Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more BAUHAUS AND BEYOND: AN ABSTRACT CONVERSATION For over thirty years Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee enjoyed one of the most fruitful and lasting friendships in modern art, working, exhibiting and living alongside one another during some of the most ground-breaking years of their careers. Forged in 1911, their relationship went from strength to strength, from its fledgling stages in Munich where the two artists exhibited together as part of the Der Blaue Reiter group, to the intense bond they developed during their tenures at the Bauhaus, first in Weimar and then in Dessau. This friendship continued into their later years, as they remained in touch via correspondence, despite the geographical distance that separated them. Built on a deep sense of camaraderie and mutual respect, the two artists enjoyed a close bond, sharing important life events and celebrations with one another, offering support in times of conflict and need, and assisting one another with both their personal and artistic affairs. Throughout their relationship, they engaged in a lively artistic dialogue, and traces of the influence they exerted on each other’s working practices remain visible to this day. Although it may be argued that an element of professional rivalry simmered beneath the surface of their friendship, their bond was never tested by petty jealousy or drama. Rather, their individual successes seemed to spur one another on, further encouraging them to boldly experiment in their own work and push the boundaries of their art to new levels.Klee and Kandinsky both embarked upon their artistic education in Munich during the opening years of the twentieth-century, simultaneously studying at the city’s Kunstakademie (Academy of Fine Arts) under the tutelage of the greatly admired painter Franz von Stuck. However, their relationship at this time remained quite distant, with Klee claiming he could only ‘dimly recollect Kandinsky’ from their classes together (Klee, quoted in M. Baumgartner, A. Hoberg, & C. Hopfengart, eds., Klee & Kandinsky: Neighbours, Friends, Rivals, exh. cat., Munich & London, 2015, p. 13). Indeed, it was not until a decade later, in October 1911, that Klee and Kandinsky would become personally acquainted with one another thanks to the intercession of the Swiss artist, Louis Moilliet. By this stage of their lives, the two artists were in fact neighbours, living on the same street in the artist’s quarter of Schwabing in Munich. Kandinsky recorded his first impressions of the young artist in a letter to his close friend Franz Marc, explaining that ‘There is certainly something there in his soul’ (Kandinsky, quoted in ibid, p. 36). Klee, meanwhile, noted in his diary that: ‘Personal acquaintance [with Kandinsky] has given me a somewhat deeper confidence in him. He is somebody and has an exceptionally fine, clear mind’ (Klee, quoted in ibid, p. 36). According to Klee, the pair spoke about Kandinsky’s plans to establish a new society of artists and agreed on the trolley ride home to meet more often in the future, a promise they kept over the following months with visits from house to house growing increasingly frequent.Their meeting came at a pivotal time in Kandinsky’s career, as he officially departed the artist’s group Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM), of which he had been a founding member, to establish the Der Blaue Reiter group with his friend Franz Marc. Klee, in his role as special correspondent for the Swiss periodical Die Alpen, reviewed the Der Blaue Reiter Exhibition in December 1911, and delivered a highly positive account of the event to his readers. The article reserved special praise for Kandinsky, identifying him as ‘the boldest’ among the artists involved, and emphasising the bravery he showed in following his own artistic path in the face of opposition (Klee, quoted in ibid, p. 37). Through his contact with Kandinsky, Klee was soon embraced by the wider circle of artists involved with Der Blaue Reiter, and joined the group for their second exhibition in 1912, subtitled ‘Black and White’ (Schwarz-Weiss), in which he was represented by seventeen drawings.The friendship between Kandinsky and Klee continued to grow throughout the years immediately preceding the First World War, with the older artist making introductions on Klee’s behalf to his various contacts, and encouraging collectors such as Arthur Jerome Eddy to purchase the young artist’s work. In 1912, Klee received a copy of Kandinsky’s recent publication On the Spiritual in Art from the author, and the personal dedication included on the frontispiece points towards the growing warmth of their friendship, reading: ‘To my dear friend Paul Klee, affectionately Kandinsky.’ Klee’s son Felix would later recall numerous visits to Kandinsky’s home with his father during this time and as the two men grew closer they began to exchange their own works as tokens of their friendship. Thus began an inspiring and thought-provoking artistic dialogue between the two painters, whose impact could be felt in Klee’s oeuvre almost immediately. Indeed, it was as a result of this contact with Kandinsky, and in particular his exposure to the artist’s colour experiments, that Klee began to develop a new, and increasingly personal, relationship to colour in his own art.The outbreak of the First World War led to a prolonged separation between the two artists, as Kandinsky was forced to flee Germany as an enemy alien. Although they met briefly in Switzerland in the summer of 1914, the pair would not reconnect again for almost eight years. By this time, their professional fortunes had dramatically altered – Klee was now a widely acclaimed painter, experiencing critical and commercial success across Europe, and achieving new levels of popularity among the public. In 1921, he had been invited to become a Master at the Bauhaus in Weimar by Walter Gropius, a position which granted him a new degree of financial security, as well as a heightened professional standing. Kandinsky, on the other hand, had been absent from the German art scene for a number of years, working on the reorganisation of the cultural establishment in Russia following the revolution. He had left his post as a teacher at the Free State Art Studios (SVOMAS) after encountering the ideological limitations of the Constructivists, who rejected his subjectivism and spiritualism, and returned to Germany where he was, once again, the topic of fierce controversy. Upon his arrival in Berlin, he sent a letter to Klee at the Bauhaus, enquiring about the living standards in Weimar and expressing his desire to see his old friend once again. Just a few months later, Klee would assist Kandinsky and his wife in their own move to Weimar, as his friend also joined the faculty of the Bauhaus. This ushered in a new phase in their friendship, as they came to know each other as colleagues of equal standing.In Weimar, the friends often shared an inexpensive meal together, or visited one another’s homes in the evening to listen to jazz and tango records. Kandinsky was one of the few people who could elicit conversation from Klee, often peppering him with questions that were interesting enough for him to answer. Kandinsky, meanwhile, trusted Klee’s opinion enough to show his friend his latest experiments. ‘There are not many colleagues I like to show my pictures to,’ he explained, ‘but Klee is a great and very rare exception, and besides, I highly respect his judgement’ (Kandinsky, quoted in ibid., p. 267). Their friendship became much closer than it had been in Munich, as they came to know each other on a more personal level, working alongside one another on a daily basis. They revived their tradition of gifting each other works of art on special occasions, exchanging small paintings and works on paper on each other’s birthdays and at Christmas. For example, to celebrate Kandinsky’s sixtieth birthday, Klee created the work Letter-Paper Picture for 5 December 1927, featuring the artist’s name alongside inscriptions which refer to the various places Kandinsky had called home over the previous decade: Moscow, Munich, Weimar and Dessau. These works acted as both expressions of their friendship, but also as markers of their ongoing artistic dialogue with one another, as they pursued similar motifs, themes, and experimental techniques.When the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1926, the closeness between Klee and Kandinsky increased even further. This was largely driven by the fact that they became, once again, neighbours, living together first in rented accommodation, and then side-by-side in two semi-detached Master’s Houses on the new Bauhaus site. With just a single wall separating them in both cases, the pair’s friendship reached new levels of familiarity and intimacy. Here, Klee and Kandinsky quickly fell into an easy routine, working and teaching alongside one another, regularly socialising together with their wives, and taking long walks in the valley of the Elbe River. Tea on the terrace became something of an afternoon ritual for the pair, with numerous photographs from the period showing the two at a table outside their house, enjoying one another’s company. Indeed, these snapshots, as well as those taken on a joint holiday to France, showcase the camaraderie between the two and the easy friendship they enjoyed. In a now famous photograph in which Kandinsky and Klee pose in the manner of the Goethe and Schiller monument in Weimar, the pair’s sense of fun and humour comes to the fore, as they stand among the lapping waves of the Atlantic Ocean, imitating the German literary heroes.As they entered the 1930s, the idyllic environment and close working relationship they enjoyed at the Bauhaus disappeared. Changes in the organisation’s leadership and an increasingly complex and dangerous political climate in Germany ushered in a period of intense uncertainty and upheaval for the two artists. Klee resigned from his position at the Bauhaus in 1931 in order to begin a new post at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf, while the dissolution of the school in Dessau in 1932 saw Kandinsky move to Berlin. However, with the rise of the National Socialists to power in 1933, Germany became a dangerous place for both artists to live. Klee was first suspended, then dismissed, from his teaching post by the authorities, and both he and Kandinsky were labelled ‘Degenerate’ artists by the new government, who confiscated their works from public collections. To avoid persecution, they fled the country, Klee travelling to his hometown of Bern in neutral Switzerland and Kandinsky to Paris. The two remained in contact during this time via regular letters, which were often filled with fond recollections from their long friendship. For example, in a 1936 letter from Kandinsky to Klee, the artist remembers the domestic bliss they once enjoyed in Dessau, and laments their separation: ‘It would be so nice to once again drink a cup of tea with you, as was so often and so pleasantly the case in Dessau. We frequently think of our former closeness, of watering flowers at the same time, of the bocce battles and – sad thought – of our collective complaints about the BH meetings. How far behind us all of that is!’ (16 Dec 1936).Klee and Kandinsky saw each other for the last time in February 1937, when Wassily and his wife Nina travelled to the Swiss capital for the opening of a retrospective of his work at the Kunsthalle Bern. While there, they made a point of visiting Klee, who was largely housebound due to the debilitating illness which had plagued him since 1935. Kandinsky brought with him the watercolour Above-Below, which he dedicated ‘To my dear friend of many years.’ In a letter Kandinsky wrote to Lily Klee a few weeks later, he expressed his joy at the meeting: ‘I was so delighted to be able to see you both again, and the hours we spend together have left such a wonderful memory. In today’s cool and increasingly cooler ‘atmosphere’, the rare warmth does even more good than was the case in old times’ (Kandinsky, quoted in ibid., p. 266). Their friendship continued to survive despite their geographical distance from one another and the political unrest which surrounded them, offering them both solace and comfort in a time of great uncertainty and turmoil. They would remain close until Klee’s death in 1940, and Kandinsky would continue to remember his friend fondly in his writings for the rest of his life. PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE SWISS COLLECTION
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)

Esquisse pour Autour du cercle

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Esquisse pour Autour du cercle
oil on panel
15 1/2 x 23 5/8 in. (39.4 x 60 cm.)
Painted in April 1940
Nina Kandinsky, Paris.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (no. 7095), by 1976.
International Fine Arts, London.
Private collection, Japan.
Finartis Kunsthandels, Zug.
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owners on 17 June 2004.
The artist's handlist, vol. IV, no. 675.
W. Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, London, 1959, no. 675, p. 341 (illustrated fig. 489, p. 390).
A.Z. Rudenstine, The Guggenheim Museum Collection: Paintings 1880-1945, New York, 1976, p. 374 (illustrated fig. a).
H.K. Roethel & J.K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, vol. II, 1916-1944, London, 1984, no. 1113, p. 1006 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie René Drouin, 40 peintures de Kandinsky, March - April 1946, no. 8.
Paris, Galerie René Drouin, Kandinsky: Epoque parisienne, 1934-1944, June - July 1949, no. 15.
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. 51, p. 69 (illustrated p. 46).
Paris, Galerie Karl Flinker, Kandinsky: Peintures, dessins, graveurs, éditions, oeuvres inédites, October - December 1972, no. 31.
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Anna Povejsilova
Anna Povejsilova

Lot Essay

Appearing in a tumult of festive colour, playful forms and swirling movement, Esquisse pour Autour du cercle is a striking example of the new artistic vocabulary that emerged in Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings during the 1930s, following the closure of the Berlin Bauhaus and his subsequent move to Paris. Drawing inspiration from minute organisms and natural forms, the artist introduced increasingly fluid shapes into his paintings at this time, their organic, undulating lines offering a dynamic contrast to the sharp geometry which had dominated his works of the previous decade. This novelty of form took its lead from the illustrations of amoebas, embryos and microscopic biology that Kandinsky had discovered in contemporary text books, encyclopaedias, and scientific periodicals, their unusual, otherworldly forms offering him a richly varied set of new visual references to work from. 

This interest in the organic and the microscopic was accentuated during a short summer holiday along the Normandy Coast with his wife in 1934, where the artist marvelled at the miniscule life-forms that populated the shoreline. Writing to Will Grohmann about the trip, he explained: ‘I have stored up many impressions, and hope to work well. Especially beautiful is the high and low tide. During low tide, the ocean retreats around 400-450 metres, and you can walk along the floor of the ocean, where, you can observe the lives of tiny, almost microscopic animals in little puddles and in the moist sand… I also opened up a little shell and a long, soft, thin horn emerged… The threatening horn says to me: ‘Don’t eat me – learn from me!’ Which I am in fact doing’ (Kandinsky, quoted in M. Baumgartner, A. Hoberg, & C. Hopfengart, eds., Klee & Kandinsky: Neighbours, Friends, Rivals, exh. cat., Munich & London, 2015, p. 289). Kandinsky continued to draw on the ‘impressions’ he made during this trip throughout the rest of his career, introducing increasingly stylised iterations of amoebas, underwater animals and diatoms, into complex networks and patterns in his work.

In the present work, Kandinsky incorporates these biomorphic forms alongside a series of carefully delineated circles, rectangles and triangles, to create a kaleidoscopic constellation of forms that appears to float, weightless, in a fantastical pictorial space. These forms coalesce into several distinct clusters, their combinations suggesting figurative elements such as boats, buildings, and serpentine creatures in some cases, while in others remaining completely abstract, fluid forms. Filled with a diverse array of colours and patterns, these clusters contain their own internal sense of gravity, which binds the multiple parts together in a flowing, amorphous shape. At the centre of the composition, a glowing red circle with internal geometric detailing radiates a powerful energy, and imbues the painting with a dynamic sense of movement as it appears to draw the other elements towards its centre. Like a great star pulling a series of planets into its orbit, this lends the painting a cosmic atmosphere, as the shapes appear gripped in a great sweeping wave of motion that flows around the circle. 

Conceived as the final study for the major painting now in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Autour du cercle, this work offers us a rare insight into Kandinsky’s artistic process at this time, as he gradually developed the visual and chromatic dynamics of his ideas across several different stages before beginning a large composition. In her memoirs, Nina Kandinsky recalls that her husband ‘had the rare ability to visualize the world of his paintings in his head, with their colours and their shapes, exactly as he carried them out on canvas later. His flashes of inspiration were like high-speed snapshots that appeared to him in a state of illumination, and he tried to get them down on paper immediately, using small quick strokes’ (N. Kandinsky, quoted in Kandinsky in Paris: 1934-1944, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1985, p. 32). Using these sketches as a starting point, Kandinsky would create increasingly detailed studies of these ideas, gradually evolving the design across multiple sketches and drawings, as he defined borders and shapes, introduced new patterns, and played with the scale of different elements, before reaching a composition he was happy with. 

Esquisse pour Autour du cercle represents the final, and perhaps most important, stage of this process of adjustment and refinement, as the artist introduced colour into the composition for the first time, testing the relationships and tensions that arise between the various shades and tones he had envisioned. The painting is filled with a vivid array of colour, featuring vibrant reds, purples and greens alongside more delicate notes of blue, pink and orange, in a lustrous colour palette that holds close affinities to works from Kandinsky’s early oeuvre, particularly his fairy-tale images from the period 1906-1907. Within this cacophony of colour, intriguing juxtapositions of contrasting hues and tonalities emerge, with multiple shades appearing alongside one another in a single form. For example, the cluster of bee-hive shaped structures on the left hand side of the composition features no less than forty different shades within its borders which, when combined, creates a rich, varied pattern that enlivens the internal forms. As the artist explained, minor adjustments to the colour palette could completely transform a work of art: ‘A tiny little change of a single colour – almost invisible – suddenly lends the work a boundless perfection’ (Kandinsky, quoted in Kandinsky, exh. cat. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2009, p. 89). Thus, Esquisse pour Autour du cercle offered Kandinsky an integral space in which to test his ideas, examining how they worked when translated from his mind into paint, and refining the relationships between colour and form in his design.

Although Esquisse pour Autour du cercle was executed in April 1940, less than a month before the German invasion of France, the painting’s festive and jubilant atmosphere gives little indication of the political tensions and growing fear which were sweeping across Europe at this time. Kandinsky and his wife had fled Germany less than a decade previously, and had watched from afar as the artist’s work was removed from state collections as part of the new government’s programme of cultural cleansing. However, Kandinsky did not allow the threat of war to negatively impact his art, which he believed to be situated ‘outside space and time’ (Kandinsky, quoted in W. Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, His Life and Work, London, 1959, p. 242). When the German army crossed into French territory on 10 May 1940, Kandinsky and his wife moved to the town of Cauterets in the Pyrenees. It was here that the artist continued the ideas explored in the present work, retaining the vibrant and joyful atmosphere and bringing his designs to fruition in the striking Autour du Cercle over the course of that summer. 

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