Piet Mondrian, Art Gallery

Swing Era: Painting the Jazz Product

Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie-Woogie, 1942-43. Oil on canvas, 50 x 50 in. New York, Museum of Modern Art.


"Jazz is the result of the energy stored up in America. It is a very energetic kind of music, noisy, boisterous and even vulgar.
--George Gershwin
Like Stuart Davis, Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872-1944) translated the colorful, rhythmic irregularities of swing era jazz into paint and used them to represent the modern American city. As art historian Donna Cassidy writes, in Broadway Boogie-Woogie, jazz manifests itself in "irregular rhythms, flickering optical effects, and [a] grid plan," which recreate the experience of a New York City street.

The common use by artists of an abstracted jazz-inspired style to represent the quintessentially American city, New York, illustrates the notion of jazz and urban American life as a "perfect fit." As Gershwin suggests, jazz grew out of something "stored up in America"--something inherently American. In turn, as jazz became a pervasive cultural phenomenon during the Swing Era, it became impossible for artists to represent urban American life without taking this outward manifestation of something which had once been implicit into account. Jazz not only reflected the city or affected those who lived within it: it was the American urban spirit.


Resources: Donna M. Cassidy, Painting the Musical City: Jazz and Cultural Identity in American Art, 1910-1940, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 1997.
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