Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) Ohne titel 19 3/8 x 12 5/8 in (49.2 x 32 cm) (Painted in 1941)

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Lot 24
Wassily Kandinsky
Ohne titel 19 3/8 x 12 5/8 in (49.2 x 32 cm)

Sold for US$ 343,500 inc. premium

Impressionist & Modern Art

17 May 2017, 17:00 EDT

New York

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Ohne titel
signed with monogram and dated '41' (lower left)
gouache on black paper laid down to the artist's mount
19 3/8 x 12 5/8 in (49.2 x 32 cm)
Painted in 1941


  • Provenance
    Nina Kandinsky, the artist's wife, Paris.
    Galerie Maeght, Paris.
    Irving Galleries, Milwaukee.
    Acquired from the above by H. Lee Turner in 1970.

    New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Kandinsky, 21 November-24 December 1949.

    The artist's handlist, Watercolors, as '1941, 712 (g.s. noir)'.
    V. Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky, Watercolours, catalogue raisonné, vol. II, 1922-44, London, 1994, no. 1347 (illustrated).

    The present work dates from Kandinsky's years of exile in France after 1934. A professor at the Bauhaus from 1921, he had at first taught mural painting, later going on to teach a popular free-painting class. When the Bauhaus was closed down under pressure from the Nazi regime in 1933, Kandinsky was forced to leave Germany, moving with his wife Nina to Paris. Working in a small studio at Neuilly-sur-Seine, he increasingly focused on organic forms, developing a synthesis between Nature and his own inner world, connecting both to a grander Utopian goal. In Paris, he allowed his surroundings to alter his viewpoint for the first time, and the light and color he experienced made him acutely aware of the natural world around him. Characteristically he used this as a means of examining his own thoughts. 'That particular morning, let us say, all of nature, life, and the whole world surrounding the artist, and the life of his own soul - these are the unique source of each art. It is too dangerous to leave out one part of that source (external life around the artist) or another (his inner life); ...the painter "feeds" himself on external impressions (external life), he transforms them with in his soul (inner life), reality, and dream! without being aware of it. The result is a work of art.' (K.C. Lindsay and P. Vergo, Kandinsky: Complete Writings On Art, vol. II, New York, 1994, p. 768). His later works, such as the present gouache, show the 'inner necessity' for which he was striving.

    In his exploration of abstraction, Kandinsky developed an intense interest in color and form. Every color in his palette had meaning, and his forms expounded his views on the interconnectedness of the cosmos. While his works during the Paris years seem abstract, he differed from his contemporaries in his desire to link his inner vision or the 'inner necessity' of the subconscious and unconscious with an essentially Utopian view. His exploration of this 'inner necessity' can clearly be discerned in the present work. For Kandinsky, art was developed from the combination of forms and the harmony of colors. Each color carried a meaning, for instance black, as in the background of this work, represents closure and the finality of the end. The circles seen in the lower right corner were peaceful shapes representing the human soul. In his later years, he tended to mix black with brighter colors and pastel hues, delineating biomorphic forms with non-geometric outlines which under closer inspection appear to be microscopic organisms. These all combine to present the mystery that is the artist's inner life. As he declared 'The painter never worries about the aim, or to put it better, he is not aware of it while he is painting. His attention is focused exclusively on form. The goal remains in the subconscious and guides his hand. While painting a picture, the painter always "hears" a "voice" that simply tells him, "That's right!" or "That's wrong!" If the voice becomes very faint, the artist must put his brushes down and wait' (K.C. Lindsay and P. Vergo, op. cit., p. 769). He continued, 'but most wonderful of all is this: to add up all these voices together with many, many others (there are really, in addition to the simple forms, many colors and form) in a single painting - the whole painting becomes a single "HERE I AM."' (K.C. Lindsay and P. Vergo, op. cit., p. 781).

    The microscopic organisms that are introduced into Kandinsky's work in the 1930s revisit his earlier investigations in biology. In 1934, the year he moved to Paris, what appear to be simple single cell life forms or amoebas begin to flourish. Womb-like shapes enclose his geometric figures, such as the form seen in the upper right quadrant of the present work. These may have been inspired by scientific illustrations of embryology, such as the work of the German zoologist Ernst Haeckel, which Kandinsky also copied in this period. These investigations were paralleled in the sculpture of Kandinsky's contemporary Hans Arp, for example in the latter's Human Concretion II, conceived in 1933, which also depicts a curving and organic form resembling an embryo or womb. While Arp was an active adherent of Surrealism, Kandinsky never considered himself to be part of the movement. In works such as the present gouache, however, a Surrealist influence is hard to avoid.

    'The new motifs the artist introduced in 1934 must be singled out and identified. These forms derive from the world of biology – especially zoology and embryology... there is a remarkable incidence in his painting of images of amoebas, embryos, larvae and marine invertebrates, as well as leaf forms and punctuation marks' (V. Endicott Barnett, Kandinksy in Paris 1934-1944, exhib. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1985, p. 62-63). The appearance of these new forms, together with exclamation marks, arrows and apostrophes may also reflect the influence of Paul Klee, Kandinsky's friend and Bauhaus colleague. These two visionaries had met in Munich in 1911 and were among the first teachers at the Bauhaus. Their close relationship continued after the closure of the school. Although already gravely ill, Klee made a close study of Kandinsky's exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern in February 1937, praising his friend's Paris paintings to his wife. The present work dates from the year following Klee's death, a period of extended mourning for Kandinsky.

    The present work comes from the collection of H. Lee Turner. Mr. Turner was an innovator who evolved the practice of using paralegals, assistants who were qualified to work in support of lawyers in the American legal system. As his innovation became industry standard, his success allowed him to transfer his energies into collecting, spanning many disciplines including Pre-Colombian art, Books and Manuscripts and Modern and Contemporary Art. His collection was assembled, in part, through the friendship and guidance of the gallerist Madeleine Chalette, owner of Galerie Chalette in New York and Irving Luntz at the Irving Galleries in Milwaukee, from whom he acquired the present work in 1970.
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) Ohne titel 19 3/8 x 12 5/8 in (49.2 x 32 cm) (Painted in 1941)
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) Ohne titel 19 3/8 x 12 5/8 in (49.2 x 32 cm) (Painted in 1941)
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