Wassily KANDINSKY (1866-1944)
1909 Blue Mountain and Green House
2017 SOLD for £ 21M including premium
After Cézanne and van Gogh he learns to shake the realism of the lines. After Gauguin, Matisse, the Fauvists and the post-Impressionists, he likes to exaggerate the colors and ceases to weaken them under a varnish. He follows his friend Jawlensky who was one of the first to systematically abandon the realism of colors. Attracted by mysticism, Kandinsky studies Goethe's theories on the psychological significance of colors.
Two summer stays at Murnau with Jawlensky and their companions Gabriele and Marianne are decisive for Kandinsky's career and for his role as a pioneer of modern art. In 1908 he experiments with new forms and new colors. In 1909 he revisits with blazing colors in thick layers his compositions of the previous year and prepares the theories of his new art.
Der blaue Berg is narrative. A group of riders travels in front of a mountain reduced to a triangular surface in an intense blue. Murnau - Studie zur Landschaft mit grünem Haus is an oil on board 33 x 45 cm painted in 1908.
Satisfied with the audacity of his study with the green house Kandinsky reuses the same composition in 1909 in a larger size with more saturated pure colors. Murnau - Landschaft mit grünem Haus, oil on board 70 x 96 cm, is estimated £ 15M for sale by Sotheby's in London on June 21, lot 47.
1909 The Prescient Improvisations of Wassily Kandinsky
2012 SOLD 23 M$ including premium
Far from imagining that he will define the abstract art a few months later, he identifies three themes for his personal art: impressions, improvisations, compositions. He starts immediately by "improvisations", which fascinated him.
In the eight improvisations realized in Murnau in 1909, color dominates the whole work. Some riders and heroes are clearly visible, but the narration is minimized so that the colors get the top role to guide interpretation and emotion.
The notion of improvisation usually involves spontaneity. For this theorist of great complexity, this is no longer true: the pseudo-improvisations are preceded by studies in oil, as if to demonstrate that this art is the culmination of an inner process.
At this stage, by leaving much place for an interpretation by the observer, Kandinsky is a powerful predecessor of Miro. Later, at the time of abstraction, his art becomes too semantic, with a reading difficulty that can repel the public.
Studie für Improvisation 8, 98 x 70 cm, is estimated $ 20M, for sale by Christie's in New York on November 7. This painting is illustrated in the article shared by Artdaily.
I invite you to play the video shared by Christie's.
POST SALE COMMENT
The figurative works made by Kandinsky in Murnau constitute a rare example of a theoretician who actually managed to find new artistic paths. The importance of this study was confirmed: $ 23M including premium.
1909 The Conquest of Kandinsky
2013 SOLD 13.5 M£ including premium
In 2008, I was mostly interested in the comparison with the earlier landscapes painted by Kandinsky. I wrote:
"Kandinsky was a master of fauvist expressionism, did you know it? In 1909, he was pleased by the village of Murnau, south of Munich. He painted a view in strident colors. His research on forms and colors were already more important to him than the theme, and he titled his painting 'Studie zu Improvisation 3'. in the following year, he began to explore abstraction, with the success that we know."
This comment is not enough, of course, but it is not wrong. My mistake was to ignore the mystical rider who rushes to the fortress for an indecipherable reason. With this artwork, the landscape already does not matter any more to the artist, he is gone like a Don Quixote to conquer the mystical dimension of art. The fortress of the landscape is not in Murnau, it is already a product of the imagination of Kandinsky in his greatest year of creativity.
The key to the evolution of the art of Kandinsky in Murnau was given in the meantime by a painting of the same series and same year, Studie für Improvisation 8, sold for $ 23M including premium at Christie's on November 7, 2012.
The landscape and the horse are absent. The rider became a crusader in a urban context too stylized to be recognizable. The strength of his huge sword and the colors still more violent express the glory of the artist to lead the way to a new conception of art.
I invite you to watch the video shared by Christie's introducing the Studie 3 for next sale.
POST SALE COMMENT
The previous sale had taken place at the beginning of the crisis in the art market. Sold for £ 13.5 million including premium, this Studie is now at its fair price, just below the Studie 8 sold last year.
1909 The Seer of the Beach
2014 SOLD 17.2 M$ including premium
The theme of 'Improvisations' is well recorded. Some images show a seer of modern art in the assault on the fortress of classicism, although Kandinsky did not himself propose such a definition. His 'Impressions' are more difficult to categorize because the artist has not assigned this title to actual artworks.
However Strandszene (beach scene), oil on board 53 x 67 cm, retroactively appears as one of the best demonstrators of the artistic revolution brought by Kandinsky's Impressions.
This painting was executed at the end of 1909, not before a preparatory drawing dated August 3 in his sketchbook. As in Improvisations, vertical references disappear and colors are violent and even threatening. Some characters are shown but the narrative aspect is absent or impossible to decode.
The non localized beach is of course not Murnau which is a village in the Bavarian mountains. The long white robe of a character classifies it as an Orientalist painting. Tunisia was a favorite theme of Kandinsky when he was still a Fauvist landscape artist.
The great novelty of this composition is that it relies exclusively on a memory of impressions of the artist, without recourse of any previous work or to a photograph, thus excluding almost totally the reality of shapes.
Wassily probably painted it for display in a the house newly purchased in Murnau by his companion Gabriele Münter. He then kept it for nearly thirty years. Yet it is one of the earliest precursors of the release of the forms from any figurative or narrative intention that will lead to the concept of abstract art.
Strandszene is estimated $ 16M, for sale by Christie's in New York on May 6. I invite you to play the video shared by the auction house.
POST SALE COMMENT
Good result for this difficult Kandinsky painting which was from the best period: $ 17.2 million including premium.
1911 The Breath of Horses
2017 SOLD for $ 12.7M including premium
In January 1911 Kandinsky was enthralled by the music of Schönberg heard in a concert. He will now endeavor to express through his painting a universal and pantheistic feeling with a rhythm which is equivalent to a breath. For that purpose he no longer needs a narrative excuse nor a perspective and he also eliminates the graphic consistency between lines and colors.
On November 13 in New York, Christie's sells an example from this new experimental phase. Titled Improvisation mit Pferden (Studie für Improvisation 20), this oil on canvas 71 x 99 cm painted in 1911 is estimated $ 9M, lot 9 A.
The lyrical breath is assured by the primordial force of the diagonal rising from lower left to upper right. The figures are more or less identifiable : horses, a blue and yellow couple, a tower, a row of trees. The powerful rising flow is disturbed by a thick semi-circular black line with zigzag.
The final version 95 x 108 cm titled Improvisation 20 (Zwei Pferde) retained the diagonal and the zigzag, with solid colors. Appearing as a mere detail in comparison with its Studie, it does not offer the same amplitude but is indisputably one of the ultimate stages before pure abstraction.
1913 Tilting the Perspective
2017 SOLD for £ 33M including premium
The anecdote that Kandinsky did not recognize one of his own paintings because it was turned on another side is often considered the founding act of abstract art. Reported much later by the artist this story is mainly symbolic and is not really dated. It marks the awareness by Kandinsky that the identification of the theme undermines the aesthetic appreciation of an artwork.
After 1909 Kandinsky suppressed the classical perspective in favor of tilted sceneries for which his preparatory sketches were figurative. He copies the positions, the proportions and the masses from the sketch into the final work. The figurative details disappear and the title suggests that it was an abstract conception from the beginning. The loss of the perspective gives the artist the opportunity to reinforce the musicalist interpretation of the colors. The balance of the masses becomes a symphony.
On June 21 in London, Sotheby's sells at lot 53 Bild mit weissen Linien, oil on canvas 120 x 110 cm painted in 1913. The press release of May 29 announces an estimate in excess of US $ 35M.
A sketch in watercolor and ink for this work is known, dated from the same year. The towers of a Russian city are clearly visible along with a red bridge over the river and two harnessed horses. The comparison is obvious when we watch simultaneously the sketch and the painting. When we only see the ultimate image it is a brilliantly colored amalgam forming an oblique mass.
After his return to Russia, Kandinsky continues to proceed with a similar method. In 1916 Moskau I is a tilted sketch where some features of the big city are recognizable. Moskau II is closer to abstraction and requires an effort of interpretation. This oil on canvas 53 x 38 cm was sold for £ 6.3M including premium by Sotheby's on February 3, 2015.
1913 Spiritual Colors of Kandinsky
2018 SOLD for $ 23M including premium
In 1911 in Munich, Kandinsky and Marc create the group Der Blaue Reiter. Marc seeks to establish a symbolic code of colors that he applies to figurative forms without respecting the original colors of his models. Kandinsky wants to take into account the relationship perceived by humans between colors and emotions.
In this tendency the figurative gradually loses its preponderance. Lines and colors come to be organized as force fields around anchor points. The verticals are replaced by an oblique composition that directs the gaze towards the top right. Colors provide their emotions and their music around two mute values, white and black, which also express the two extremes of hope.
In seeking the spiritual with such considerations, Kandinsky increasingly approaches abstraction. His writings provide him a lead over all his competitors. When abstract art becomes one of the major elements of painting, he will have the necessary arguments to claim its invention, although the reality may be a little more complex.
The prophet of art must have mystical references. As early as 1910 Kandinsky tries the theme of the Last Judgment, very well adapted to his purpose by its depersonalized story.
On November 12 in New York, Sotheby's sells Zum Thema Jüngstes Gericht, oil and mixed media on canvas 47 x 52 cm painted by Kandinsky in 1913, lot 8 estimated $ 22M.
This composition is not really abstract. By comparison with other works, we recognize steeples that surmount the horizon of the cities and the background is a group of mountains under a very tight flow of lightnings. The object of the judgment is the ultimate confrontation of good and evil that will open a new era. The anchors of the forces are the many oval shapes of various colors spread across that battlefield.
'The Triumph of Color: Important Works from a Private European Collection' today represents one of the finest assemblages of post-Impressionist & Modern Art in private hands. Preview the collection, which will highlight our marquee sales this Nov in #NYC: https://t.co/ct5KgUwp4L pic.twitter.com/WBKjsjAiZL— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) October 4, 2018
1932 Kandinsky inside the Last Drama of the Bauhaus
2009 SOLD 10.6 M$ including premium
Pioneer of abstract art, he did not consider it as a simple assembly of geometries, but rather as this symbolism which makes his work looking so hermetic after the First World War. The surface shapes, the density of colors and the meeting of lines and points should form a musical design to exacerbate the sensitivity of the observer of the work.
In 1932, Kandinsky is already for ten years a master at the Bauhaus. Modernist teachings of this school had focused the hatred of extremists from the beginning. Events rushed with the arrival of the Nazis in the town council of Dessau. The Bauhaus left for Berlin where it will be dissolved a few months later. The attempt of Mies van der Rohe to depoliticize the school had been uneffective to face the Nazi steamroller.
On November 4 in New York, Sotheby's sells "Mild und Krass," painted in early 1932 by Kandinsky before the close out of Dessau. The artist was supported by the philanthropist Solomon Guggenheim who bought many paintings including this one.
A large black triangle, haunting, pointed down, is like the dagger of the threat that the politics push on the art (Krass, dramatic). The free and light forms that fly around are empty (Mild, sweet).
Curiously, the figurative works from before 1910 have most attracted the interest of Kandinsky fans at auction in recent years. The arrival of this tragic painting will again highlight the abstract period, which corresponds to what the public better knows of this artist. In these conditions, the estimated $ 6 million is reasonable.
POST SALE COMMENT
There was no doubt about the importance of this work, it is why I said that the estimate was "reasonable".
The result confirms: $ 10.6 million including premium.
Here is an image of this painting in an article shared by the New York Times before the sale.
Size of the painting 100 x 120 cm.
1935 The Second Exile of Wassily Kandinsky
2016 SOLD for $ 23.3M including premium
Kandinsky loves the light and weather of Paris. He has no teaching responsibility and feels free despite the increasing heaviness of the European totalitarianisms. He introduces the curve, or more precisely the planar projection of a flexible tape, in his pictorial vocabulary and lets reappear some figurative symbols.
Rigide et courbé is painted in December 1935 with his new technique where he improves the texture by mingling sand in the oil paint. This mixed media on canvas 114 x 162 cm is estimated $ 18M for sale by Christie's in New York on November 16, lot 18 B.
'Courbé' is the central tape, accompanied by a musical rhythm. Its flexibility expresses with a new optimism the vagaries of fate. This figure is flanked by a bulge and extended at its right end by the horns of a bovine. Its interpretation as the theme of the rape of Europa is plausible and seductive. At the same time Picasso identifies himself with the Minotaur.
'Rigide' is the totalitarianism reduced to a group of skyscrapers from which however escapes a sign of life which may be a leafy branch or perhaps a fetus. In the following year in his Composition No. 9, the symbols of birth become dominant and the theme of the fetus is confirmed in several places either by an explicit figuration or by the addition of umbilical cords.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's :
1937 Tensions Calmées
for sale on June 29 by Sotheby's
In that new phase, he got rid of the geometric symbols that populated his art at the time of the Bauhaus. He could instead revisit the basic ideas of his early career about the pre-eminence of colors and the link between pictorial creation and music. At that time he took also an interest in micro-biomorphic forms.
Rigide et courbé, painted in 1935 and sold by Christie's for $ 23.3M in 2016, is typical of the new style with the melody simulated by the curves of its central ribbon.
On June 29, 2021 in London, Sotheby's sells Tensions calmées, oil on canvas 90 x 116 cm painted in 1937, lot 116 estimated £ 18M. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
The title reveals the desire of the artist to express the complexity of the emotions through opposite concepts. It may be a precursor to his L'Elan tempéré of 1944, where the abstract figures are also musicalist.
Details in Tensions calmées may evoke a performing pianist with his keyboard and four converging strings of a violin. Curved figures are joyous, in an obvious desire to express an orchestration.
1939 Le Rond Rouge by Kandinsky
2018 SOLD for $ 20.6M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
His exile in Paris frees him from teaching, and consequently from his subjugation to geometry. The forms observed in embryology and microbiology generate an unprecedented variant of his pantheism. He admires these flexible organisms invented by nature, which move under the microscope in a harmony that had escaped human eyes.
On November 12, 2018, Sotheby's sold at lot 4 for $ 20.6M including premium Le Rond Rouge, oil on canvas 89 x 116 cm painted in 1939. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
On the top right, the picture is dominated by an intense red orb in a thick black circle. This figure is the vital source, which nourishes the rest of the surface through thick black filaments. On the bottom left, a ground in deep perspective is littered with geometric elements. An influence of Kandinsky's dodecaphonism on Mondrian's boogie-woogie deserves to be analyzed.