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signed with the monogram and dated ‘K 28’ (lower left); dated, inscribed, and numbered ‘No 253 1928 Scharf’ (on the artist’s mount)
gouache, watercolour, and pen and ink on paper
Sheet size: 19 1/4 x 12 3/4 in. (49 x 32.4 cm.)
Mount size: 19 5/8 x 13 1/4 in. (49.9 x 33.3 cm.)
Executed in May 1928
Nina Kandinsky, Paris.
Galerie Maeght, Paris, by whom acquired from the above in 1957.
Galerie Chalette, New York, 1957.
Louis & Julia Wasserman, Connecticut, acquired in 1957.
Estate of Julia Wasserman.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
The artist's handlist, Watercolours, 'v 1928, 253, Scharf'.
V. Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky Watercolours, Catalogue raisonné, vol. II, 1922-1944, London, 1994, no. 841, p. 205 (illustrated; with inverted dimensions).
Lucerne, Galerie Rosengart, Kandinsky Exhibition: Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings, June - September 1953, no. 4.
New York, Galerie Chalette, Kandinsky, November - December 1957, no. 17 (illustrated).
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.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Painted in May 1928, Scharf is a vibrant illustration of Wassily Kandinsky’s rich, multi-faceted painterly practice during his years at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Attracted by the school’s innovative and inclusive educational programme and welcoming attitude towards his artistic and theoretical activities, Kandinsky had joined the faculty in 1922, and remained a teacher there for almost a decade. 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, and embarking upon grand projects that stimulated his creativity.
During the opening months of 1928, Kandinsky had been invited by Georg Hartmann, artistic director of the local Friedrich-Theatre in Dessau, to collaborate on an upcoming performance of Modest Mussorgsky’s Bilder einer Ausstellung. Originally composed in 1874 for piano and inspired by a visit to a retrospective of the artist Viktor Hartmann’s work, the suite of music consists of ten movements, each responding to a different artwork featured in the exhibition. While Mussorgsky had sought to translate an impression of his experiences before Hartmann’s paintings and drawings into music, Kandinsky aimed to re-translate that music into visual form. In preparation for the project, he created a series of watercolours and sketches for the costumes and scenery, adding annotations about colour and dimensions to each sheet, to help guide the fabrication process (Endicott Barnett, nos. 812-830). When the theatre production premiered in early April, Kandinsky’s complex stage composition presented an interaction of scenery, movement, colour, light, geometric shapes, and semi-transparent plastic elements.
Discussing the project in an article for the periodical Das Kunstblatt, Kandinsky described how his vision for the production developed: ‘With the exception of two scenes… the entire staging was “abstract.” I also used occasional forms that were distantly related to objects. Thus, I too did not proceed in a “programmatic” way, but rather used forms that swam before my eyes on listening to the music. My principle resources were: 1. Form itself, 2. Colour and form, to which 3. The colour of the lighting was added as a kind of more profound painting, 4. The independent play of the coloured lights, and 5. The structure of each scene, which was bound up with the music, and of course the necessity of dismantling it’ (‘Modeste Mussorgsky: “Bilder einer Ausstellung,”’ in Das Kunstblatt, 1930; quoted in K.C. Lindsay and P. Vergo, Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, New York, 1994, pp. 750-751).
Alongside his formal designs for the project, many of Kandinsky’s compositions in both watercolour and oil from the spring of 1928 feature elements and motifs that appear to have been inspired by the forms from the stage scenery – interlocking towers of triangles reappear in various iterations, as do passages of undulating, wave-like lines, while grids of thin linear elements take on a new prominence, occasionally juxtaposed against large circular elements. Several of these motifs can be seen in Scharf, with the elliptical shape in the lower right corner of the sheet in particular appearing to relate directly to a similar form in his designs for the final movement in the production, ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ (see Endicott Barnett, nos. 829-830; Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou). Perhaps most intriguingly, across the watercolour Kandinsky explores ideas of transparency, overlapping certain shapes and elements, playing with their internal colours to create a complex sense of layering that enhances the feeling of depth within the scene. In this way, Scharf explores similar effects to those featured in the sets of the theatre production, revealing the ways in which ideas, themes and concepts flowed across Kandinsky’s creative output during these years.

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