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.