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Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)


Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
signed with the monogram and dated '40' (lower left); inscribed and dated 'No 659 1940' (on the reverse of the artist's mount)
watercolour and pen and India ink on paper laid down on the artist's mount
Image: 8 5/8 x 6¼ in. (21.2 x 16 cm.)
Mount: 9 1/8 x 7 1/8 in. (23.3 x 18 cm.)
Executed in 1940
Noëlle Lecoutour, Paris.
Suzanne Feigel, Basel.
Private collection, Cologne, by 1958.
Anonymous sale, Klipstein und Kornfeld, Bern, 25 May 1962, lot 466.
Galerie Roman Norbert Ketterer, Campione d'Italia.
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owners in the early 1970s.
The Artist's Handlist, Watercolours: 'no. 1940, 659 (Aq.s. rose)'.
W. Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, New York, 1958, pp. 347 & 411 (illustrated no. cc749).
V. Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky Watercolours, Catalogue raisonné, vol. II, 1922-1944, London, 1994, no. 1294 (illustrated p. 491).
Paris, Galerie L'Esquisse, Etapes de l'oeuvre de Wassily Kandinsky, November - December 1944.
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Lot Essay

'I do not see the difference between a so-called "abstract" line and a fish, but an essential similarity' (Wassily Kandinsky, 'Line and Fish', 1935, in Peter Vergo, ed., Wassily Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, New York, 1982, p.774).

Untitled is a distinctive work from Kandinsky's last years in Paris. Executed in 1940 at a time of great uncertainty and austerity caused by the war and the ensuing Nazi Occupation, this watercolour, like all of Kandinsky's works from this period, reveals nothing of the hardships he and his wife Nina underwent in Neuilly-Sur-Seine at this time. Instead, like many of Kandinsky's paintings from this last phase of his career, it reveals the artist reveling in the unique abstract language of forms, ciphers and signs that he had created throughout the 1930s. As many critics had observed of Kandinsky's art of this period, in Paris, the abstract forms of Kandinsky's output, often began, at this time, to also develop a strange figurative recognisability.

For so long characterised by the straight lines and harsh geometry that typified the work of the Bauhaus, in Paris, Kandinsky's art had developed a mysterious and often organic-based nature. Amoeba-like forms and embryonic shapes began to form semi-distinct characters and unique, separate and distinct hieroglyphic patterns of form hinting at a mysterious code or hidden glyphic language - one that seemed suspended halfway between the two worlds of figuration and abstraction. In this work with its linear sequence of separate forms seemingly rooted to four horizontal lines dissecting the picture plane, Kandinsky's forms irresistibly suggest a series of boats seemingly progressing through the picture - as if Kandinsky was merely translating the progression of barges on the Seine often visible outside his Neuilly apartment window. 'The content of painting is painting,' Kandinsky asserted in response to such observations. 'Here nothing needs to be deciphered; the content speaks, full of joy, to everyone to whom form as such is alive... and he to whom form 'speaks' will not unconditionally search for objects... therefore, I am not afraid if something insinuates itself into my forms which is reminiscent of a shape in nature. I calmly leave it and do not want to delete it. Who knows, perhaps all our "abstract" shapes are some "forms of nature", though not "utensils"' (Kandinsky, quoted in H.K. Roethel & J. Benjamin, Kandinsky, London, 1979, p. 166).

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