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Ohne Titel

Ohne Titel
signed with monogram and dated '41' (lower left); dated again and inscribed 'No 727 1941' (on the reverse)
gouache and pen and India ink on grey paper laid down on card
Image size: 18 ¼ x 12 in. (46.5 x 30.5 cm.)
Executed in 1941
Pierre Piessi, Paris.
Galerie Michael Haas, Berlin.
Connaught Brown, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
The Artist's Handlist, Watercolours, no. 727.
V.E. Barnett, Kandinsky: Watercolours, Catalogue Raisonné, 1922-1944, New York, 1994, vol. 2, p. 525, no. 1362 (illustrated; illustrated again in color, p. 476).

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Lot Essay

Ohne Titel is one of several gouaches which Wassily Kandinsky painted during his final years in Paris. Created in 1941, a year into Germany’s occupation of France, the present work reveals nothing of the tumultuous climate in which it came to be, nor the personal difficulties that the artist and his wife Nina knew while living in Neuilly-sur-Seine, on the outskirts of the nation’s capital. On the contrary, Ohne Titel feels as though Kandinsky is reveling in the various languages of his abstraction, as if surveying his career in hopeful, perhaps sentimental, escapism.
While retaining some of the linearity and weightlessness of the Bauhaus years, the present work’s increasingly lyrical and organic shapes can be retraced back to his thirties works. If he had previously been looking upwards at the cosmos, during this period Kandinsky had been noticing the naturally occurring geometry and abstraction in the smallest of nature: seashells, algae and specs of dust magnified under a microscope made their way to his imagination. A trip he had made to Normandy in 1934 had a particular impact on his pictorial language, as he wrote to the critic Will Grohmann: “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 meters, 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” (quoted in M. Baumgartner, A. Hoberg, and C. Hopfengart, eds., Klee & Kandinsky: Neighbours, Friends, Rivals, London, 2015, p. 289).
Although difficult to identify with words, these “impressions” are instinctively familiar to the viewer for a simple reason: they are undeniably alive. The present composition’s spirited ensemble of colorful blue, green and maroon shapes coexist in movement and in relation to one another. Kandinsky creates this dynamism using contrast: white or light-colored outlines surround the darker hues, polychrome circles of various sizes bustle inside blocks of color, broken lines direct solid shapes, etc. The artist’s exercise in dissection reveals the calculated randomness of nature which abstract art comes close to capture. His line is strong yet purposefully uneven to recreate the spatial balance between symmetry and unevenness at the heart of life.

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