22 Aug 2011

Exhibition of early abstractions by Kandinsky at Guggenheim Museum, New York

Wassily Kandinsky, ‘Painting with White Border’, May 1913 and ‘Sketch I’ for ‘Painting with White Border' (Moscow) Guggenheim Museum’s conservation lab © 2011 Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

I am not a huge fan of Kandinsky, but I understand his significance as an artist and what he brought to early modernist thinking. This exhibition at the Guggenheim, New York, from 21st October until 15th January 2012 reunites the key early works Kandinsky painted. This particular painting above, entitled 'Painting with White Boarder', was completed nearly 100 years ago. Inspired by a trip the artist took to Moscow at the end of 1912. When he returned to Munich, hanging out with artists who would form 'Der Blaue Reiter' group and where he had been living intermittently since 1896, Kandinsky searched for a way to visually record the “extremely powerful impressions” of his native Russia that lingered in his memory. Over a period of five months, he explored various motifs and compositions in study after study, moving freely between pencil, pen and ink, watercolor, and oil. After he produced at least sixteen studies, Kandinsky finally arrived at the pictorial solution to the painting: the white border.

From the Guggenheim: 'This exhibition, co-organized with the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., will reunite for the first time the Guggenheim’s final version of the painting from May 1913 with twelve related drawings and watercolors and one major oil sketch and will feature the results of an extensive conservation study of the Guggenheim and Phillips paintings. This study revealed a previously unknown painting beneath the surface of the Phillips’s 'Sketch I' for 'Painting with White Border' (Moscow). A rare glimpse into Kandinsky’s creative process, this presentation reveals the gradual and deliberate way the artist sought to translate his ideas into a bold new language of abstraction.

Tracing Kandinsky’s working method through a roughly chronological display of twelve drawings and watercolors and one major oil sketch related to 'Painting with White Border'. According to a May 1913 essay Kandinsky wrote about the picture, later published in an album entitled Kandinsky 1901–1913 (1913), the artist executed the first oil sketch (owned by the Phillips Collection) “immediately upon my return from Moscow in December 1912.” The orientation of his preliminary studies evolved from a vertical to a horizontal format, and he used pencil, pen and ink, and watercolor throughout the many iterations.

Kandinsky explored key motifs reminiscent of his native Russia, including 'the troika' (a three-horse sled) and 'Saint George'. Ultimately the artist executed more studies than he had for any of his previous paintings before resolving the composition with a soft, undulating white border that he compared to a white wave. In his seminal 1911 treatise ('On the Spiritual in Art: And Painting in Particular'), Kandinsky wrote that the color white expresses a “harmony of silence. . .pregnant with possibilities.”

The conservation study supports interpretations of Kandinsky’s working method. For example, the direct application of the brush to canvas of 'Sketch I' implies a more spontaneous technique as compared to the more methodical treatment of the final work, 'Painting with White Border', in which Kandinsky used a graphite pencil to lay out compositional elements before painting. Studies of microscopic samples of paint from both works show that Kandinsky created his own palette out of combinations of as many as ten different pigments per hue.

The conservation team also discovered a previously unknown painting beneath the surface of 'Sketch I' for 'Painting with White Border' (Moscow). The underpainting, a representational landscape with figures, has been attributed to the German artist Gabriele Münter, Kandinsky’s companion from 1903 to 1916, based on its similarity to Münter’s gouache, Garden Concert on view in this exhibition, and a canvas on the same subject in a private collection. While there are few known instances of Kandinsky painting over an existing canvas and no other known instance of him painting over a work by Münter, limited study has been done of Kandinsky’s canvases to date. Future research and conservation analysis may better clarify the attribution of the underpainting.'

1 comment:

nago said...

interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you.

wassily kandinsky paintings