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Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)


Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
signed with the monogram and dated '28' (lower left); numbered, dated and inscribed 'No 265 1928 "Fessel"' (on the reverse of the artist's mount)
watercolour and pen and ink on paper laid down on the artist's mount
19 x 12½ in. (48.1 x 31.8 cm.)
Executed in 1928
J.B. Neumann, New York, 23 September 1936.
Nina Kandinsky, Paris.
Carl Gemzell, Stockholm, by whom acquired in the 1950s or 1960s.
A gift from the above to the present owner in 2001.
The Artist's Handlist, no. 'V 1928, 265, Fessel'.
V. Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky Watercolours, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, 1922-1944, New York, 1994, no. 854, p. 212.
Berlin, Galerie Ferdinand Möller, Oktober-Ausstellung: W. Kandinsky - Neue Aquarelle, October 1928, no. 31.
Paris, Galerie Zak, Exposition d'aquarelles de Wassily Kandinsky, January 1929, no. 27; this exhibition later travelled to The Hague, Kunstzaal de Bron and Brussels, Galerie Le Centaure.
Halle, Roter Turm, Retrospective, October, 1929; this exhibition later travelled to Moritzburg, Hallischer Kunstverein and Städtisches Museum.
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Carl Gemzells samling, 1996, p. 16 (illustrated p. 17).
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Lot Essay

'The teaching of drawing at the Bauhaus', Wassily Kandinsky asserted, 'is an education in looking, precise observation, and the precise representation not of the external appearance of an object, but of constructive elements, the laws that govern the forces (=tensions) that can be discovered in given objects and of their logical construction.' (Wassily Kandinsky 'Analytisches Zeichnen' 1928, cited in K. C. Lindsay & P. Vergo, Wassily Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, Boston, 1982, p. 729).

Painted in 1928, Fessel (Shackle) is an important watercolour that dates from the height of Kandinsky's involvement with the Bauhaus. Comprising a purple void, animated into magical life by the precise arrangement and positioning of mysterious sharply delineated flat graphic forms all anchored together by a central binding multi-colour grid, this work is one that clearly expresses Kandinsky's oft-stated intention that his compositions become complete 'worlds' in themselves.
Fessel derives from the period when Kandinsky was attempting to put into practice the theoretical analysis of form that he had published in 1925 in his treatise Pünkt und Linie zu Fläche, ('Point and Line to Plane'). Fessel exercises a contrast between the soft warm tones of his colour and the stark geometry and sparse graphic severity of a mechanical diagram, echoeing many of the ideals outlined in Kandinsky's complex and detailed analysis of abstract form. It is, however, like the vast majority of Kandinsky's paintings, only an approximation of these ideals rather than a literal transcribing of them. In his theoretical writing, Kandinsky was scrupulous, methodical and dry but when painting he was, fortunately, sensual and impulsive, responding to form and colour in the way that he also hoped his viewer would emotionally.

Kandinsky's aims with his art were to articulate an abstract language that induced powerful emotions in the viewer in much the same way that music does. Believing that 'form itself, even if completely abstract...has its own inner sound', to the point where it becomes 'a spiritual being' with its own 'spiritual perfume', Kandinsky sought through pictorial theory to discover the rules of an underlying and universal order of harmony that he believed lay at the root of all creation. It was, however, only in his painterly work that this essentially mystical belief was articulated with any persuasive force, for it was only through the lyrical power of his paintings that this transcendent nature of abstraction to instill deep feeling and emotion in the viewer was really expressed.

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