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Object: Mondrian’s last chrysanthemum

This image has All Rights Reserved. Image © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

Title Mondrian’s last chrysanthemum
Production McCahon, Colin (artist), 1976, Auckland
Medium summary acrylic on paper
Materials acrylic paint, paper, hardboard
Classification paintings
Dimensions Image: 733mm (Height) x 1093mm (Width)
Frame: 1000mm (Height) x 1375mm (Width) x 35mm (Depth)
Credit line Purchased 2008
Registration number 2008-0025-1

Colin McCahon was preoccupied by the threat of nuclear war. Here, he depicts the moment of impact – an explosion turning the sky a fiery red. Below, we see the outcome – darkness and smoky grey rubble. The word ‘ash’ recalls President Kennedy’s famous 1962 speech about the possibility of nuclear war: ‘the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth’.

The painting is named after Piet Mondrian, a pioneering abstract artist who posed a crucial question for Colin McCahon: Where to from abstraction?

McCahon believed that the answer lay not in more refinement but in ‘more involvement in the human situation’. For him, art needed a message. ‘Painting,’ he wrote, ‘can be a potent way of talking.’

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