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Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED COLLECTION
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)

Oben und links

Details
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Oben und links
signed with monogram and dated '25' (lower left)
oil on board
27 ½ x 19 5/8 in. (69.9 x 49.8 cm.)
Painted in Weimar, March 1925
Provenance
Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York (acquired from the artist, August 1936).
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York (gift from the above, 1937); sale, Sotheby’s, London, 30 June 1964, lot 14.
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired at the above sale).
Fort Worth Art Museum (acquired from the above, 1968 and until 2001).
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, October 2007.
Literature
H. Rebay, Innovation: Une nouvelle ère artistique, Paris, 1937, p. 49 (illustrated in color).
W. Kandinsky and H. Rebay, On the Spiritual in Art, New York, 1946, p. 105 (illustrated in color, p. 119).
W. Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, New York, 1958, p. 364, no. 181 (illustrated).
P. Overy, Kandinsky: The Language of the Eye, New York, 1969, pp. 7 and 108, no. 35 (illustrated in color).
H.K Roethel and J.K Benjamin, Kandinsky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, 1916-1944, New York, 1984, vol. II, p. 692, no. 737 (illustrated).
K. Vail, The Museum of Non-Objective Painting: Hilla Rebay and the Origins of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2009, p. 127 (illustrated in situ).
Exhibited
Erfurt, Kandinsky, April 1925.
Dusseldorf, Summer 1925.
Dresden, Internationale Kunstausstellung, June-September 1926.
Berlin, Galerie Ferdinand Möller, Die Blaue Vier: Feininger, Jawlensky, Kandinsky, Klee, October 1929.
Philadelphia, Art Alliance; Charleston, Charles Gibbes Memorial Art Gallery and Baltimore Museum of Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Collection of Non-Objective Paintings, 1937-1939 (illustrated in color).
New York, 1939, no. 265 (illustrated in color).
New York, Museum of Non-Objective Painting, The Kandinsky Memorial Exhibition, March-May, 1945, no. 79 (illustrated in color on the cover).
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by Wassily Kandinsky, April-May 1946, no. 39 (illustrated, pl. 9).
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1954-1961 (on extended loan).
Corpus Christi, Centennial Art Museum, Renoir to Chagall, October 1964.
Austin, University Art Museum of the University of Texas, Not So Long Ago: Art of the 1920s in Europe and America, October-December 1972, p. 51 (illustrated in color).
Fort Worth Art Museum, Exponents of Modernism: From the Collections of the Fort Worth Art Museum, A Museum of Twentieth Century Art, September 1973-May 1974.
Fort Worth Art Museum, Twentieth Century Art from Fort Worth Dallas Collections, September-October 1974 (illustrated).
Waco Creative Art Center, At the Line of the House, April-May 1976.
Fort Worth Art Museum, The Permanent collection: 75th Anniversary Retrospective, June-October 1976.
Amarillo, Art Center Association, Between the Wars: A Brief Survey of Art from 1918-1940, 1978.
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Atlanta, The High Museum, Kandinsky: Russian and Bauhaus Years 1915-1933, December 1983-April 1984, p. 212, no. 158 (illustrated; with incorrect medium).
San Antonio, Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, Collecting: A Texas Phenomenon, November-December 1986.
Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Dayton Art Institute; Chicago, Terra Museum of American Art and Fort Worth, Amon Carter Museum, Theme & Improvisation: Kandinsky & The American Avant-Garde,1912-1950, September 1992-August 1993, p. 41 (illustrated in color, pl. 9).
Essen, Museum Folkwang, Bauhaus: Dessau, Chicago, New York, August-November 2000, no. 10 (illustrated in color).
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Jessica Fertig
Jessica Fertig

Lot Essay

Oben und links (Above and Left), painted in March 1925, is a radiant and dynamic work that Kandinsky completed during the last weeks of the Weimar Bauhaus. Intensifying opposition from right-wing elements in the Thuringian regional government led to the closing of the Weimar school in April 1925. The faculty and students moved to new quarters in Dessau, and reopened the school in June. Kandinsky and his wife Nina took an apartment in Dessau; he resumed teaching in July. The Bauhaus curriculum and staff was then at the height of its fame, and the influence of the school was being felt throughout Europe and in America. The roster of teachers included Josef Albers, Marcel Breuer, Lionel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, Làszlò Moholy-Nagy and Oskar Schlemmer, under the directorship of Walter Gropius.
The lively exchange of ideas in the Dessau Bauhaus, freely crossing the lines of various disciplines in the fine and applied arts, stimulated teachers and students alike, and the classroom experience greatly enriched Kandinsky’s painting. The increasing emphasis on architecture and technological design in the Bauhaus curriculum during this period encouraged Kandinsky to experiment more broadly with geometric imagery and a complex structuring of space, as seen in the present work. His over-riding concern for the spiritual dimension in art nonetheless transcended the utilitarian origins of the means he employed; his paintings, never mere exercises in form, contained veiled meanings and feelings in their sign-like imagery. The work of Klee was especially important to Kandinsky during the mid-1920s. Kandinsky admired Klee’s improvisational approach to form and materials, the great variety of his subjects, and his ability to connect with the spiritual significance in art through his astonishing flights of imagination and fantasy. In 1926 Kandinsky and Klee, with their wives, moved into one of the dual-unit masters’ houses on the Bauhaus grounds.
The palpable energy, movement and rhythm in Oben und links, evoked through jutting lines, arrows and triangles which spring forward from the brilliantly colored central form, is built out of overlapping squares and rectangles. The richness of the colors and contrasting geometric shapes are, in turn, anchored by a deep rust ground. The painting is one of a series of outstanding paintings from this period that deal analytically with the formal relationship between independent shapes and which echo both Kandinsky's theoretical studies and his experimental teachings. Over the summer of 1925, Kandinsky would temporarily abandon painting in order to concentrate on a written explanation of these studies, his theoretical treatise Pünkt und Linie zu Fläche. Beitrag zur Analyse der malerischen Elemente. (Point and Line to Plane. A Contribution to the Analysis of Pictorial Elements). In his new treatise, which the Bauhaus published in 1926, Kandinsky demonstrated the compositional laws inherent in those abstract forms which arose from the artist's "inner necessity," which he believed must replace conventional objects taken from "external" nature. His grand design was to create "a science" of this new art.
The prevailing aesthetic ethos at the Bauhaus had been, up until this time, expressionist in outlook. Indeed, one major reason Gropius had engaged Kandinsky as a teacher was that he wanted to bring to the school alternative creative ideas from elsewhere in Europe. From Russia, this meant a new movement that had caught Gropius' eye as an architect: the group of artists that followed the concept of constructivism, Rodchenko and Tatlin chief among them, who sought to forge a new synergy between the artist, his work and society. The first major exhibition in Germany of post-Revolutionary Russian art at the Van Dieman gallery, Berlin, in the fall of 1922 confirmed the significance and likely influence of this group, whose principles, Gropius believed, were similar to Bauhaus aims. The constructivists aimed at the creation of form derived from the most fundamental elements of the medium itself, which in painting meant line, plane, and color. They sought absolute freedom from natural forms and to throw off the psychological burden of expressionist subjectivity. Theirs was a genuinely proletarian approach, taking art out of the solitary ivory tower, and into the co-operative factory workshop.
Mondrian, Van Doesburg and the artists of the Dutch De Stijl group had already developed ideas along similar lines by which they had achieved radical results, which Mondrian called "neo-plasticism" and Van Doesburg termed "elementarism." Kandinsky's arrival at the Bauhaus was most timely in light of these contemporary developments. The addition to the Bauhaus faculty of Moholy-Nagy during the spring of 1923 further bolstered those few who advocated constructivist ideas at the institute; Gropius could correctly foresee that it was only through this approach that the Bauhaus could ultimately realize its professed goal, as he wrote, "the unification of all training in art and design" toward the eventual goal of creating "the collective work of art—the Building—in which no barriers exist between the structural and decorative arts" ("The Theory and Organization of the Bauhaus," 1923; in C. Harrison and P. Wood, Art in Theory, Malden, Mass., 2003, p. 311).
In late 1925 Kandinsky discussed with his friend Willi Grohmann the idea that, the cool geometry of his forms notwithstanding, there was a strong impulse toward Romanticism in his paintings of this period. "It is no part of my program to paint with tears or to make people cry, and I really don't care for sweets, but Romanticism goes far, far, very far beyond tears... Why should there not be a New Romanticism? The meaning, the content of art is Romanticism" (ibid., pp. 179 and 180). Kandinsky considered the lyrical thread that had run through his art, and which lay at the heart of his recent geometric compositions as well: "The circle, which I have been using so often of late, is nothing if not romantic. Actually, the coming Romanticism is profound and beautiful...it is meaningful, joy-giving, it is a block of ice with a burning flame inside. If people perceive only the ice and not the flame, that is just too bad. But a few are beginning to grasp this" (ibid.).
Moreover, Kandinsky was still fighting the battle to justify the value of abstract art, and protecting his hard-won gains of the past decade and a half, which had met with increasing criticism, especially in France, where a new classicism had endorsed a return to the object and figure as the proper subjects of the artist. In his 1925 text Abstrakte Kunst, he declared, “…the transvaluation that very gradually abandons the external and very gradually turns toward the internal…is the natural herald of one of the greatest spiritual epochs… Art has set foot on this pioneering path, and it may be assumed that the great dawning of abstract art, this fundamental turning point in the history of art, represents one of the most important beginnings of the spiritual overthrow that, in its day, I dubbed the ‘Epoch of the Great Spiritual’” (quoted in K. C. Lindsay and P. Vergo, Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, New York, 1994, pp. 512 and 518).

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