- Wassily Kandinsky
- Ohne Titel (Untitled)
- signed with the monogram and dated 15 (lower left)
- watercolour, brush and pen and ink and pencil on paper
- 47.5 by 63.8cm.
- 18 3/4 by 25 1/8 in.
Private Collection, Belgium
Private Collection (sold: Sotheby's, London, 2nd July 1980, lot 335)
Private Collection (purchased at the above sale)
Acquired from the above through Thomas Gibson Fine Art, London by the present owner in 2009
Kandinsky and Sweden (exhibition catalogue), Konsthall, Malmö & Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 1989-90, fig. 5, illustrated p. 31
Vivian Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky Watercolours: Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1992, vol. I, no. 429, illustrated p. 376; illustrated in colour p. 383
Kandinsky: Small Pleasures. Watercolors and Drawings (exhibition catalogue), Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf & Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, 1992, fig. 4, illustrated p. 36
Adrian Glew, '"Blue spiritual sounds": Kandinsky and the Sadlers, 1911-1916', in The Burlington Magazine, September 1997, vol. CXXXIX, no. 1134, pp. 609-610 & 614, illustrated
Wassily Kandinsky, letter to Gabriele Münter, November 1915
This watercolour was executed immediately before or during the early part of Kandinsky’s stay in Sweden, where he spent two and a half months between December 1915 and March 1916. Kandinsky went to Sweden to meet his companion Gabriele Münter (fig. 1); during this time the dealer Carl Gummeson held an exhibition of his works, and the couple was introduced to a large circle of intellectuals, artists and dealers. Richly populated with colourful characters in folk costumes, a Russian church, churning seas and boats, the present landscape is dominated by imagery drawn from Kandinsky’s Russian heritage. A ‘firebird’, a recurring motif in Russian legend, is spreading its wings in the centre of the sheet, with another one perched atop the tree on the left.
Stylistically, this work is reminiscent of Kandinsky's Hinterglasmalerei or painting on glass (fig. 2), which he rediscovered in Murnau in 1908. These paintings reflect the artist's admiration for Russian and Bavarian 'primitive' or folk art, borrowing subjects from folk legends and fairy tales. Discussing the influence of these stories on Kandinsky, Hans K. Roethel wrote: ‘He was influenced by their content as well as their form, and his work at one time was full of subjects derived from or based on stories such as 'Ivan Tsarevitch' or by characters like Baba Jaga. [...] Other comparable works generally are not illustrations but are Kandinsky's original creations of what may be called visual fairy tales’ (H. K. Roethel & J. K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, Oxford, 1979, p. 10). Rather than interpreting these stories too literally, the artist would freely combine existing motifs from different tales in his own way, adding to or subtracting from traditional fables.
The first owner of this work was the pioneering collector Sir Michael Sadler, who formed one of the earliest and greatest collections of twentieth century art in Britain. Sir Michael and his son, also Michael, became friends with Kandinsky in 1911, and thereafter concentrated their efforts on promoting and collecting modern art, amassing a large number of works by Picasso, Braque, Gris, Matisse and Gauguin (including The Vision after the Sermon, now in the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh), and especially works by Kandinsky. Sir Michael held a long correspondence with the artist which is now in the possession of Tate in London, and his son was the first to translate Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art into English in 1914.