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Impressionist & Modern Art

The Art of the Sublime

The upcoming Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale will be led by a collection of masterpieces of 20th century art. Works spanning the breadth of abstraction, expressionism and surrealism will lead the charge in this electrifying London sale, with several appearing in their auction debut. These works will be on display from 26–31 May at Sotheby's Hong Kong, alongside other highlights from the sale

Produced in 1913, an exceptional work by Wassily Kandinsky will make history, as it is offered at auction for the very first time. Bild mit weissen Linien represents an important period in Kandinsky's career during which he perfected his own lyrical form of abstraction. Some of his most significant works, Komposition VI and Komposition VII, were also made in 1913 — marking a new period of creative and theoretical innovation in the arts. Bild mit weissen Linien further demonstrates Kandinsky's departure from the figurative to the abstract, in this powerful masterpiece, drawing together visual elements he had experimented with in the preceding years. His seminal 1909 landscape Murnau — Landschaft mit grünem Haus (Murnau — Landscape with Green House) will also be offered in the sale.

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PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION: WASSILY KANDINSKY, BILD MIT WEISSEN LINIEN, 1913. ESTIMATE ON REQUEST

During this period, Kandinsky took his cue from the language of musical composition – and determined that every colour corresponded with a particular emotion or 'sound'. For example, mid-green sounded like the quiet, mid-range tones of a violin, whilst yellow-green was perceived to be the higher notes of the violin, in contrast to blue-green as a muted alto-violin. Two preparatory watercolours for Bild mit weissen Linien reveal how he took a tall-towered city, two horses and a red bridge and distilled these in the final work with iridescent patches of colour and sweeping lines. Thus, the work is vital to understanding Kandinsky's concept of abstraction which would influence the development of painting during the 20th century.

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PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION: WASSILY KANDINSKY, BILD MIT WEISSEN LINIEN, 1913. ESTIMATE ON REQUEST

Early in his career, Kandinsky recognised that he was moving towards something that would drastically transform the landscape of modern art, writing in a letter of 1904 to his companion Gabriele Münter: "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 will be recognised, sooner or later". In 1911, Kandinsky published a revolutionary text entitled Concerning the Spiritual in Art, in which he examined radical theories relating to painting, the role of artists and the psychology of colour.

Helena Newman, Global Co-Head of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Department and Chairman of Sotheby's Europe, said: "This profoundly powerful painting is one of the most important works in the history of art that I have had the privilege of handling. Bild mit weissen Linien exemplifies Kandinsky at the height of his creative powers and a painting of this calibre only comes to the market every few decades. With virtually all the important paintings of this year in major museum collections, this represents a very rare opportunity for collectors around the world to acquire a seminal work by this master of Abstraction."

"Bild mit weissen Linien" exemplifies Kandinsky at the height of his creative powers and a painting of this calibre only comes to the market every few decades.


Alongside this exceptional Kandinsky, a 1940 masterpiece by Joan Miró will also be offered for sale. Femme et oiseaux is the eighth composition in Miro's Constellations – a series comprising twenty-three paintings that he produced in under two years, from January 1940 to September 1941; the first ten of which were made in France during his exile from the Spanish Civil War, and the remaining works completed on his return to Spain in 1940, shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War. Femme et oiseaux is a mesmerising example of the artist's celebrated lyricism and freedom of expression: the ground has been brushed, scraped, polished, moistened and rubbed, creating the gradated pockets of light and dark that convey the celestial boundlessness in which the objects float. The bold reds and ultramarine blues, along with flickers of yellow and white comets, electrify the surface of the paper, while the great black voids add a spatial depth to the picture plane.

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PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION: JOAN MIRÓ, FEMME ET OISEAUX, 1940. ESTIMATE ON REQUEST

Writing to his New York dealer Pierre Matisse on 4th February 1940 about this group of works, Miró confided: “I am now working on a series of 15 to 20 paintings in tempera and oil, dimensions 38x46, which has become very important. I feel that it is one of the most important things I have done, and even though the formats are small, they give the impression of large frescoes." Femme et oiseaux and the companion pieces were only exhibited for the first time at Pierre Matisse's gallery in January 1945. The exhibition caused a sensation when unveiled to the New York art world, and was universally praised. A critic for the New York Sun wrote: "it is impossible to pick out the best picture in the display because all twenty-two pictures are the best." (Pierre Matisse and His Artists, The Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York, 2002.) 

These extraordinary paintings are accompanied by an extremely rare work by the master of sculpture, Alberto Giacometti. The striking Grande figure, 1947, is cast in bronze with gold patina and stands at 130cm tall. The year 1947 was of crucial importance for Giacometti, and many of his most celebrated creations such as L’Homme qui marche and L’Homme au doigt date from that period. After years of self-imposed exile in his native Switzerland, in 1945 the artist returned to his spiritual home, Paris. During this period Giacometti developed what would come to be seen as the eponymous themes of his work: the walking man, the bust, and the standing woman. A rare, unique bronze cast, Grande figure relates closely to the other tall figures of 1947 and is among the earliest examples of the slender, elongated female figures that anticipate the iconic later series of women including the Femmes de Venise, 1956, and the Grandes femmes, 1960.

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PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION: ALBERTO GIACOMETTI, GRANDE FIGURE, 1947. ESTIMATE: £15,000,000–25,000,000

Prior to the creation of Grande figure, Giacometti had spent time studying Egyptian statues and iconography, and his decision to render this elegant figure in gold can perhaps be credited to this period of research and interest. Giacometti was fascinated with the art of the past and saw it as a gateway to creating art of the future, and stated: "I am very interested in art but I am instinctively more interested in truth… The more I work, the more I see differently." The current retrospective at Tate Modern in London reinforces Giacometti's status as the leading figure of modernist sculpture, examining his epoch-defining works, and the significance of his career in the story of 20th Century Western art.

MAIN IMAGE: JOAN MIRÓ, FEMME ET OISEAUX, 1940. ESTIMATE ON REQUEST; ALBERTO GIACOMETTI, GRANDE FIGURE, 1947. ESTIMATE: £15,000,000–25,000,000, AND WASSILY KANDINSKY, BILD MIT WEISSEN LINIEN, 1913. ESTIMATE ON REQUEST.

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