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Composition G4

Composition G4
signed, dated and inscribed 'Moholy=Nagy zu Galalithbild G4 (26)' (on the reverse of the paper); signed again, dated and inscribed 'MOHOLY=NAGY G26' (on the backboard)
oil on red Galalith over India ink and wash on paper
15 3/4 x 19 5/8 in. (40 x 49.6 cm.)
Executed in 1926
Private collection, Zurich, by whom acquired directly from the artist, by 1934, and thence by descent; sale, Christie’s, London, 4 February 2014, lot 11.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Exh. cat., Albers and Moholy-Nagy: from the Bauhaus to the New World, Tate Modern, London, 2006, no. 13, p. 18 (illustrated; titled ‘Composition’, dated '1925-1927' and with incorrect medium).
A. Schulz Marty, ‘Eine Galalithplatte als Gestaltungmedium und Bildträger im Werk ‘Composition G4‘ von László Moholy-Nagy‘, in Zeitschrift für Kunsttechnologie und Konservierung, vol. I, Worms, 2007, pp. 33-37 (illustrated pp. 33-35; details illustrated p. 36).
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Abstrakte und surrealistische Malerei und Plastik, October - November 1929, no. 89, p. 18 (titled 'G IV'; with incorrect dimensions).
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Neue Deutsche Malerei, June - July 1934, no. 84, p. 12 (titled 'G IV'; dated '1925-1926').
Zurich, Galerie Orlando, Das Bauhaus, Weimar, Dessau, Berlin und The New Bauhaus Chicago, April - October 2005, p. 54 (illustrated; titled 'Composition'; dated 'circa 1921' and with incorrect medium).
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
Further details
Ms Hattula Moholy-Nagy has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Lot Essay

Conveying a sense of harmony and counterbalance through a subtle mastery of colour, light and space, Composition G4 is an exquisite example of László Moholy-Nagy’s radical investigations into the potential of light as an active medium in a work of art. Created in 1926, this intriguing composition emerged during a period of rapid evolution and fervent creativity in the artist’s oeuvre, as he pushed the boundaries of his experimental vision while working as a teacher at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Moholy had been appointed a Master at the revolutionary art school in 1923, the youngest artist to be given this title, with responsibility for leading the famous one-year foundation course. His arrival coincided with a major shift in the school’s philosophy towards a more Constructivist aesthetic, which aimed at a closer alignment between art and the demands of modern industry.

As such, Moholy’s visionary aesthetic and abiding fascination with novel materials left him well poised to take an active role in the new direction of the Bauhaus curriculum. He believed that abstraction was the key to a new form of art making best suited to the modern age and, to this end, utilised forms that were ‘completely freed from all elements reminiscent of nature,’ seeking ‘to work with nothing but the peculiar characteristics of colours, with their pure relationships’ (The New Vision and Abstract of an Artist, New York, 1947, p. 76). Taking cues from the language of Constructivism, which he had discovered in the early 1920s, Moholy worked within a language of simplified, clearly delineated geometric forms – typically rectilinear bands of varying thickness, symmetric circles, and intersecting diagonal lines – to create dynamic configurations.

Seeing the Constructive process as capable of unleashing the inherent beauty from any material or form, Moholy experienced none of the anxieties about embracing modern technology that concerned many of his colleagues. Indeed, newly developed and unconventional materials were key to his aesthetic through this period – plastics, metals and pigments originally fabricated for the fields of electrotechnics, aviation and building construction were appropriated into his compositions, their novel textures and materiality feeding his creative imagination to the point that he boldly proclaimed them to be ‘much more appropriate than canvas or wood panel for the production of precisely executed pictures’ (quoted in J. Tsai, The Paintings of Moholy-Nagy: The Shape of Things to Come, exh. cat., Santa Barbara, 2015, p. 30). ‘I have no doubt that these, or similar new materials, will soon dominate easel painting,’ he explained ‘and we should also expect new, surprising effects produced through [their] use’ (ibid.).

This spirit of innovation directly informs the construction of Composition G4. In lieu of canvas, Moholy uses a thin sheet of transparent Galalith as the central component in the work – hence the “G” in the title – a synthetic plastic produced from milk protein casein (gala = milk in Greek) rendered insoluble (lithos = stone) with formaldehyde, the uses for which were first demonstrated at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. Explicitly evoking modern industry with its smooth, translucent surface and vibrant red colour, the Galalith acts as both a painterly support and a compositional element in its own right, standing as one element within a sophisticated layering of planes that together generate a captivating cascade effect.

At the base of Composition G4 stands a sheet of paper featuring a group of subtly gradated diagonal bars that shift in tone as they interlock and pass over one another in an a-symmetrical cross. The vibrant, glowing red surface of the Galalith is then placed on top of this, allowing the criss-crossing bars beneath to interact with a series of hand-painted elements that the artist has added to both the verso and the recto of the sheet of plastic. Creating a complex stacking effect in which the forms appear to float in a serenely luminous void, Moholy uses the inherent transparency of the Galalith to propose an intriguing sense of depth and perspective within the work, while also suggesting a new relationship between light and space in the constructive process of building a composition.

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