Lot 30
  • 30

Wassily Kandinsky

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 GBP
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  • Wassily Kandinsky
  • Herbstlandschaft (Autumn Landscape)
  • signed Kandinsky and dated 1911 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 71.5 by 99.3cm.
  • 28 1/8 by 39 1/8 in.


Nierendorf Gallery, New York

Mies van der Rohe, Chicago (acquired from the above in 1941)

Lora F. Marx, Chicago (a gift from the above circa 1942. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 9th May 1989, lot 33)

Purchased at the above sale by the late owner


Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Moderner Bund, 1912, no. 68 (as dating from 1910)

Berlin, Galerie Der Sturm, Kandinsky, Kollektiv-Ausstellung, 1902-1912, 1912, no. 52 (first edition of catalogue), no. 48 (second edition of catalogue)

Berlin, Galerie Der Sturm, Kandinsky Kollektiv, 1916, no. 4

(probably) New York, Nierendorf Gallery, Kandinsky, 1941, no. 42 (titled Landscape)

New York, Museum of Non-Objective Paintings, Kandinsky Memorial Exhibition, 1945, no. 9 (titled Abstraction – Autumn and with incorrect measurements)

Chicago, The Arts Club of Chicago, Wassily Kandinsky, Memorial Exhibition, 1945, no. 53

Chicago, The Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago Collectors, 1964 (titled Autumn)

Lugano, Museo Cantonale d’Arte, Kandinsky nelle collezioni svizzere, 1995, no. 14, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Miradas sin Tiempo. Dibujos, Pinturas y Esculturas de la Coleccíon Jan y Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2000, no. 205, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Aarau, Aargauer Kunsthaus, Das Gedächtnis der Malerei, 2000, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Vassily Kandinsky: Rétrospective, 2001, no. 37, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Das Ewige Auge - Von Rembrandt bis Picasso. Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2007, no. 143, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


The Artist's Handlist, vol. II & III, no. 123

Klaus Brisch, Wassily Kandinsky: Untersuchungen zur Entstehung der gegenstandslosen Malerei an seinem Werk von 1900-1921, Bonn, 1955, no. 139, illustrated

Will Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, New York, 1958, no. 123, illustrated in colour p. 117 (titled Autumn I and incorrectly catalogued as signed Kandinsky [lower left])

Hans K. Roethel & Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, 1900-1915, London, 1982, vol. I, no. 381, illustrated p. 364

Mies in America (exhibition catalogue), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2001, illustrated in colour p. 128

Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction (exhibition catalogue), Tate Modern, London, 2006, no. 25, illustrated in colour p. 72

Doris Fässler, Der Moderne Bund: Beginn der Moderne in der Schweiz, Lucerne, 2011, illustrated in colour p. 86


The canvas is unlined. Apart from some retouching along the extreme edges and a tiny spot in the lower right, this work is in very good condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although richer in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Herbstlandschaft, painted in 1911, is a powerful and eloquent expression of the artist’s quest for abstraction. The composition achieves an exquisite balance between colours and forms, displaying a joyous assembly of golden yellow, verdant green and rich purple and blue tones applied in sweeping forms and fluid brushstrokes. This ground-breaking work represents Kandinsky’s achievement of the almost totally abstract idiom which he conceived in 1909-1911 alongside the completion of his text On the Spiritual in Art. The composition for the present work was the subject of an earlier study completed in the autumn of 1910 (fig. 1), and which he would continue to explore over the next few years (fig. 2). Works from this crucial period still have specific figurative elements which possessed symbolic qualities for the artist, such as the folkloric representation of a lake with boats or the horse and rider, and almost all of them included the sharply defined motif of a mountain. These early near-abstract works are vital to understanding Kandinsky’s concept of abstraction which would influence the development of painting during the 20th century.

In the catalogue for the retrospective exhibition held at the Fondation Maeght in 2001, the present work is described: ‘In this autumn landscape executed in January 1911, a clear impression of ‘the natural world’ is still visible. Present in many works, the mountain - which can be interpreted as a symbol of the impulse of man to reach beyond the unknown - is represented by a single triangle. Within this basic geometric shape, a few black lines suggest the roofs and walls of houses. Of great spontaneity, these mnemonic traces appear to be independent of the taches of colour that appear as if suspended in space. The landscape dissolves into clouds of colour and dwellings stand as final 'relics' of once visible objects. By its simplicity and sobriety, Paysage d’automne [the present work] prefigures Impression V (Park) [fig. 4] which Kandinsky painted a few months later and that would be exhibited in 1911 at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris’ (op. cit., p. 90, translated from French).

A fundamental element of Kandinsky’s earliest abstract canvases is the employment of resonant pure colours which possessed their own sentimental character for the artist. Kandinsky’s love of colour was apparent from an early age, as Paul Overy notes: ‘With the invention of tube colours painting became more like magic and less like cooking […]. As a boy Kandinsky was enthralled by them: “When I was thirteen or fourteen I bought a paint-box with oil paints from the money slowly saved up. The feeling I had at the time – or better: the experience of the colour coming out of the tube – is with me to this day”. Kandinsky describes how the slightest pressure of the fingers on the opened tube lets the colours slip out like animate beings, some cheerful and jubilant, others meditative and dreamy. Some seem to emerge “self-absorbed”; others slide out with “bubbling roguishness”, some with a ‘”sigh of relief” as though glad to escape the prison of the tube, others with “the deep sound of sorrow”. […] Each colour seemed to him to be alive and independent but always “willing” to mix with other colours and “create endless series of new worlds”’ (P. Overy, Kandinsky. The Language of the Eye, London, 1969, p. 82).

Discussing the evolution of abstraction in Kandinsky’s work, Hans Roethel describes the journey the artist undertook to Paris in 1906 and his acquaintance with Fauve paintings by Derain, Delaunay and Vlaminck. However, alongside his fellow painter, Alexej von Jawlensky, Kandinsky began to develop a heightened palette and more expressive style of painting which was not directly influenced by the French artists, but which had developed from a more intuitive reaction to their own discoveries. The journey toward abstraction was further precipitated by his return to Germany, as Roethel writes: ‘When Kandinsky returned to Munich, ideologically and practically, the ground was well prepared for abstract painting and yet it needed a final spark to come into being’ (H. K. Roethel & J. K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, London, 1979, p. 25).

Kandinsky later recorded in his Reminiscences the precise moment at which the ‘spark’ was ignited: 'Once, while in Munich I underwent an unexpectedly bewitching experience in my studio. Twilight was falling; I had just come home with my box of paints under my arm after painting a study from nature. I was still dreamily absorbed in the work I had been doing when, suddenly, my eyes fell upon an indescribably beautiful picture that was saturated with an inner glow. I was startled momentarily, then quickly went up to this enigmatic painting in which I could see nothing but shapes and colours and the content of which was incomprehensible to me. The answer to the riddle came immediately: it was one of my own paintings leaning on its side against the wall. The next day, by daylight, I tried to recapture the impression the picture had given me the evening before. I succeeded only half way. Even when looking at the picture sideways I could still make out the objects and that fine thin coat of transparent colour, created by last night's twilight, was missing. Now I knew for certain that the subject matter was detrimental to my paintings. A frightening gap of responsibility now opened up before me and an abundance of various questions arose. And the most important of them was: what was to replace the missing object?' (W. Kandinsky, quoted in H. K. Roethel & J. K. Benjamin, ibid., p. 25).

Peg Weiss writes that Kandinsky’s return to Bavaria 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; and 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). These major developments enabled Kandinsky to create in works such as Herbstlandschaft a more purely abstract arrangement of form which sublimates any specific figurative references, whilst reinforcing the emotional impact of his use of colour.