Kandinsky's Lyrical Abstraction Writ Large in Portfolio of Prints

By Sotheby's

R ussian painter, printmaker, stage designer, decorative artist and theorist, Wassily Kandinsky was a central figure in the development of 20th-century art and specifically in the transition from representational to abstract art. Kandinsky worked in a wide variety of media and was an important teacher and theoretician. Although he worked mainly outside Russia, his Russian heritage continued to be an important factor in his development.

A central figure in the Bauhaus school after he was employed by Walter Gropius in 1922, his influence is present in the work of generations of artists and designers to this day. His investigations into colour, form and experimentation with materials played a key role in establishing the curriculum for the school, and his lessons included analytical drawing and free painting, among many others.

In 1926, four years after the creation of Kleine Welten, he published a book called Point and Line to Plane. This was the first of many texts in which Kandinsky would approach the study of art as though it were akin to science. Formulas, rules and patterns were identified by the artist, as he set about the dismantling and rebuilding the very pillars of creative expression, both for his students, and his own practice.

At the time of his teaching in the Weimar Bauhaus, many of these new theories were considered deeply radical in the wider artistic community, though his contemporaries, who included Paul Klee, Làszlo Moholy-Nagy and Josef and Anni Albers were all engaged in pioneering new practices that challenged the status quo.

Together, they forged a new manifesto for the future that would go on to lay the foundations for visual art, architecture and design in the early 20th century and beyond. This series of compositions explore the tenets of Kandinsky’s theories, each one harmonised and perfectly balanced using the philosophies that Kandinksy had spent many years refining.

Kleine Welten was created in 1922 soon after Kandinsky returned to Germany and joined Paul Klee at the Bauhaus. The impact of Constructivism is apparent in this series, as well as Kandinsky’s central interest in the psychology of colour, which is expressed by geometric forms of an exclusively abstract nature.

Frances Carey and Anthony Griffiths summarises the series perfectly: "Stylistically the twelve compositions document Kandinksy’s development during the previous decade, from his abstract Impressionism of 1912-13 to the greater geometric precision of his Bauhaus period, while the three techniques employed illustrated the theoretical discussion in Punkt und Linie zu Fläche, 1926, which attributes specific characteristics, both formal and sociological, to the different media of intaglio, woodcut and lithography." (Frances Carey and Anthony Griffiths, The Print in Germany 1880-1933, The Age of Expressionism, p. 154).

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