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

Ernst - Spass

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Ernst - Spass
signed with the monogram and dated '30' (lower left); signed with the monogram, dated, numbered and inscribed 'No. 514 1930 „Ernstspass"' (on the reverse)
oil on board
19 1/4 x 27 1/2 in. (49 x 70 cm.)
Painted in May 1930
Nina Kandinsky, Paris, until at least 1948.
Galerie Maeght, Paris.
Heinz Berggruen, Paris.
Private collection, Germany, and thence by descent to the present owner.
The artist's handlist, vol. IV, no. 514.
W. Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, London, 1959, no. 514 (illustrated fig. 363, p. 379).
H.K. Roethel & J.K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, vol. II, 1916-1944, London, 1984, no. 959, p. 873 (illustrated).

Berlin, Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Kandinsky, February 1931, no. 56.
Paris, Galerie Cahiers d'Art, Wassily Kandinsky, May 1934.
Bern, Kunsthalle, Wassily Kandinsky: französische Meister der Gegenwart, February - March 1937, no. 43.
London, Guggenheim Jeune, Kandinsky, 1938, no. 28.
London, New Burlington Gallery, Modern German Art, July 1938, no. 78.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Georges Braque, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, September - October 1946, no. 63.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Kandinsky, December 1947 - January 1948, no. 53 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to The Hague, Gemeente Museum, February - March 1948.
Lucerne, Galerie Rosengart, Kandinsky: Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings, June - September 1953, no. 7.
Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Wassily Kandinsky, Gemälde 1900-1944, July - September 1970, no. 104 (illustrated).
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Kandinsky: Russian and Bauhaus Years, 1915-1933, December 1983 - February 1984, no. 288, p. 323 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Atlanta, High Museum of Art, March - April 1984; and Zurich, Kunsthaus, May - July 1984.

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Anna Povejsilova
Anna Povejsilova

Lot Essay

Painted in May 1930, Ernst-Spass is a highly inventive, abstract composition that Kandinsky created during his last years at the Dessau Bauhaus in Germany. Comprising of a number of shapes and forms, the work embodies the height of the stylised and geometric form of abstraction that Kandinsky practiced throughout his final years as a teacher, or ‘Master’, at the Bauhaus.

In 1926, four years before Ernst-Spass was painted, Kandinsky had published his treatise, Punkt und Linie zur Fläche (Point and Line to Plane), in which he detailed his theories regarding the complex principles of geometric construction and form that he had painstakingly developed during his years at the Bauhaus. At the centre of his theory was his analysis of the emotive power and nature of the individual elements of a picture. Having come into contact with Constructivism during his return to his native Russia between 1916 and 1922, Kandinsky ardently disagreed with the suppression of emotion and feeling that the constructivist works displayed, believing that without this, art became nothing more than a ‘calculated construction’, created not by artist but by, ‘mechanics’ (Kandinsky, quoted in J. Hahl-Koch, Kandinsky, London, 1993, p. 299). For Kandinsky, intuition was central to painterly creation, and he believed that the theories of construction should always be counterbalanced by the creativity and spontaneity of the artist, therefore demonstrating the spirituality that Kandinsky believed was the defining concept of artistic production. ‘Art is never produced by the head alone’, he insisted, ‘We know of great paintings that come solely from the heart. In general, the ideal balance between the head (conscious moment) and the heart (unconscious moment – intuition) is the law of creation, law as old as humanity’ (W. Kandinsky, ‘Art Today’, in Cahiers d’Art, Paris, 1935, p. 83). Seen within this context, the inner dynamics in Ernst-Spass express Kandinsky’s unique ability to amalgamate constructivist rigour and painterly intuition into a spiritual language of geometry.

The whimsical arrangement of the forms in Ernst-Spass demonstrates, as the title - Serious-Joke - also suggests, the increased playfulness that Kandinsky’s work had begun to develop in his art of the final years at the Bauhaus. This was a period in which the artist was happy and content; he was settled in Dessau with his wife, and surrounded by like-minded artists, such as his old Blaue Reiter colleague and friend, Paul Klee, as well as sharing and teaching his artistic beliefs with his students. The dynamic arrangement of forms in Ernst-Spass and the lightness of the floating parts of the structure, paired with the bright colours, imbue Ernst-Spass with a lively light-heartedness. Will Grohmann, Kandinsky’s friend and biographer, wrote of the artist in the years in Dessau between 1929 and 1932 that, ‘Kandinsky constantly gained in assurance and lightness of touch. A joy of living is perceptibly felt in his work’ (W. Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, London, 1959, p. 210). The geometric and disciplined rigidity that had defined Kandinsky’s work of his earlier Bauhaus years had been gradually replaced by a greater sense of compositional dynamism, and a looser arrangement of abstract forms that anticipated the more organic direction that much of his work would take in the 1930s.

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