See also : Kandinsky Abstract art Abstract art II Alps
Chronology : 1909 1910-1919 1913 1915 1916 1920-1929 1920 1935 1939
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.
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.
1915 The First Degree of the Reconstruction
2017 SOLD for $ 21M including premium
Malevich participates in Tramway V but is already somehow a rebel. He introduces his own works with a comment which is indeed a profession of faith for an abstract art : "the author ignores the contents of these paintings".
The scandal of Tramway V meets the expectations of its organizers and another exhibition will be managed before the end of the year. Malevich understands that his time has come : he will be the apostle of the subject-less art.
He begins by isolating the basic figures, invariably on a white background, and reaches in May the ultimate expression of this new artistic grammar, the black square. Aware of the promising importance of this invention, he returns to build complex compositions expressing the forces of the universe by the opposition of colors circumscribed in strictly geometrical forms. To avoid any figurative interpretation he goes so far as to banish the horizontal line which evokes the horizon.
In the December exhibition hermetically titled Zero-Ten, Malevich enters 39 paintings offering various degrees of reconstruction but physically dominated in their hanging by the Black Square. The loss of meaning allows the artist to change the position of the paintings. He is a precursor of the modern installation.
On May 16 in New York, Sotheby's sells a Composition of three forms, lot 32 estimated $ 12M. This oil on canvas 53 x 53 cm is a convincing demonstration of the first level of the suprematist reconstruction at such a point that it was undoubtedly made for the preparation of Zero-Ten.
It is dominated by a very saturated dark yellow truncated triangle which is the projection of a sloping rectangle onto the surface of the canvas. A group of two small rectangles partially masking the yellow form can be viewed in space as co-planar with its upper edge.
A few years later, Rodchenko's constructivism was a follow-up to Malevich's suprematism, adding a desire to create useful structures for architecture and furnishings. Malevich did not need to follow Rodchenko : independently from Mondrian he had been one of the very first artists to offer a vision of the universe free from any thematic reference.
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 :