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 Studie für Improvisation
2012 SOLD for $ 23M by Christie's
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 was sold for $ 23M by Christie's on November 7, 2012. Please watch the video prepared by the auction house.
Studie zu Improvisation 3, oil and gouache on cardboard 45 x 65 cm, was sold for £ 13.5M by Christie's on June 18, 2013.
1910 Murnau mit Kirche
2023 SOLD for £ 37M by Sotheby's
At that stage Kandinsky is still a landscape painter, but colors and forms supersede the realism. Murnau's dazzling colors are the beloved lab of his researches, including the dark violet woods and the saturated green of the foliage.
He makes a further step forward by considering that the verticals, while required to recognize a landscape, may be tilted. A church steeple or a factory chimney can play this role. A consequence is the canceling of the perspective, supporting his desired domination of color over representational and going closer to his end goal to mingle painting with poetry and music as a new harmonic art.
Murnau mit Kirche I, oil on board 67 x 50 cm, is anchored by the tilted steeple, but the real verticals are re-established in the foreground fence and absent in the background.
Murnau mit Kirche II, oil on canvas 96 x 105 cm, achieves that new trend by tilting the village and the mountains in a unique angle all around the same steeple.
This groundbreaking picture comes to the market as a restitution from a Nazi spoliation after seven decades spent in a museum in Eindhoven. It was sold for £ 37M by Sotheby's on March 1, 2023, lot 115. The image is shared by Wikimedia. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1912 Avec l'Arc Noir
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
1990 SOLD for $ 21M by Sotheby's
In January 1911 he 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.
Fugue, oil on canvas 130 x 130 cm painted in 1914, was sold for $ 21M from a lower estimate of $ 10M by Sotheby's on May 17, 1990. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
Arnold Schönberg was a theorist of the fugue and a conductor of Bach. The colored striped ribbons hanging to the nearly biomorphic main figure certainly represent the freedom of the notes in Schönberg's system.
1924 Tiefes Braun
2022 SOLD for $ 23.3M by Christie's
The Bauhaus was the place to be for Wassily Kandinsky. Invited by Gropius, he joined that school in 1922 to reside as a Meister, teaching both the basics of design for beginners and the advanced theories.
Originally a painter of landscapes and epic improvisations, he now becomes the theoretician of abstract art, questioning the usefulness of figuration in art.
Kandinsky was throughout his career a theorist in search of the absolute art. At the time of the Blaue Reiter, the predominance of the colors and of the lines of force led him to abstraction, although he willfully ignored Malevich's Suprematism. In the Bauhaus he advances his theories by a detailed analysis of the basic forms : plane, straight line, angle, circle, semicircle, and of their relation with the colors. His own palette integrates additional colors.
Tiefes Braun was painted in 1924 by Kandinsky for his teaching. The arrangement of the figures assesses that he now integrates the Suprematism. This oil in canvas 83 x 73 cm was sold for $ 23.3M from a lower estimate of $ 10M by Christie's on November 9, 2022, lot 48.
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
2021 SOLD for £ 21.2M 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, Sotheby's sold for £ 21.2M Tensions calmées, oil on canvas 90 x 116 cm painted in 1937, lot 116. 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.