Lot 51
  • 51

Wassily Kandinsky

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Wassily Kandinsky
  • oil on board
  • 30.5 by 39cm.
  • 12 by 15 3/8 in.


(possibly) The artist's nephew, Moscow
George Costakis, Moscow (sale: Sotheby's, London, 30th March 1966, lot 83)
Frank Partridge, London (purchased at the above sale)
Sale: Sotheby's, London, 29th November 1976, lot 58
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Hans K. Roethel & Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, London, 1982, vol. I, no. 244, illustrated p. 235
The Joy of Color - The Merzbacher Collection (exhibition catalogue), The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1998, mentioned p. 128

Catalogue Note

Studie für Herbstlandschaft mit Booten was executed in the autumn of 1908 at the beginning of Kandinsky’s journey to abstraction. This crucial period in the artist’s career was played out in the picturesque town of Murnau and the countryside surrounding it, which lay to the south of Munich. Kandinsky was accompanied by his fellow painters Gabriele Münter, Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin with whom he had spent the summer painting and exchanging ideas. Murnau was only a short train ride from Munich, and the time Kandinsky spent there in the first half of 1908 had a profound effect on his artistic development. The natural beauty of the region and the great variety of sceneries, from towns, fields, mountains and lakes, were thoroughly explored by the artist and his friends. Hans K. Roethel and Jean K. Benjamin note in their entry on this work in the catalogue raisonné that Kandinsky also titled this work Starnberger See – Tutzing, suggesting that it depicted the harbour of Tutzing, a small town to the north of Murnau which he painted on several occasions (fig. 3). Leaving Munich also provided the artist with a settled private life, which prior to his move had ranged between his failed marriage to Anya Chimikian and bouts of depression and extensive travelling between numerous European cities including Paris, Venice, Odessa, Tunis, Rapallo and Berlin. In the Bavarian countryside gardening and walking in the mountains acted as a palliative to the intense nature of his artistic practice which swiftly progressed over the next two years.

Münter remembered this period of the four of them working together as ‘very beautiful, interesting and joyful, with numerous discussions about art’ (quoted in Andrea Witte, ‘Alexei von Jawlensky et Wassily Kandinsky; Rapports avec le néo-impressionnisme’, in Signac et la libération de la couleur, Paris, 1997, p. 260). Jawlensky introduced Münter and Kandinsky to the local tradition of glass painting, an art form that was to make a great impact on Kandinsky's art. His response to the simplicity and forcefulness of folk-art is apparent in the present work in the way the dappled spots of yellows and red emanate from the deeper blues. Although a certain fidelity to first-hand observation is still predominant, with particular attention paid to rendering the cloudy sky and the arrangement of the harbour, the abstract element is beginning to assert itself over nature in the confident, resonant dabs and lines of pure colour.

Peg Weiss writes that Kandinsky’s move to Murnau was the catalyst of change in his output:  ‘As if a gate had suddenly opened onto a new vista, Kandinsky now experienced a liberation in style that represented a drastic break with the recent past. All at once, there seemed to be a way to resolve the dichotomy between his impressionist landscapes and the lyric works that had held his heart for so long. In several later statements Kandinsky explained that his transition to abstraction had been effected by means of three major steps: the overcoming of perspective through the achievement of two-dimensionality; a new application of graphic elements to oil-painting; the creation of a new “floating space” by the separation of colour from line’ (P. Weiss, Kandinsky in Munich 1896-1914 (exhibition catalogue), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1982, p. 59).

Discussing one of the key inspirations behind Kandinsky’s Murnau paintings, Ulrike Beck-Malorny writes: ‘The influence of the Fauves is also clearly visible in Kandinsky’s pictures. The Fauves had exhibited for the first time as a group in 1905, at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in which Kandinsky and Jawlensky had also taken part. The expressive colouring of Matisse, Dufy and de Vlaminck now became a means, in Kandinsky’s hands, to render the object increasingly insignificant’ (U. Beck-Malorny, Kandinsky, Cologne, 2003, pp. 24-25). Developing the approach of the Fauves, Kandinsky adopted their sophisticated use of pure colour. Works such as Derain’s Le Port de Collioure (fig. 2) share the same dynamic passages of hot colour tones and bold compositional arrangements as many of Kandinsky’s paintings produced in the Bavarian countryside. However the Murnau landscapes, such as the present work, are characterised by a simplification of forms and fractured perspectives which represent a crucial transition between the artist's Fauve inspired early paintings and the momentous works of 1910 which herald Kandinsky's art of chromatic abstraction.

Kandinsky's use of distinct colour planes in the present work reflects the increasing role of colour in his work of 1908 (figs. 1 & 3). Will Grohmann writes, ‘Colour becomes increasingly crucial... [yellow, white, carmine, pink, light blue and blue-green] transport the subject to the sphere of dream and legend. This was the direction of development. The painter distributes and links the colours, combines them and differentiates them as if they were beings of a specific character and special significance. As in music, the materials now come to the form, and in this respect Kandinsky stands between Mussorgsky and Scriabin. The language of colour - just as in those composers - calls for depth, for fantasy; and Kandinsky's art will henceforward depend increasingly on its own resources’ (W. Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, New York, 1958, p. 61). 

As early as 1904, Kandinsky was aware that his pursuit of artistic innovation was leading him toward an entirely new form of visual expression. In a letter to Münter written on 2nd April 1904 Kandinsky wrote: ‘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’. It was in Murnau that the artist travelled farther towards abstraction than had been achieved by any painter previously, and Studie für Herbstlandschaft mit Booten exemplifies this extraordinary advancement of painterly invention.

The present work once belonged in the celebrated collection of Mr and Mrs George Costakis. George Costakis (1913-1990), who worked for the Greek and Canadian embassies in Moscow, was an avid art enthusiast and, over the course of several decades, he amassed the world’s most important grouping of Russian avant-garde art and an astounding number of works by Wassily Kandinsky. The Costakis’ apartment became a central meeting place for artists and collectors alike. When the couple chose to emigrate in 1977, they agreed to leave half of their collection behind to the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, thereby helping to reinvigorate interest in this crucial and revolutionary period of art history.

This work has been requested for the exhibition German Expressionism and France: From van Gogh and Gauguin to the Blaue Reiter, to be held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from June 2014 to January 2015.