Given as a gift by Kandinsky to his Blaue Reiter colleague Heinrich Campendonk who would himself later repeatedly paint similar crucifixion-themed paintings, Gekreuzigter Christus (Crucified Christ) is a highly important work painted by Kandinsky in Murnau in 1911 at the time when his art stood on the brink of abstraction.
Kandinsky's paintings of this period represent the artist's final phase of figuration before his already loose and brilliantly coloured forms finally freed themselves almost completely from representational reality in a series of 'improvisational' works made in 1912 and 1913. Founded on an interest in folk art and in particular in the Bavarian folk tradition of Hinterglasmalerei or under-glass painting that Kandinsky and Gabrielle Münter had discovered in Murnau, Kandinsky, in addition to trying the technique himself, began to adopt many of the glass painter's themes and subject matter in his own art. Adopting their freer, bolder and more simplistic use of colour as a means of furthering his own painting, Kandinsky recognized in the nave and folk tradition of glass painting a more powerful, freer and more direct means of expression.
Taking the nave format of many of the glass paintings that Kandinsky painted at this time, Gekreuzigter Christus also adopts the Christian motif of Bavarian glass painting, and has its frame decorated in a similar Bavarian folk style. Bavarian glass paintings were folk art usually painted by local farmers as votive offerings or as a gesture of gratitude to a favourite saint. A repeated motif in Kandinsky's art of this time is the figure of Saint George, patron saint of Moscow, and the leading figure of many of his own glass paintings as well as of a large Bavarian glass painting that hung in pride of place in his house in Murnau above his harmonium. Saint George also appears in this work riding across the scene at the foot of the radiant and seemingly transcendent figure of the crucified Christ.
Adopting the mystical and nave forms of both Russian icon paintings and Bavarian folk art, Kandinsky here depicts the image of the crucified Christ as a kind of apparition set against a radiant abstract sky. With its purple sun and blue mountains fusing into a glorious interaction of free form colour the painting, like the folk art that inspired it portrays not so much of the way the world looks as the way such a scene might feel to a devoted believer.
'Our point of departure is the belief that the artist, apart from those impressions that he receives from the world of external appearances, continually accumulates experiences within his own inner world. We seek artistic forms that should express the reciprocal permeation of all these experiences - forms that must be freed from everything incidental, in order powerfully to pronounce only that which is necessary - in short, artistic synthesis. This seems to us a solution that once more today unites in spirit increasing numbers of artists.'(Wassily Kandinsky, 'Text from catalogue for the first Munich exhibition of the Neue Künstler-Vereinigung' 1909, reproduced in Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, ed. Peter Vergo and Kenneth Lindsay, London, 1982, p.53.)