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    Sale 1996

    Impressionist And Modern Works On Paper

    7 May 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 170

    Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)


    Price Realised  


    Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
    signed with monogram and dated '34' (lower left)
    watercolor, brush and pen and India ink on paper laid down on board
    20¾ x 11¼ in. (52.7 x 28.6 cm.)
    Executed in October 1934

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    Rampant was painted by Kandinsky in the year after the pivotal summer of 1933, when the Bauhaus finally closed. Shortly thereafter, Kandinsky, who had been one of the Bauhaus' longest serving masters at the height of his career, felt compelled to leave Germany and moved to Paris where he was to spend the rest of his life. Coupled with a six month hiatus from painting, this time would prove to be among the most traumatic and emotional periods in the artist's life.

    A pioneer of abstract art, Kandinsky was drawn to non-referential subject matter by a belief in the ability of art to evoke an emotional response without imitating nature. While his oil paintings are well known and widely studied on this account, it was in his watercolors that Kandinsky first began to explore the possibilities of pure abstraction. Among the most important developments to occur during this period was the introduction of organic imagery, as evidenced in the present work. Here, Kandinsky has paired a geometric precision of grids and blocks with organic shapes and emotive hues of watercolor. Kandinsky's desire to mix elements from his earlier more geometric work with newer ones resulted in a subtle balance of positive and negative, geometric and organic shapes, exemplifying the layered complexity that the artist achieved in his watercolors. In this manner, he has given visual manifestation to his belief that the best art is never produced by the head or the heart alone: "In general, the ideal balance between the head (conscious moment) and the heart (unconscious moment-intuition) is a law of creation, law as old as humanity" (quoted in "Art Today," Cahiers d'Art, Paris, 1935, p. 83).

    While not a Surrealist, there were of course visual and compositional links between some of Kandinsky's work in the 1930s and that of artists who were involved with or close to the Surrealists such as Jean (Hans) Arp, Piet Mondrian and Joan Miró, whom he met in 1934, the year the current work was created. Floating amongst the composition one can spot circular shapes that recall one of Duchamp's famous 'rotoreliefs,' perhaps a nod to the friend who encouraged him to move to Paris earlier that year.

    Kandinsky believed that the task of the painter was to convey not an imitation of natural appearances, but an evocation of his own inner, spiritual world. Given his fascination with color theory, each tint thus has a specific resonance for the artist. Red, hailing from the top of the composition and punctuated in the biomorphic shapes, represents life, energy, purposeful strength, and masculine maturity. Yellow symbolizes earthly warmth, and pale blue was for Kandinsky the heavenly color, cold and tranquil.


    Estate of the artist.
    Nina Kandinsky, Paris (by descent from the above, until 1957).
    Galerie Maeght, Paris (1957).
    Galleria Lorenzelli, Bergamo (by 1971).
    Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 2 December 1987, lot 521.
    Ueda Culture Projects, Tokyo.
    Acquired by the present owner, circa 1995.

    Saleroom Notice

    Please note that the work is numbered, dated and titled `536 1934 Rampant' (on the reverse)


    V.E. Barnett, Kandinsky Watercolors, Catalogue raisonné, Ithaca, New York, 1994, vol. II (1922-1944), p. 387, no. 1163 (illustrated; illustrated in color, p. 398).


    Paris, Cahiers d'art, W. Kandinsky: nouvelles toiles, aquarelles, dessins, June-September 1935.
    Kunsthalle Bern, Wassily Kandinsky, February-March 1937, no. 81.
    Milan, Galleria del Milione, Arp, Domela, Kandinsky, Magnelli, Seligmann, Taeuber-Arp, Vézelay, March 1938.
    Lucerne, Galerie Rosengart, Kandinsky Exhibition: Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings, June-September 1953, no. 17.
    Milan, Galleria del Naviglio, Wassily Kandinsky, February-March 1960, no. 8 (illustrated).
    Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Il Cavaliere Azzurro-Der Blaue Reiter, March-May 1971, no. 205 (illustrated).
    Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen and Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Kandinsky. Kleine Freuden: Aquarelle und Zeichnungen, March-August 1992, no. 150 (illustrated in color).