The present work was executed in the fall of 1908 in Murnau, a small town south of Munich where Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter, Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne Werefkin had spent the summer painting and discussing art. The Bavarian countryside, with its clean air and brilliant light, was a great source of inspiration to Kandinsky; it was there that he changed his style--almost overnight--from a somewhat cautious, Impressionist mode to an intense, more abstract depiction of the landscape around him.
As if a gate had suddenly opened onto a new vista, Kandinsky now
experienced a liberation in style that represented a dramatic break with the recent past. All at once, there seemed to be a way to
resolve the dichotomy between his impressionist landscapes and the
lyric works that had held his heart in thrall so long. In several
later statements Kandinsky explained that his transition to
abstraction had been effected by means of three major steps: the
over-coming of two-dimensionality; a new application of graphic
elements to oil painting; the creation of a new "floating" space by the separation of color from line. (P. Weiss, exh. cat.,
Kandinsky in Munich, 1869-1914, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
New York, 1982, p. 59)
The years 1908 and 1909 were transitional ones for Kandinsky. He had been increasingly restless before leaving for Murnau, and the change of location provided him with the fresh stimuli which he felt he needed. The paintings which Kandinsky made in Murnau are typified by an overwhelming intensity and clarity exemplified by the present painting. As Will Grohmann explains, "[Kandinsky] had not yet arrived at nonobjective painting, but in the works he created at Murnau the object had lost its obtrusiveness" (W. Grohmann, op. cit., p. 55). These strong, expressive works, however, are different from the colorful paintings executed by the Fauve artists and by the members of the Brücke group: Kandinsky's style has a rural quality to it, while the work of the Brücke artists is typified by an urban feel and that of the Fauves by a sophistication.
The most striking aspect of the present painting is without doubt its richness of color. The reflection of the boat in the foreground is rendered in bright yellow, pink and blue, with the same intensity as the side of the boat itself. The background is picked out in random dashes of pink, green, orange, lemon yellow and cobalt blue, dulled neither by distance or by fading light; it provides a clear manifestation of the abstract style which Kandinsky was beginning to employ, which would eventually develop into the masterful compositions which he termed Improvisations. As Grohmann notes,
The manner in which the pink of the jetty in Lake of Starnberg
[the present picture] advances into the green of the water, while the beach is modulated from yellow through pink to violet, shows
that Kandinsky now thinks in terms of color even when recording
nature. (ibid., p. 58)
As early as January 1909, Kandinsky had preliminary discussions with friends about the formation of a new association of artists in Munich; it came into being shortly thereafter. The group sought expression through the painting of their external impressions and their internal experiences, and aimed at an artistic synthesis of the senses. The artists involved in this organization included Jawlensky, Kübin, Münter, Marc and Erbslöh; they called themselves the Neue Kunstlervereinigung München (NKVM), and Kandinsky took on the mantle of president. On March 15, 1911, in the studio of Adolf Erbslöh at 17, Ohmstrasse, the group held a private auction of paintings to raise funds. Kandinsky included seven works in the sale, including the present one.