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Dumpfes Rot

Dumpfes Rot
signed with the monogram and dated ‘K 27’ (lower left); signed again with the monogram, inscribed, dated and numbered ‘K "Dumpfes Rot" No. 400 1927’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
25 7⁄8 x 30 in. (65.7 x 76.3 cm.)
Painted in Dessau in June 1927
Nina Kandinsky, Neuilly-sur-Seine, by descent from the artist, in 1944.
Galerie René Drouin, Paris, by whom acquired from the above, probably in the late 1940s.
Galerie Maeght, Paris.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 17 May 1979, lot 281.
Private collection, Switzerland.
MacConnal-Mason Gallery, London.
Private collection, United Kingdom, by whom acquired from the above in 2010.
The artist's handlist, vol. IV, no. 400.
W. Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, New York, 1959, no. 400, p. 336 (illustrated fig. 264, p. 371).
A. Bovi, Kandinsky, London, 1970, no. 28 (illustrated).
H.K. Roethel & J.K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, vol. II, 1916-1944, London, 1984, no. 843, p. 781 (illustrated).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Kandinsky, December 1947 - January 1948, no. 43, n.p.; this exhibition later travelled to The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, February - March 1948.
Paris, Galerie Maeght, Kandinsky: Bauhaus de Dessau, 1927-1933, November 1965, no. 5 (illustrated; exh. cat. reproduced in Derriere le Miroir, no. 154, November 1965).
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Kandinsky, The Bauhaus Years, April - May 1966, no. 23 (illustrated).
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Kandinsky: Centenaire, 1866-1944, July - September 1966, no. 51 (illustrated).
Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Wassily Kandinsky, Gemälde 1900-1944, July - September 1970, no. 78 (illustrated).

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Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay

Painted in the beginning of the summer of 1927, Wassily Kandinsky’s Dumpfes rot is a testament to the artist’s continued dedication to experimentation in his art during his tenure at the Bauhaus. In this innovative work, Kandinsky explores the wealth of possibilities which lie behind different variations of the primary elements of triangle and circle, through repetition, opposition, convergence and divergence, as a constellation of geometric shapes, overlapping and intersecting one another in a complex, yet balanced network, fills the picture plane. The schematic nature of Dumpfes rot’s geometry may be seen as a response to the designs and theories of Kandinsky’s colleagues at the Bauhaus, as it entered a new phase of architectural and technological orientation during the closing years of the 1920s at Dessau. The Bauhaus at this time was a location filled with stimulating and engaging interactions, between the many students and masters, designers and architects, painters and engineers that gathered there. It was this highly engaging atmosphere that inspired Kandinsky to explore new themes and subjects in his art, pushing his theories and practices to new levels of innovation which dealt directly with the modern world.

Particularly influential for Kandinsky were the striking photographs of the Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy, whose unexpected vantage points and innovative printing methods generated highly modern images which challenged the relationship between photography and the visible world. Kandinsky used one of Moholy-Nagy’s iconic photographs of the structure of a radio tower to illustrate his 1926 book, Point and Line to Plane, choosing an image in which the overlapping bars and crossbeams of the metal structure appear as an abstract network of intersecting lines, triangles and geometric shapes, when seen from below. Dumpfes rot’s thin vertical ‘masts’ bisecting the canvas and their intersectant lines recall the imposing constructions of pylons or telegraph poles. The technological advancements of modern architecture and industry intrigued Kandinsky, who saw the radio tower and the ‘technological forests’ of pylons as pure expressions of geometry. Introducing these themes to his work allowed him to address this aspect of modernity, in the spatial openness and apparent weightlessness of the structures he invoked.

The intersecting triangles and circles in Dumpfes rot are underpinned by a series of floating colour patches, the fluid outlines of their forms offering a striking contrast to the linear regularity of the geometric shapes which converge over them. These cloud-like formations carry varying tonal effects, which cause them to appear as if they are floating independently within the deep red space. In grounding the composition in this dark red background, Kandinsky allows the power of these patches of bright colour to increase, glowing at varying tenors against the deep red void. This causes them to assume diverse positions in the illusory space, depending on their brightness, chromatic temperature, size and position in relation to the other areas of colour. In Point and Line to Plane, Kandinsky described this phenomenon as the ‘annihilation’ of the picture plane, in which the space ‘is pulled in both directions like an accordion’ (Point and Line to Plane; reproduced in K. C. Lindsay and P. Vergo, eds., Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, New York, 1994, p. 648).

The artist further explores this sensation by subtly shifting the colours in certain sections of the overlapping lines, to alter our perception of their relationships to one another and the picture plane. For example, by colouring some of the white lines with the vibrant tones of the colourful clouds they overlap, Kandinsky instils these linear elements with different formal properties to those which remain white. Some move forwards, towards the front of the picture plane, while others appear to recede and sink into the chromatic cloud, depending on their different tonalities. These gradual shifts in colour also affect the clarity of the lines, causing them to appear softer and less material than those shown in white or in isolation. This further accentuates the impression that the constellation of lines is floating on multiple different levels within the illusionary space of the painting.

As with many of his paintings executed at the Bauhaus, Dumpfes rot is closely connected to Kandinsky’s teaching methods at this time. As Master, and subsequently Professor, at the school, the artist engaged young students in the theory of form and colour during the lessons he taught as part of the first year preliminary programme, as well as in his ‘Free Painting Classes.’ In many of these tutorials and workshops, the multiple and contradictory spatial effects which could occur by the interrelationships between different colours and forms were examined by Kandinsky and his students. For example, one painting student described the exercises set by the artist to supplement and explain these theories to his students: ‘He has brought along a great variety of rectangles, squares, disks, and triangles, in various colours, which he holds in front of us to test and to build our visual perception. On one combination, for instance, yellow is in front of blue in black. If I add this black, what happens then? Etc. etc. For the painter, this is a never tiring game, magic and even torture, when one, for instance, cannot get something to the front’ (U. Diedrich Schuh, quoted in Kandinsky: Russian and Bauhaus Years, exh. cat., New York, 1983 p. 67).

From this account, it is evident that Kandinsky’s lessons were intrinsically linked to his explorations of the theoretical nature of art, incorporating ideas and concepts he had discussed in Point and Line to Plane. A central feature was the discussion of energy, movement and rhythm, qualities Kandinsky believed could enliven and animate the pictorial elements of a composition. For Kandinsky, painting was an art that both reflected and gave an insight into the organising force of nature. To feel the affinity between the elements and laws of the arts was for him to gain an insight into the elements and laws of nature and vice versa. Such an understanding would, he felt, ultimately pave the way for a synthesis of all arts of the spirit, and transcend all specialization in the name of culture. This is the principal reason why he came to the Bauhaus and why he and Paul Klee taught many disciplines other than painting. ‘The separate and individual laws of those two great realms, nature and art,’ he wrote, ‘will ultimately shed light on the general laws of the world and its makeup… and reveal the independent operation of both within a higher, synthetic sequence of external and internal’ (Punkt und Linie zur Fläche, Bern, 1955, p. 117).

At the heart of the apparently sober geometry and engineered mathematics of his Bauhaus abstractions, therefore, was always an innate, intuitive and, for Kandinsky, mystical reaching out towards an otherworldly, non-material, spiritual dimension. In Dumpfes rot, the artist explores these concepts through the delicate play of forms in the central group of geometric shapes and its satellite elements to the left and below. An expressive energy is generated by the forces and tensions both between and within the groupings of triangles, quadrilaterals and amoebic forms that populate the picture plane, an effect accentuated by the dark red space in-between. Appearing to hold their own internal centre of gravity, these clusters feature regular repetitions of the same geometric shapes, organised with a sense of clarity and simple order. Set against a darker, seemingly exterior 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 united and harmonious composite whole.

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