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Fast versunken

Fast versunken
signed with the monogram and dated '30' (lower left); dated, numbered and inscribed 'No 383 1930 Fast versunken.' (on the reverse)
gouache on dark grey-brown paper laid down on the artist's mount
sheet: 14 3/8 x 10 5/8 in. (36.4 x 27 cm.)
artist's mount: 18 3/8 x 14 1/2 in. (46.7 x 36.8 cm.)
Executed in March 1930
Karl Nierendorf, New York, on consignment from the artist, by 1933 until circa 1948.
Nina Kandinsky [the artist's wife], Paris.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (no. 7129), by whom acquired from the above in February 1972.
Dr P. Wurmser, Basel, by whom acquired from the above on 22 May 1974; sale, Sotheby's, London, 26 June 2008, lot 221.
Private collection, France, by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Christie's, London, 19 June 2013, lot 107.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
The Artist's Handlist, Watercolours, as 'iii 1930, 383, Fast versunken'.
V.E. Barnett, Kandinsky, Watercolours, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, 1922-1944, London, 1994, no. 975, p. 280 (illustrated).
Berlin, Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Kandinsky, February 1931, no. 20, n.p..
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Novemberausstellung, November - December 1931, no. 74, p. 11.
Stockholm, Gummesons Konsthall, Kandinsky, September 1932, no. 78.
New York, Nierendorf Gallery, Kandinsky: A Retrospective View, A College Art Association Exhibition, December 1937, no. 36, n.p..
New York, Museum of Non-Objective Painting, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, In Memory of Wassily Kandinsky, March - May 1945, no. 162, p. 110 (titled 'Almost Disappearing' and incorrectly numbered '363').
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Kandinsky, Aquarelle und Zeichnungen, June - July 1972, no. 47, p. 42 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Karl Flinker, Kandinsky: peintures, dessins, gravures, éditions, oeuvres inédites, November - December 1972, no. 6, n.p. (titled 'Presque Disparu').
New York, Pace Gallery, Kandinsky: Watercolors and Drawings, 1911-1943, March - April 1973, no. 13, n.p. (with incorrect medium).
Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Kandinsky, Kleine Freuden, Aquarelle und Zeichnungen, March - May 1992, no. 127, n.p. (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, May - August 1992.
Lugano, Museo Cantonale d'Arte, Kandinsky nelle collezioni svizzere, June - October 1995, no. 51, p. 210 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Imogen Kerr
Imogen Kerr Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Fast versunken is an exquisite and bewitching gouache executed by Wassily Kandinsky in March 1933, at the height of his involvement with the Bauhaus. Its compositional structure, centred on the careful equilibrium of meticulously selected geometrical elements, is a telling testament to the incalculable impact that his Bauhaus years had on the artist’s artistic production.

Founded in 1919, the Bauhaus was a renowned German art school that represented a crucial turning point in the history of Western art. Its founder, Walter Gropius, championed a holistic approach in the school’s teachings, bringing together artists, craftsmen, architects and offering an interdisciplinary curriculum that would provide students with solid bases on a wide ranging variety of subjects connected to art and design. Among others, its distinguished staff included artists of the calibre of Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger and Wassily Kandinsky.

When he joined the school aged 56 in 1922, long gone were the years of Der Blaue Reiter: a new phase in Kandinsky’s artistic development was ready to blossom. At the Bauhaus, his main role was to teach in a preliminary foundation course for students from various disciplines; his teachings reflected his own artistic preoccupations, and were focused on geometric construction, colour theory and on the spiritual and expressionistic power of form. The same theories are meticulously analysed in Über das Geistige in der Kunst (Concerning the spiritual in art, published in 1911) and Punkt und Linie zu Fläch (Point and line to surface, published in 1926, during his time at the Bauhaus), seminal texts of artistic theory in which the aesthetic, spiritual, even emotional, relationships between form and colour are explored in all their varied layers.

The present work fully reflects the theories at the heart of Kandinsky’s Bauhaus teaching and of his texts. In the centre of the composition, the repetition of three triangles, executed in rich and deep reds, faintly emerges from the dark background. The triangles are positioned one after another, almost like drums establishing a low and yet powerful rhythm. They seem to cast a reddish sheen around them, faintly illuminating the space to their right, occupied by a bright teal circle. A curvilinear pyramid is dimly visible to the right, while rectangular shapes are carefully placed in the composition. The slimmer one, positioned a little to the right underneath the red triangles, seems to suggest the trunk of a stylised tree. In that sense, perhaps, the triangles could be understood as its foliage, the circle as the moon, and the pyramid to their right as a mountain behind it.

Comparison with other works of the same period would seem to justify such a reading. When one looks, for instance, at Im lockeren Schwartz, the juxtaposition of triangles and circles could also be interpreted as a stylised recreation of an alpine landscape. Be that as it may, it seems clear, especially when taking into consideration Kandinsky’s writings, that each of the shapes depicted in Fast versunken had its own highly specific meaning, one that went beyond that of figurative representation. According to the artist, in fact, triangles stood to represent a feeling of aggression, whereas the circle conveyed a sense of deepening. It certainly doesn’t seem far-fetched to assume that the two layers of meaning – the symbolic and the evocatively representative – were expected by the artist to co-exist. It is perhaps precisely in this convergence that lies the fascinatingly eerie charm of the present work.

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