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Victory Boogie-Woogie is the final work of art by the Dutch abstract painter Piet Mondrian. It is a cacophony red, blue, yellow, black, and white parallelograms, on a diamond shaped canvas, remenicent of busy city streets. But the piece remains unfinished because Mondrian died on February 1st, 1944… 2 years into painting the piece. Many pieces of art are never finished, but not always because the artist died.
In the case of Unfinished portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the work is unfinished because the subject died before it was completed. April 12th, 1945, Elizabeth Shoumatoff began painting her subject. When the president was served lunch, he commented “I have a terrific pain in the back of my head” and fell unconscious from a stroke. After being taken to his room, he died at 3:35pm.
In the case of Jacque-Louis David’s The Tennis Court Oath, it was actually political unrest that caused the work to remain incomplete. 576 people had gathered to sign an oath that they would not leave until a new constitution was drafted. Although they did draft a constitution, soon after, the French Revolution began. While David was painting the event, he became a deputy of the National Convention and several of the people depicted were being labelled enemies and traitors. David decided it would be best to stop painting the piece.
Big events like war and death don’t always have a hand in stopping the completion of a painting. Paul Cézanne gave up on finishing his Portrait of Gustave Geffroy simply because he didn’t like it! Ironically this piece became fairly popular after Cézanne’s death. The perspectives and geometric dimensions were particularly interesting to cubist painters. Even if a piece remains incomplete it may still evoke strong reactions.