- Wassily Kandinsky
- Moskau II (Moscow II)
- oil on canvas
Mr & Mrs George Costakis, Moscow & London (acquired from the widow of the above in the 1950s. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 3rd December 1980, lot 58)
Leonard Hutton Galleries, New York
Private Collection, Germany (acquired from the above)
Corporate Collection, Germany (acquired from the above in 1987)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Florence, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Capolavori dell‘Espressionismo Tedesco 1905-1920, 1986, no. 27
Jelena Hahl-Koch, Kandinsky, London, 1993, illustrated in colour p. 248
In December 1914 Kandinsky returned to Moscow after nearly twenty years resident in Germany. The war in Europe threatened his way of life, and as a Russian citizen he had to leave the country which he had adopted as his artistic homeland. Kandinsky and Gabrielle Münter left on the 3rd August 1914 for Switzerland, where they remained until late November, after which they parted, with Münter joining some of her relations in Stockholm, and Kandinsky heading to Russia. Although Kandinsky did join her briefly in Sweden at the beginning of 1916, their twelve year affair was essentially over, leaving Kandinsky free to marry the considerably younger Nina Andreevskaya. The daughter of a Muscovite General, Nina was an intellectual woman with degrees in History and Philosophy, whom Kandinsky met in May 1916. He spent the early days of their relationship talking on the telephone, and it is claimed that he fell in love with her voice - to which he dedicated a watercolour entitled An eine Stimme (To a Voice) which is now in the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris.
Over the next four years, the artist witnessed the Revolution and rise of Communism as an essentially apolitical being, whose art would ostensibly remain unaffected by the social situation. However, he swiftly became a member of the Department of Visual Arts in the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment (NARKOMPROS) and took a position as a director of the Museum of Painting and Culture in 1918. The Kandinskys remained in Russia until 1921 when they left for Berlin following an invitation from Walter Gropius to join the Bauhaus school. The Russian years were marked by personal happiness - in the form of his marriage to Nina - and tragedy in equal measure: his only child Vsevolod died in infancy. Equally clear was the distinct division between Kandinsky as an individual seeking the spiritual in art and a State-sponsored arbiter of Revolutionary culture. As Clark V. Poling writes: ‘Viewed from the perspective of his entire career, the seven years Kandinsky spent in Russia occasioned a transition in his art, from the expressionistic abstraction of the immediately preceding Munich years to the geometric style of his Bauhaus period. A parallel shift in his theoretical work began to occur in Russia, as he increasingly emphasised the objective characteristics of formal elements and the principles of their use. This change was to be reflected in his teaching and writing at the Bauhaus from 1922-1933’ (C. V. Poling, Kandinsky: Russian and Bauhaus Years, 1915-1933 (exhibition catalogue), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1983, p. 14).
The profound impact Kandinsky had on the artists of the Russian avant-garde cannot be over emphasised. Sometimes charged with a lack of interest in the younger generation’s work, such as Malevich’s Suprematist compositions (fig. 3), which he would surely have been aware of by 1916, Kandinsky’s lyrical approach to abstraction was the rational extension of his success in Munich, and a field that continued to fascinate and compel him. Writing in 1920 the critic Konstantin Umansky was highly supportive of Kandinsky, and stated unequivocally: ‘The entire Russian art scene can be traced back to Kandinsky. If anyone deserves a nickname, Kandinsky does; he should be called the “Russian Messiah” […] his work has cleared a way for the victory of absolute art, although contemporary abstract art is now moving in a different direction. […] Kandinsky’s art found its logical conclusion in Suprematism’ [quoted in J. Hahl-Koch, op.cit., p. 243).
In a letter to Gabrielle Münter written on 4th June 1916, Kandinsky discussed the ideas he had for the Moscow oils: ‘I should like to paint a large landscape of Moscow, to take components from all over the place and bring them together in a painting. Weak elements and strong ones, I would mix them together just as the world is a mixture of different elements. It should be like an orchestra […] At 8 in the evening I went to the Kremlin to see the churches in the way that I need to see them for the picture. New riches unfolded themselves before my eyes’ (letter from Kandinsky to Münter, 4th June 1916). A few weeks later, he wrote again: ‘It’s developing gradually in my mind’s eye. What was only a fancy is now taking physical shape. What this idea lacked was depth and sound, very serious, complex and yet simple at the same time’ (letter from Kandinsky to Münter, 4th September 1916). After a further two and a half months work on the canvas, Kandinsky declared: ‘You know that I had this dream of painting a large picture inspired by happiness, joy of life, or of the universe. Quite suddenly I am aware of the harmony of colours and forms, which come from this world of joy’ (Kandinsky to Münter, 26th November 1916).
Discussing the genesis of Kandinsky’s Moscow pictures Jelena Hahl-Koch investigates the composition of an earlier canvas entitled Improvisation Klamm (fig. 5). At the heart of the abstract arrangement a pair of figures in traditional peasant costume can be clearly discerned. The figures present their backs to the viewer, which helps to guide one's eyes around the rest of the composition. Attempting to explain the inclusion of these figurative elements, Kandinsky declared that the painting captured the essence of ‘his Moscow’, and titled the work in his handlist as Zakat [Sunset]. Because of this statement, Hahl-Koch argues: ‘For this reason we might compare it with the Moscow pictures [Moskau I & the present work] produced two years later. In the first instance, a similar miniature couple more or less in the centre of the picture can still be distinguished. It draws the observer toward it along an open, path-like route whose perspective “leads into” the picture; the city surrounds the two little people in a half circle on their hilltop, while the sun is setting. The rainbow, symbolically the richest arc-shape as well as the most beautiful, forms a smaller semicircle’ (J. Hahl-Koch, op. cit., p. 245). The motif of the rainbow was not maintained in Moskau II, instead the entire composition was painted in all the hues of the colour spectrum. In the present work Kandinsky has created a celebration of his vibrant home city which does not derive its character from specific references to the place that inspired it, but rather is a symphonic arrangement of its essential character.