The one verity of the art market is that a strong sale begets more sales. This season, Christie’s doubles down on Kandinsky after November’s $23m success in the Impressionist and Modern category with two works from different important moments in his career. The first comes from the artist’s sojourn in Murnau. Here’s Christie’s press release on the £5-7m estimated work:
The landscapes that Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) painted in Murnau between 1908 and 1909 reflect the first full flowering of his art and mark the beginning of the artist’s epic pioneering journey into abstraction. His 1909 painting Murnau – Ansicht mit Burg, Kirche und Eisenbahn, epitomises the way that he magnified and intensified colour to the point where it begins to float freely and operate as a dynamic, abstract and interactive pictorial entity on the painting’s surface (estimate: £5-7 million, illustrated right). Kandinsky’s works from these years are the first in Kandinsky’s oeuvre to demonstrate his independence from the influences of Van Gogh, Gauguin and French Fauvism and the emergence of a new and wholly unique vision. Near-autonomous colour set deliberately against contrasting dark shadows presents a near panoramic overview of the leafy skyline of the small and sleepy Bavarian town of Murnau as seen from the rear of the house that Kandinsky shared with his lover and fellow pioneering artist Gabriele Münter. Kandinsky’s discovery of Murnau proved the catalyst for his liberation of colour from form; it also prompted his renewed affection for folk art and inspired his profound sense of the ‘spiritual.’ Heightening his use of colour to a level of expressionistic intensity, and broadening his brushstrokes to the point where each mark takes on a formal function of its own within the work, Kandinsky’s Murnau landscapes rapidly grew to become increasingly abstract statements about the nature of painting itself.
Thirty-three years later, the artist’s abstract work from the 1940s seems to bracket the entire collecting category with work that is the apogee of Modernism:
The final flowering of Kandinsky’s abstraction is presented in Balancement, 1942 (estimate: £5-8 million). The paintings that Wassily Kandinsky made in Paris during the Second World War are arguably the finest of his career. Complete and fascinating worlds of abstraction seemingly teeming with strange organic, biomorphic or microcosmic life, they mark the culmination of the great twentieth century pioneer of abstraction’s epic, life-long journey into the world of non-objectivity. Balancement is one of the very last large-scale works on canvas that the artist produced in Paris during the Second World War; it is rare for such a canvas to have remained in a private collection, with many now in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. It is a large-scale reworking in colour of an earlier drawing that Kandinsky had made in 1941 and evidently wished to develop in scale and colour. Kandinsky’s use of predominantly pastel colours and a subtle background can be seen to reflect his intuitive response to the different light of Paris. For the first time, the subject of his art appeared to be a vision of life and nature as a complete and comprehensive entity discernible in all its fascinating glory and complexity beneath the outward veil of materialism. The scale, grandeur and originality of Kandinsky’s late abstraction established him once again as the most radical and forward-thinking abstract artist of the period.