20 More
23 More
Cancellation under the EU Consumer Rights Directiv… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE DEUTSCHE BANK COLLECTION

Kleine Welten

Kleine Welten
the set of six lithographs in colour, four drypoints and two woodcuts, 1922, on wove paper
each signed in pencil, from the total edition of 230
printed at the Staatliches Bauhaus, Weimar
published by the Propyläen-Verlag, Berlin
Sheets: 357 x 282 mm. (and similar)
Anonymous sale, Karl & Faber, Munich, 25-26 November 1982, lot 839.
Wolfgang Wittrock, Dusseldorf, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Acquired from the above in 1982.
H.K. Roethel, Kandinsky, Das Graphische Werk, Cologne, 1970, nos. 164-175 (other impressions illustrated).
K. Weber, ed., Punkt Linie Fläche - Druckgraphik am Bauhaus, exh. cat., Berlin, 1999, pp. 89-90 & 118-127, nos. 14.1-12 (other impressions illustrated).
H. Friedel & A. Hoberg, eds., Kandinsky - Das druckgrafische Werk - Complete Prints, exh. cat., Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, 2008, nos. 123-135 (other impressions illustrated).
Special notice

Cancellation under the EU Consumer Rights Directive may apply to this lot. Please see here for further information.
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.

Brought to you by

Micol Flocchini
Micol Flocchini Head of Works on Paper Sale

Lot Essay

As the cultural policy in Russia after the revolution shifted from promoting the avant-garde to social realism, Wassily Kandinsky left Moscow, where he had spent the years of war and revolution since 1914, and returned to Germany in December 1921. It was there, where he had lived during his formative years as a young artist since 1896, that he hoped to find a future for himself and his wife Nina. The move paid off: in 1922 the founder and director of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius (1883-1969), offered him the position of teacher for wall painting. Kandinsky joined the small but illustrious staff of the school, which included Lyonel Feininger, Oskar Schlemmer and Paul Klee, amongst others, each of whom was a 'master' of a specific workshop or class. That same year Kandinsky received a commission by the Propyläen Verlag in Berlin for a print portfolio and he created Kleine Welten, a set of 12 prints in a variety of techniques. It was to become the first major series of purely abstract works in the print medium and arguably the most important portfolio created at the Bauhaus.

Kandinsky had been exposed to different printmaking techniques as early as 1896 when, having abandoned his career as a law scholar, he briefly became artistic director of an art printing workshop in Moscow. From 1902 onwards, printmaking became part of his own artistic practice and remained so over the course of his working life. He created a total of approximately two hundred prints, which form a substantial and integral part of his oeuvre.

His earliest prints were colour woodcuts, executed in Munich between 1902 and 1904 (see fig. 1). Despite their traditional fairy-tale subjects, these prints with their jewel-like quality reminiscent of cloisonné enamel and Russian folk art, stand at the beginning of Kandinsky's path towards non-figurative art. The woodcut medium forced him to simplify his compositions and the prints of these early years, with their flattened, sinuously delineated forms, thus played a crucial role in his artistic development, from the decorative manner of the Jugendstil to complete abstraction. The first abstract works – drawings, paintings and prints – appear in Kandinsky's oeuvre as early as 1910 to 1913, although most retain some faint elements of figurative representation.

With his return to Germany ended a hiatus of six years, from 1916 to 1922, during which he had not produced any prints. Upon joining the Bauhaus, he must have felt a pent-up urge to once again express himself in that medium, and found a dedicated workshop at the school allowing him to do so. Kleine Welten is the culmination of his artistic thoughts and developments of the previous years, as well as a precursor to his subsequent work. The 12 prints stand between the more organic, expressive manner of this earlier abstract works (see fig. 2) and the measured, geometric style of the later 1920s and 30s (fig.3).

This development towards abstraction was not, however, motivated by mere formal interests or experiments. It began as an act of revolt and iconoclasm, which reflected the collapse of an old social order and a world view that was perceived as materialistic, corrupt and obsolete. Yet for Kandinsky, this destruction led to a new spiritual beginning, which began to manifest itself in his works of the 1920s, as Christoph Schreiner wrote: 'The Small Worlds provide clear evidence of this. They have put the birthing pains of a new world (already almost) behind them and figurative apocalypses are superseded by the cosmogony of the ''Spiritual in Art'' – creating a work is now truly creating a world.' (in: Friedel/Hoberg, p. 59)

The title of the portfolio, Kleine Welten, is thus programmatic, and the series of prints can best be understood as independent aesthetic structures comparable to pieces of music.

Indeed Kandinsky, who more than most artists of the early 20th century wrote theoretically about art and his own artistic intentions, frequently drew analogies between visual art and music. As early as 1904, in a letter to Gabriele Münter, he wrote that a work of art must 'resonate', and his famous first book of prints and prose-poems, published in 1913, was called Klänge ('Sounds'). As Melanie Horst wrote, Kandinsky was 'a noted synaethesiast, [he] saw music in colours and colours as music' (in: Friedel/ Hoberg, p. 11). It was a concept that prevailed in his thinking about art and he described Kleine Welten as 'sounding out of 12 sheets' and as being given the 'necessary language'.

A few year after the publication of Kleine Welten, in 1926, Kandinsky summarised his reflections about printmaking in his tract Punkt und Linie zu Fläche ('Point and line to plane'). In this, he argued that printmaking was not a separate artistic category, but only another method of painting, with different rules and possibilities. He then described the characteristics of the different techniques: to create a point or spot in the woodcut medium meant to destroy everything around it, namely the cutting away of block around the spot or point. In contrast to this violent act, as Kandinsky saw it, in drypoint it only took a small prick of the needle into the metal plate to create a mark. In lithography, all that was needed was a brief superficial touch to the stone to create a point 'so light on the paper that it wouldn't seem a miracle if it flew away.'

It was precisely those three techniques which he had explored in practice a few years earlier in Kleine Welten. Ostensibly, the series consists of four woodcuts, four lithographs and four drypoints, although for the edition the two colour woodcuts were in fact transferred and printed lithographically. This practical decision notwithstanding, the three techniques are each to demonstrate their characteristic 'language': the bold lines and surfaces of the woodcut, the subtle interplay of colours of lithography, and the linear quality and intricacy of the drypoint. Six of the prints – two of the woodcuts and the four drypoints – are printed in black; the other six are printed in colours. As Kandinsky put it, 'they needed the sound of other colours'.

Each of the Kleine Welten is indeed a small world of its own, a constellation of shapes and lines, each with its own structure, density and centre of gravity. Together, they form a whole 'universe of graphic art' (Schreiner, in: Friedel/Hoberg, p. 58). The portfolio is thus as much an essay in the expressive possibilities of different printing methods and materials – stone, wood and metal – as it is a visual symphony, played with different instruments.

More from Impressionist and Modern Art Day and Works on Paper Sale

View All
View All