Sale: Klipstein & Kornfeld, Bern, 9th-11th May 1963, lot 440
Private Collection, Germany (purchased at the above sale)
Thence by descent to the present owners
Will Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, London, 1959, no. 729, listed p. 342
Hans K. Roethel & Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, London, 1984, vol. II, no. 1166, illustrated p. 1057
Dominated by four enigmatic, shamanistic figures, 4 Figuren auf 3 Quadraten very much relates to the artist’s earlier explorations of Russian folklore as well as to the more general shift towards figuration that is characteristic of his wartime works. Kandinsky’s interest in folkloric and tribal iconography dated back to the days of Der Blaue Reiter. The 1912 Almanac included numerous examples of tribal art, including an illustration of a Tlingit cloak (fig. 1) which must surely have inspired the decorative vision of the present work. In 4 Figuren auf 3 Quadraten Kandinsky combines this with elements – the squares of primary colour – that show the same interest in the interplay of colour and form that had been his focus during the Bauhaus years.
During the war, and much like many of his fellow artists who remained in Paris, Kandinsky struggled to find materials for his painting; in the latter years of the war he often used cardboard, wood or canvas board as the supports for his paintings. Ann Hiddleston-Galloni suggests that this had a dramatic effect on his art: ‘This change in material provoked a change in style that, paradoxically, became both more meticulous and more spontaneous. He continued to include his favourite geometrical shapes, such as the circle and the grid, but these forms now evoked ideas of transformation, communication and rebirth’ (A. Hiddleston-Galloni, Kandinsky. A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, 2014-15, p. 157). In the present work these shapes combine with the four totemic figures to create a beguiling and powerful synthesis of colour and form.
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