See also : Kandinsky Abstract art Abstract art II Alps Music and dance Nobel medals Northern Europe Pink diamond
Chronology : 1909 1910-1919 1913 1915 1916 1920-1929 1920 1935 1937 21st century 2010-2019 2017 2020 to now 2021
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.
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
1915 Victory over Nature
2015 SOLD for £ 21.5M including premium
The seminal work of non-figuration is the stage set made in 1913 by Malevich in St. Petersburg for the Russian Futurist opera Victory over the Sun. He soon emerges as the leader of this new art whose emblem is in 1915 his black square on white background, towering, dense, symmetrical and balanced.
The new language is a construction of colored quadrangles on a white background which expresses purity and infinity and anticipates Mondrian. They overlap or coincide without a perspective effect and without transparency, often in a globally rising or falling movement that offers the confidence into the progress.
Some of these constructions retain titles such as Automobile and Lady or Aircraft in flight that do not score an incentive to a figurative reading but rather a recognition by the artist of his Futurist inspiration. Three years later, the boldness of the White square on white background opens the way to modern abstract art calling for the variations in texture instead of form or color.
On June 24 in London, Sotheby's sells Suprematism - 18th Construction, oil on canvas 53 x 53 cm painted in 1915, lot 18 estimated £ 20M.
I invite you to watch the video shared by Sotheby's.
1916 Purified Art by Malevich
2018 SOLD for $ 86M including premium
The second exhibition of his group, from mid-December 1915 to mid-January 1916, includes his Black Square on White Background, the first great shock from this new art. Malevich's aim is aesthetic. He finds for this new approach the designation of Suprematism.
The Black Square is his first flagship but it is not enough. The emotion must not be brought only by the freedom of the elements but also by the colors. Painted in 1915, the 18th Composition is a stack of almost rectangular non-transparent shapes in various colors. This artwork already invites to rotate the canvas for an observation in the four possible orientations. It was sold for £ 21.5M including premium by Sotheby's on June 24, 2015.
After the closing of the exhibition 0.10 in January 1916, Malevich restarts his search for the ultimate expression of colors. Suprematist Composition, oil on canvas 89 x 71 cm painted in 1916, was sold for $ 60M including premium by Sotheby's on November 3, 2008, lot 6. It will be sold by Christie's in New York on May 15, lot 12 A.
I described and commented it as follows in 2008:
The painting for sale no longer produces an illusion : it is a composition based on about fifty colored beams spread over a white background. The size, the proportions and the colors are varied. The angular positions show an opposition between the big purple beam and most of the others.
Malevich has succeeded here in his approach to an art that completely escapes nature and feeling, to retain only the aesthetics of color and geometry. He wanted his art to be understandable in the same way in all countries.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1920-1922 The Black and the Red
2015 SOLD for $ 38M including premium
Malevich developed a new grammar reduced to three basic filled shapes, simple enough to escape a semiotic interpretation : rectangle, oval and cross. The perfect rectangle and oval are the square and the circle.
The black square on white is the seminal flagship and the masterpiece of Suprematism. Centered on a canvas where it fills most of the available surface, the square becomes a flying artefact independently from its supporting fabric and generates a mesmerizing feeling. Faced with such a spatial illusion, we are tempted to reduce the famous white square on white from 1918 down to no more than an additional experiment.
In the early phase, other works by Malevich still make concessions to competing movements. His cohorts of stripes more or less parallel in various colors seek to express the movement as in the Futurism in an assembly which appears hand made as in the Synthetic Cubism or in the Constructivism.
On November 5 in New York, Sotheby's sells Mystic Suprematism, oil on canvas 100 x 59 cm painted between 1920 and 1922, lot 8 estimated $ 35M.
A black cross is flying in front of a deep red oval. The pole of the cross and the oval are coaxial. The pole is a quadrangle that slightly tapers downward, bringing an effect of forward tilting. The additional small black line that runs across the lower part of the pole is used for balancing, allowing the viewer to decide if that indefinable abstract object is or not about to fall.
Suprematism is already announcing the major trends of abstract art of the second half of its century, which will use the expressive role of the colors. It is unfortunate that Malevich did not experience the importance of large size. To go further than Suprematism, wait for Rothko.
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 by Kandinsky
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.
2017 In Memory of Nijinsky
2020 SOLD for CHF 24.4M including premium
A gem discovered in 2017 is a purple pink diamond of exceptional weight, 27.85 carats. Prepared in Russia, the diamond has retained the elongated shape of the rough stone, allowing a sensational yield of over 50%. It weighs 14.83 carats and is certified Fancy Vivid Purple Pink and Internally Flawless by the GIA. Its oval modified brilliant cut perfectly reveals both colors.
Much rarer than the Fancy Vivid Pink or the Fancy Intense Pink, the Fancy Vivid Purple Pink shows a perfect balance between its two colors, unlike the Fancy Vivid Purplish Pink which has a pink dominant.
The company gave the raw gem the name Nijinsky, in memory of the costume adorned with rose petals worn in 1911 in Monte Carlo by the Russian dancer in the memorable ballet Le Spectre de la Rose. The finished diamond was named The Spirit of the Rose when it was announced in August 2019. It is estimated over CHF 21M for sale on November 11 in Geneva by Sotheby's, lot 204. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
A Fancy Vivid Purple Pink weighing 8.41 carats, also Internally Flawless, was sold by Sotheby's on October 7, 2014 for HK $ 138M including premium, making US $ 2.1M per carat, one of the highest results recorded in the whole range of pink diamonds.
With identical characteristics and an optimized shape, bigger diamonds are more expensive per carat. The higher estimate of The Spirit, CHF 35M, corresponds to more than US $ 2.5M per carat before fees.
2021 Dmitry Muratov Nobel Peace Prize
2022 SOLD for $ 103.5M by Heritage
It is indeed not a comfortable task. From 2000 to 2009 six of its journalists including two women have been killed in a direct following of their professional investigations.
The 2021 Nobel Peace prize was shared between the Filipino journalist Maria Ressa and Muratov "for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace."
During the Russian-Ukrainian war, Muratov decided on March 22, 2022 to sell his medal to support UNICEF's humanitarian response for children in Ukraine and neighboring countries.
It was sold for $ 103.5M in a single lot auction operated by Heritage on June 20 which is also the World Refugee Day. The bidding was opened on June 1 which is Children's Day in Ukraine. The event is approved by the Norwegian Nobel Institute as a "generous act of humanitarianism very much in the spirit of Alfred Nobel". Please watch the video of an interview of Muratov about that project, shared by the auction house.
A precedent is the sale by Niels Bohr of his Nobel Prize in Physics medal to benefit Finnish relief during the Second World War.
The Russian edition of the Novaya Gazeta was suspended on March 28, 2022 after two warnings from the Russian agency in charge of the control of the communication. Muratov was subsequently splashed by an assailant in the eyes with a mixture of red paint and acetone.