. However, when curator Susanne Meyer-Büser started researching the museum’s new show on the Dutch artist earlier this year, she realized the picture should be the other way around.
“The thickening of the grid should be at the top, like a dark sky,” said Meyer-Büser. “Once I pointed it out to the other curators, we realized it was very obvious. I am 100% certain the picture is the wrong way around.”
According to the historian, a photo of Mondrian’s studio shows the painting upside down, suggesting this was how the artist wanted it to be shown. The painter died in 1944 and it would be impossible to ever know the correct orientation for sure, says the museum catalog.
However, it is also possible that Mondrian repeatedly turned the picture around while he was working on it, in which case there would be no right or wrong orientation.
The painting will stay hanging in the direction it always has over a decade, according to museum curator Susanne Meyer-Büser. Turning it may risk damaging it, also the orientation confusion is now a unique part of the history of the object.