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Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)


Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
signed with the monogram and dated '27' (lower left); signed again with the monogram again, titled, dated and numbered '"Scharf-ruhig" No384.1927' (on the reverse)
oil on cardboard
16¾ x 14¾ in. (42.5 x 37.5 cm.)
Painted in February 1927
Galerie Nierendorf, Berlin & New York.
Galerie Maeght, Paris.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (no. 9446).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
The artist's Handlist IV, no. 384.
W. Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, New York, 1958, pp. 336 & 370 (illustrated p. 251).
H.K. Roethel & J.K. Benjamin, Kandinsky. Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, vol. II, 1916-1944, London, 1984, no. 827, p. 770 (illustrated).
Berlin, Deutsche Kunstgemeinschaft, January 1928.
Paris, Galerie Maeght, Kandinsky, October - November 1953, no. 12.
Paris, Galerie Maeght, Kandinsky: Bauhaus de Dessau, 1927-1933, 1965, no. 3.
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Hommage de Paris à Kandinsky: la conquête de l'abstraction, l'époque Parisienne, June - July 1972, no. 11.
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Adrienne Dumas
Adrienne Dumas

Lot Essay

'If I make such frequent, vehement use of the circle in recent years, the reason (or cause) for this is not the geometric form of the circle, or its geometric properties, but my strong feeling for the inner force of the circle and its countless variations. I love the circle today as I formerly loved the horse, for instance - perhaps even more, since I find more inner potentialities in the circle, which is why it has taken the horse's place. In my pictures, I have said a great many 'new' things about the circle, but theoretically, although I have often tried, I cannot say very much' (Wassily Kandinsky, 1929, quoted in W. Grohmann, Kandinsky, London, 1959, p. 188).

Scharf-Ruhig is a radiant and brilliantly ordered composition that dates from the height of Kandinsky's involvement with the Bauhaus. A completely abstract painterly construction of colourful geometric form, its dynamic but also balanced composition appears to represent a calm interior space within which an extraordinary series of interactions between triangles, circles and crescents is taking place. A magical exercise in contrasts held together by the artist's complete mastery of form, and colour, the painting is one that gives clear expression to Kandinsky's oft-stated intention that his paintings become complete 'worlds' in themselves.

Scharf-Ruhig derives from a period when Kandinsky was putting into practice the theoretical analysis of form that he had published in 1926 in his treatise Pünkt und Linie zu Fläche, ('Point and Line to Plane'). A play of opposites between the soft, warm and harmonious tones of his colours and the stark, hard-edged geometry and sparse graphic severity of a mechanical or architectural diagram, Scharf-Ruhig is a work that echoes many of the ideals outlined in this often complex and detailed analysis of abstract form. It is, however, like the vast majority of Kandinsky's works, an entirely intuitively arrived-at and ultimately poetic 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, essentially, 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 (Wassily Kandinsky, 'Malerei als reine Kunst' in Der Sturm, Berlin, 1913, reproduced in P. Vergo & K. Lindsay, ed., Wassily Kandinsky Complete Writings on Art, Boston, 1982, pp. 348-354). 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.

During his Bauhaus years, especially after the move to Dessau, Kandinsky often adopted more suggestive and literary titles for his work. His work also became more specifically concerned with the relationship of forms. Scharf-Ruhig expresses this notion of relationship, tension and contrast in its title as well as in its dramatic use of opposing and intersecting form and colour. Painted in February 1927, it is one of several of Kandinsky's Bauhaus paintings that explore the specific system of the diagonal triangle piercing the circle as its central compositional motif.

Kandinsky considered the triangle and the circle as 'the two primary, most strongly contrasting plane figures' (W. Kandinsky, 'Pünkt und Linie zu Fläche', 1926, reproduced ibid. pp. 527-699). He set his students at the Bauhaus exercises whereby they had to use a combination of shapes as an expression of aggression when the triangle is dominant, of calm with the square dominant and of interiorization or deepening when the circle is dominant. For Kandinsky painting was not an end in itself but a contributory organising force. To feel the affinity between the elements and laws of nature was, for him, to gain insight into the elements and laws of the arts - a paving of the way for a synthesis of all arts of the spirit, transcending specialisation in the name of culture. This is why he taught at the Bauhaus and why he taught many disciplines other than painting, which he and Klee, for example, had only begun to teach there in 1925.

From Composition no.8 - his great masterpiece of 1923 - onwards, circles came to play an increasingly important role in his work. Kandinsky outlined this in a letter to Will Grohmann in 1930, writing that, for him, the circle was ultimately 'a link with the cosmic. But I use it above all formally...Why does the circle fascinate me? It is: 1. the most modest form but asserts itself unconditionally, 2. precise, but inexhaustibly variable, 3. simultaneously stable and unstable, 4. simultaneously loud and soft, 5. a simple tension that carries countless tensions within it. The circle is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the eccentric in a single form, and in equilibrium. Of the three primary forms, it points the most clearly to the fourth dimension' (Wassily Kandinsky, 'Letter Oct.12, 1930'. quoted in W. Grohmann, op.cit, p. 188).

Scharf-Ruhig is dominated by a large deep pink circle penetrated or overlaying an equally large yellow triangle. The crescents, semi-circles and other shard-like triangles appear to radiate from or around this central intersection as if they were fragments or offshoots from this dynamic conjunction of planar opposites. Set against a darker, seemingly interior space, the composition becomes a landscape of poetic and expressive possibility with each component fully integrated and ultimately playing its part in conjoining with the others to form a in such a united and harmonious composite whole.

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