Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
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Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)

Aquarell für Poul Bjerre

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Aquarell für Poul Bjerre
inscribed by Poul Bjerre (on the reverse mount) (see note)
watercolour and India ink on paper
9 1/8 x 13 5/8 in. (23.2 x 34.5 cm.)
Executed in Stockholm in March 1916
Dr Poul Bjerre, Stockholm, a gift from the artist in March 1916.
V°orstavi Foundation, Sweden, by whom acquired from the above; sale, Sotheby's, London, 3 February 2004, lot 11.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
P. Bjerre, Natural System of Dreams, Stockholm, 1936 (illustrated).
P. Bjerre, The Healing Power of Dreams, Stockholm, 1982 (illustrated).
J. Bärmark & I. Nilsson, Poul Bjerre: Människosonen, Stockholm, 1983 (illustrated on the cover).
V. Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky Watercolours, Catalogue Raisonné, Volume One, 1900-1921, London, 1992, no. 447 (illustrated pp. 389 and 392).
J. Landquist, Poul Bjerre: The Psychiatrist and Author, Stockholm, 2002 (illustrated p. 88).
Malmö, Konsthall, Kandinsky and Sweden: Malmö 1914 - Stockholm 1916, October - December 1989, no. 33, pp. 35, 41 and 178 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Stockholm, Moderna Museet, December 1989 - February 1990.
Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Wassily Kandinsky: Kleine Freuden, Acquarelle und Zeichnungen, March - May 1992, no. 48, p. 221 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, May - August 1992.
Lidingö (Stockholm), Millesg°arden, Wassily Kandinsky - Gabriele Münter, December 2001 - February 2002.
Special notice
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Please note that the illustration in the catalogue is slightly larger than the original.

Lot Essay

Executed in 1916, during Kandinsky's brief sojourn in Stockholm, Aquarell für Poul Bjerre was painted as a parting gift to his friend Dr. Poul Bjerre, a pioneer of psychiatry who helped introduce the painter to local Swedish society and who was active in promoting his art. This delicate and illustrative watercolour is closely related to the Bagatelle series, a group of watercolours in which Kandinsky returned to figurative, fairytale inspired imagery after an extended period of painting almost entirely abstract forms. Kandinsky rarely depicted a living person on paper or canvas, and as far as is known, Aquarell für Poul Bjerre is the only picture that he ever painted for, and gave, to a private individual. The painting therefore displays an uncharacteristically personal narrative, loaded with hidden meanings and symbolism that distinguishes it from his other work at this time. The luminous and precisely rendered image encapsulates Kandinsky's experiences and impressions of Sweden, depicting a contemplative Poul Bjerre and the artist and activist Ernst Norlind on horseback in a vividly coloured Swedish landscape, as if they were heroes in a fable.
Kandinsky's reasons for visiting Sweden were primarily personal. When Germany declared war on Russia on 1 August 1914, the Russian born artist had to flee Munich immediately, abandoning the country where he had lived, with a few interruptions, for eighteen years. Forced to cease his activities with Der Blaue Reiter and to leave most of his possessions and artworks behind, Kandinsky travelled with his long-term companion Gabriele Münter to Switzerland, before leaving her to go to Moscow. In order to maintain contact, they arranged for relatives of Herwarth Walden, the owner of Der Sturm Galerie in Berlin, to forward their letters to one another via Sweden. The couple's correspondence grew increasingly strained over this time, but Münter travelled in Stockholm in July of 1915 with the intention of meeting Kandinsky in the neutral country to restore their relationship. Through a letter of introduction from Kandinsy's friend Erich Gutkind, Münter established contact with Poul Bjerre and took up residence at a pension only five hundred metres from the doctor's surgery and home. Having quickly assimilated herself into local intellectual and artistic circles, Münter persuaded the dealer Carl Gummeson to hold an exhibition of Kandinsky's work and the painter soon joined her to prepare for the show.

The upheaval caused by the outbreak of war had brought about a significant change in Kandinsky's art. A lack of funds and space limited his abilities to paint in oils, but he continued to work in watercolour, constantly shifting between the figurative and the abstract. He produced a number of watercolours in Münters bedsit room during his few months in Stockholm that returned to his roots, combining the landscape-inspired abstract forms he had developed in Munich, with sharply delineated figures that recall the folkloric figures of his earliest work. Aquarell für Poul Bjerre was completed in the last week of his time in Stockholm, between 9 and 16 March, and contains a dreamlike sequence of real-life motifs and a characteristically expressive use of colour. Dr. Bjerre was deeply interested in Kandinsky's artistic theories, finding parallels in his own research into the psychology of dreams, and he was happy to find that painting dedicated to him, 'gave me an example of the transition from representation to abstraction' (P. Bjerre, quoted in V. E. Barnett, exh. cat., Kandinsky and Sweden, Malmö, 1989, p. 41). The significance of the enigmatic imagery is perhaps best described by Bjerre, who left a handwritten statement on the reverse mount of the painting: 'I got this picture from Kandinsky during his visit to Stockholm after the winter of 1916. He painted it there during the last week of his stay. I imagine that it epitomizes his impressions of Sweden. It is Ernst Norlind riding a horse. I brought them together and Kandinsky went to hear one of his peace lectures. The bird that I am staring at so intently should be interpreted psychoanalytically as a man picking at himself. The lake could be any lake and the house could be any house. But one should note that Mrs Münter whom Kandinsky visited was at our country farm in September of the year before. It is perhaps our special lake that you see and fields and woods with firs and such as you see from a train window. The round jam cake is the midnight sun and the curved rays are the northern lights - one supposes. On the left is Kölen and the other high mountains on the border with Norway. This is simple. But what is meant by the big sugarloaf-like flaming thing which is the immediate goal of Norlind's hunt? On this point the interpreters have very different opinions. Some are reminded of a tunnel; others of a symbolic road that goes upwards over the mountains to the sky. Still others think that it is a restricted and powerful synthesis of the Swedish pine woods, a kind of gigantic fir tree dominating the whole land. Written in Lantgarden, on the second anniversary of the World War' (P. Bjerre, quoted in V. E. Barnett, op. cit., pp. 41-2).

Aquarell für Poul Bjerre marks the end of an era for Kandinsky. Despite his promise to return to Stockholm, he secretly married a young Russian woman soon after his return to Moscow and would never see Gabriele Münter, or Munich again. Isolated from many aspects of his personal and artistic history, his work would develop away from the magical wonderment of his figurative images and expressionist abstractions at this time to the gradual absorption of geometric elements and principles of the Russian avant-garde. Hardships in Russia after the revolution compelled Kandinsky to approach Poul Bjerre for financial assistance, but he would not be able to renew his friendship with the doctor until 1922, when he arrived in Berlin to take up an appointment at the Bauhaus.

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