Here we are again, with other hot Top Lots announcement for a very hot June sales in London. Sotheby’s has so just announced this very masterpiece: a Kandinsky from 1910, realized during his first inspirative and very crucial residency in Murnau, when he discovered the key relationship between color and abstraction.
A glorious celebration of colour and form, Gabriele Münter im Freien vor der Staffelei dates from a key period of development for Kandinsky and marks the artist’s definitive transition into the abstract.
In this very rare painting, yet never seen by public and never offered hasn’t publicly or privately for 50 years,there is also his lover Gabriele Münter: there still be only 4 works depicting Münter from this period and this is the last left in private hands. This piece, depicting Kandinsky’s companion and lover, the painter Gabriele Münter, at her easel in the surroundings of the Bavarian mountains, it is also testament to his close collaboration with like- minded artists during these formative years working in Murnau and Munich.
Actually, this work was originally owned for many years by Kandinsky’s peer and fellow artist at Murnau, Alexej von Jawlensky. So, we can say that triple dose of distinction is quite enough to justify the £3-5m painting.
Stories about a painting are always captivating, so in this case we had Kandinsky and Münter who first met when she began taking classes at the Phalanx School in 1902, but quickly becoming very close. From the very first they travelled out of Munich into the Bavarian countryside to draw and paint together, and in 1908 they discovered the small town of Murnau, in the foothills of the Alps, and, involving some of their friend and fellow-artists Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin, they all together spent the summer there, returning over the following years. The Alpine landscape surrounding Murnau had a profound effect on their art and this was augmented by the spirit of collaboration and experimentation between the four friends. Therefore, Gabriele Münter im Freien vor der Staffelei offers a particularly valuable insight into this hugely formative relationship, fully expressing the spirit of productivity and creativity that characterised their time there.
As Reinhold Heller explains:
‘The development was communal […]. The artists collaborated, frequently painted identical scenes and, together, discussed the remarkable transformations their work underwent. Long, if not always deep, friendship made such interaction possible. Kandinsky, Werefkin and Jawlensky had known each other since at least 1897 […]. This close association also sought to fulfil the frequent arcadian modernist vision of a utopian community of artists unrestrainedly outside the urban confines of cities’(R. Heller, Gabriele Münter. The Years of Expressionism (exhibition catalogue), Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee (and travelling), 1997-99, p. 70).
The close ties between the group members are further emphasised by the provenance of the present work which initially belonged to Jawlensky. He kept it in his collection, perhaps exactly as a memento of those happy, productive years in Murnau, until his death in 1941, when it passed to his wife Helene.
It probably was just the very unique context of Murnau, and the highly creative atmosphere they created together, what really took Kandinsky’s move towards abstraction.
From an early stage in his artistic career, Kandinsky was aware that his pursuit of his own form of expression was leading him toward an entirely new visual idiom, as we can also read from a intriguing letter to Gabriele Münter written on 2nd April 1904 Kandinsky:”Without exaggerating, I can say that, should I succeed in this task, I will be showing [a] new, beautiful path for painting susceptible to infinite development. I am on a new track, which some masters, just here and there, suspected, and which will be recognised, sooner or later’. As predicted, in the years that followed Kandinsky travelled further towards abstraction than any painter previously, and as Will Grohmann observes in his celebrated monograph on the artist, it was 1910 that marked Kandinsky’s ‘epoch-making breakthrough to the abstract”
Kandinsky’s first major breakthrough was his discovery that colour, when disassociated from representational concerns, could become the principal subject of a painting. Taking his cue from musical composition, Kandinsky determined that every colour corresponded with a particular emotion or ‘sound’. Actually, this revelation was also due in part to the journey the artist took to Paris in 1906 and meeting Fauve paintings as Derain, Delaunay and Vlaminck, as well as inspired by Cézanne’s brushwork in his late works.
However, it was only with his visits to Murnau, immersed in its surrounding landscape and artistic milieu, that led the artist to such results and with constant experimentation and extensive preparatory work Kandinsky’s artistic means developed from an essentially figurative Fauve style to pure abstraction. By 1910 he had found the language he sought, with sweeping lines, beautiful iridescent patches of colour and kaleidoscopic compositions. This is exemplified in this very special masterpiece offered by Sotheby’s: the figurative remains, but the composition is radically altered and the colours have taken on a new vibrancy and autonomy, so that Kandinsky achieves a delicate balance between the subtle figuration of Münter herself and the almost completely abstracted landscape that surrounds her.
That’s why this work on sale is a very powerful illustration of Kandinsky’s pioneering pictorial language and his unique and important contribution to the history of XXcentury art.