Specialist Conor Jordan considers Wassily Kandinsky’s Rigide et Courbé (Rigid and Curved), unseen in public for more than 50 years and offered in New York on 16 November.
Wassily Kandinsky painted Rigide et Courbé (Rigid and Curved) in December 1935, marking the second anniversary of his arrival in Paris following the closure of the Bauhaus in Berlin. The canvas is densely packed with lively geometric vignettes and a textured surface composed of sand mixed with paint, a technique Kandinsky used only in his Paris paintings of 1934–1935.
The painting was first owned by Solomon R. Guggenheim, who acquired it from Kandinsky in 1936. Extensively published and much exhibited between 1937 and 1949, the work is the most important Paris period painting by Kandinsky ever to appear on the market.
‘With its dynamic sweep of upward energy, Rigide et Courbé evokes a rhapsodic song of thanksgiving, suggesting the bright hope the artist saw in his new home in Paris following his flight from Nazi Germany,’ explains Conor Jordan, Deputy Chairman of Impressionist & Modern Art. Marcel Duchamp had found the artist and his wife Nina a three-room, sixth-floor apartment in a new building overlooking the river in the suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. The Kandinskys had taken up residence during the final days of December 1933.
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Rigide et Courbé, 1935. Oil and sand on canvas. 44⅞ x 63⅞ in (114 x 162.4 cm). Estimate: $18,000,000-25,000,000. This work is offered in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 16 November at Christie’s in New York
The bound shapes on one side of the canvas opposed by thrusting organic forms that press outwards suggest a veiled narrative of escape, release and the freedom to begin anew. Rigide et Courbé reflects the profound impact Kandinsky’s new French surroundings had had on his painting.
Estimated at $18-25 million, the painting is being offered from an important private American collection and has not been on the market since 1964. The upcoming sale preview (Christie’s Hong Kong, 30 September to 1 October; Christie’s London, 6-9 October; San Francisco, 13-16 October) marks the first time in more than 50 years that the work will have been publicly displayed.
It couldn’t come more full cirlce: Kandinsky created his only stage production based on Mussorgsky’s piano cycle, “Pictures at an Exhibition,” inspired by a photo exhibition. Kandinsky’s stage designs are now on exhibit.
“Pictures at an Exhibition” were originally a cycle of works for piano written by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky. For artist Wassily Kandinsky, the cycle served as a basis for his first and only theater project, which was premiered in the German city of Dessau in 1928.
The stage designs for the production are now being exhibited, in honor of the painter’s 150th birthday, in Kandinsky’s former residence in Dessau.
Wassily Kandinsky was out to create a synthetic “Gesamtkunstwerk.” For him, that meant that sounds took on hues that listeners could see before their eyes as they listened to the music. It was intended to be a Gesamtkustwerk of sound, color and motion.
“Worldwide, only two series remain from the stage designs – one in Centre Pompidou in Paris and the other in a theater studies collection at the University of Cologne,” said Harald Wetzel, organizer of the exhibition at the Dessau Masters’ Houses. Included in the exhibition are images from the Cologne collection.
The home of a Bauhaus artist
Wassily Kandinsky lived and worked in Dessau from 1925 to 1932 as a master with the Bauhaus school of art and design. Those were his most productive years. Over 500 painters and watercolors were created in his studio in the masters’ settlement.
The so-called masters’ houses were designed for the Bauhaus teachers – by none other than architect and Bauhaus director Walter Gropius himself. In 1926, the artistic movement relocated from Weimar to Dessau and spent just a year and a half erecting a college building and the masters’ houses.
A foundation for the Dessau Masters’ Houses takes care of preserving the four houses, a unique architectural ensemble of great historical value. They have since been restored to their original design and color.
The rooms in Kandinsky’s former home usually stand empty – except for the color accents. The artist preferred color on the ceilings, doors and walls, including light green, white, crimson, black and ocher. They are the same colors that Kandinsky integrated into his stage designs, which – along with the geometrical forms – are typical for Bauhaus.
Musical geometry on stage
In the spring of 1874, composer Modest Mussorgsky saw a retrospective of befriended painter and architect Viktor Hartmann. Included were pictures that Hartmann had taken on a journey to Europe, such as the Great Gate of Kyiv, an Italian palace, and the catacombs of Paris.
Mussorgsky composed “Pictures at an Exhibition” in memory of Hartmann, who had died the previous year. It’s not entirely clear which of Hartmann’s pictures had inspired Mussorgsky the most.
Wassily Kandinsky, however, was fascinated by the music and began to express his impressions in his artwork. “Kandinsky’s task was to turn the music into paintings,” said Harald Wetzel.
For the stage production of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” various geometrical elements were supposed to be pushed onto the stage or pulled off of it. “The exhibited pictures give just a limited impression of the stage production,” explained Wetzel. “The individual elements were constantly in motion.”
While the orchestra played, images came into being on stage – in sync with the music.
Dessau remained the only cite where Kandinsky’s work was performed, although a performance in the US had originally been planned. It wasn’t until the a 1983 festival in Berlin that the work was reconstructed by students from the Berlin University of the Arts, based on a script and the stage designs from the collection at the University of Cologne.
Since then, many versions of Kandinsky’s production have been staged, including multimedia variations with video, which are presented now and then in concert halls and museums from New York to Hong Kong.
Kandinsky’s original stage designs are on display in Dessau through May 22, 2016.
The new exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi, from 19th March
Starting in March and running until July 2016, the new exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi, From Kandinsky to Pollock. The Art of the Guggenheim Collections, brings over 100 masterpieces of European and American art from the 1920s and the 1960s to Florence in a narrative that reconstructs the relationship and ties between the two sides of the Atlantic through the lives of two leading American collectors, Peggy and Solomon Guggenheim.
Curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, the exhibition – the result of a cooperative venture involving the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in New York – will offer a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the crucial works of European masters of modern art such asMarcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Man Ray and European masters of so-called Art Informel, or “Unformed Art”, such as Alberto Burri, Emilio Vedova, Jean Dubuffet and Lucio Fontana, with large paintings and sculptures by some of the most influential personalities on the American art scene in the 1950s and 1960s, such as Jackson Pollock, Marc Rothko, Wilhelm de Kooning, Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein and Cy Twombly.
This exceptional exhibition also celebrates the Guggenheims’ very special tie with the city, because it was precisely in Palazzo Strozzi’s Strozzina undercroft that Peggy Guggenheim, who had only recently arrived in Europe, decided in February 1949 to show the collection that was later to find a permanent home in Venice.
The large paintings, sculptures, engravings and photographs on display at Palazzo Strozzi on loan from the Guggenheim collections in New York and Venice and from other leading international museums, paint a vast fresco of the extraordinarily heady season of 20th century art in which Peggy and Solomon Guggenheim played such a key role. They also tell the fast-paced story of the birth of the Neo-Avant-Garde movements after World War II in a tight and uninterrupted interplay between European and American artists.
Kandinsky’s choice of bright colours, hues and shapes gave identity to the abstract art movement.
Have you ever looked at a painting and not been sure of what it looked like? Chances are you are looking at a piece of abstract art. In this form of art, artists pay attention to colours, shapes and lines. They use these elements to express their feelings instead of painting objects, people or places that look real.
The abstract art movement began around 1910. Wassily Kandinsky is considered a founding father of this style of painting. He was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1886 and grew up in the Russian town of Odessa. When he was young, he studied drawing and music. He learned to play the piano and the cello. These early experiences with music played a big part in his paintings, in his later years.
At first, Wassily studied law and became a teacher at the Moscow University. When he was 30 years old, he decided he wanted to be an artist and moved to Munich, Germany. He went to art school and started by painting landscapes. He was influenced by the artwork of impressionist painters like Claude Monet and also by many music composers.
In Germany, Kandinsky and an artist friend, Franz Marc, founded a group called The Blue Rider ( Blaue Reiter in German). The group believed that art should explore spiritual ideas and published a magazine that explained their ideas. Kandinsky wrote a book about spirituality and art. One of his famous paintings is also called ‘The Blue Rider’.
Kandinsky’s paintings became gradually more and more abstract. He was interested in painting the feelings created by colours and shapes instead of how objects really looked. Colour was important to him and he felt that colours expressed emotions just like music did. He arranged certain colours next to each other on his paintings, much like a composer arranges notes to produce beautiful music. Many of his paintings were named like pieces of music. He called them Compositions and Improvisations. Some of his paintings were created after he listened to a piece of music. He called them Impressions.
Kandinsky began to teach art in Germany at a well-known school called the Bauhaus (pronounced Bow-House). Here, he sometimes conducted free painting classes where he and his friends taught and also created their own paintings. He lived in Germany until the rise of the Nazi movement. The Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, was a failed artist and hated many forms of art, especially abstract art. The Nazis closed down the Bauhaus. They seized 57 of Kandinsky’s paintings, in 1937. The paintings were displayed in an exhibition with other paintings that Hitler disliked and called “degenerate art”. They were later destroyed.
Kandinsky left Germany and moved to France, at this time. He lived in France until the end of his life in 1944. During his life as an artist, Kandinsky wrote three books explaining his ideas about art. These ideas have influenced many artists and are as important as his paintings.
You can see Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings up close on Olga’s Kandinsky Gallery:
Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky: two names that have come to stand almost as synonyms for classical modernism. They are associated with fundamental avant-garde movements such as the “Blue Rider” and the Bauhaus, and regarded as founding fathers and pacesetters of abstract art. History also records their relationship as one of the great friendships in twentieth-century art.
Klee and Kandinsky were indeed close, though never uncritical, friends for almost three decades. Central to the rapport between them was a focused engagement with each other’s art sustained by many shared aspirations as well as differences on personal and artistic levels. Both artists strove to spiritualize art and explore the intrinsic laws of its visual means. Yet Klee’s ironically refracted realism was alien to Kandinsky’s idealism, and his protean individualism clashed with his friend’s pursuit of the autonomous laws of abstract art.
The exhibition is organized in cooperation with the Zentrum Paul Klee, Berne, and will focus on the years between 1922 and 1931, when both taught at the Bauhaus, worked in a close exchange of artistic ideas, and even lived door to door in one of the “Master Houses” designed by Walter Gropius. Yet their works from the “Blue Rider” period as well as the late oeuvres of the two artists, who died in 1940 and 1944, likewise reflect the bonds of friendship between them.
A collaboration between the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich and the Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern.
Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky’s expressionist masterpiece “Studie zu Improvisation 3, 1909” was the highlight and leading indicator for a flat Christie’s London Impressionist and modern art sale on Tuesday.
The painting fell short of its top estimate and a record for the artist at auction when it sold for just more than $21 million, the world’s largest auctioneers said on Tuesday.
The early 20th century artist’s vibrantly colored painting of a knight on horseback was the highlight of the sale and had a top estimate of $24.19 million. A similar painting set a $23 million record for Kandinsky’s work last year.
The Russian expressionist was not the only leading light in an auction series of 44 lots that also included works from Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, René Magritte, Amedeo Modigliani and Paul Signac.
The auction total for the evening of 64.07 million pounds ($100 million) fell short of a pre-sale top estimate of 75.8 million pounds but was well above the low estimate at 52.8 million pounds.
That was slightly down from the auction house’s performance for the same sale category in New York a month ago, where Christie’s met expectations with a total of $160 million and a record was set for French artist Chaim Soutine of $18,043,750 for his circa 1927 oil “Le Petit Patissier.”
Jay Vincze, Christie’s London international director and head of Impressionist and modern art, called Tuesday night’s sale results “solid” and said it displayed continuing strength in selling rates.
“There was great depth of bidding on works of high quality at all price levels, with strong participation from many new and existing collectors from both traditional and growth markets, including Greater China and India,” he said in a statement.
“Studie zu Improvisation 3, 1909” belongs to Kandinsky’s revolutionary series of paintings, started earlier that year, known as “Improvisations,” which mark his first major forays into the realm of abstraction.
The romantic image of a lone knight preparing to storm the citadel is a clear and repeated symbol in Kandinsky’s art of the dawning of a new age, of the coming of the Apocalypse and of the ultimate Resurrection of the spirit that would, Kandinsky believed, inevitably follow it.
Among the highlights of the other lots in the sale, Modigliani’s portrait of his art dealer Paul Guillaume, one of only four, went for 6.7 million pounds, shy of its top estimate of 7 million pounds.
Picasso’s 1960 “Femme Assise Dans un Fauteuil” edged just over its top estimate by going for 6.1 million pounds. It is one of a group of portraits of his partner Jacqueline Roque.
There were three Moore sculptures up for sale. His 1944 “Family Group” earned 337,875 pounds against a top estimate of 500,000 pounds. A 1978-80 “Reclining Figure No. 7” earned 1.4 million pounds against a top estimate of 1.8 million pounds while his granite abstract “Stone Form” made in 1984, earned 1.4 million pounds, about 400,000 pounds short of its top estimate. ($1 = 0.6407 British pounds)