German born Rudolf Bauer was a principal innovator and exponent of Non-Objective painting, the term favored by Solomon R. Guggenheim himself to describe autonomous abstractions, from lyrical expressionism to geometric constructivism. Bauer began his career in Berlin at the onset of World War I, becoming a prominent figure in the avant-garde circle at Herwarth Walden's famed Galerie Der Sturm,
alongside fellow luminaries such as Paul Klee, Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky. It was the latter artist who influenced Bauer most, and their shared passion for spiritualism and musically derived improvisation in art led them to collaboratively refine their styles and theories and exhibit together often throughout the late teens and early 1920s.
Bauer's daring new brand of abstraction was first exposed to the American public in 1920, when the renowned collector and Société Anonyme
co-founder Katherine Dreier purchased a major oil similar to the present work at Der Sturm
and exhibited it in New York to rave reviews. Despite these early accolades, Bauer's true success came seven years later when copper magnate, and then fledgling art collector, Solomon Guggenheim was shown works by Bauer and Kandinsky by his German art advisor and the Guggenheim Foundation director, Hilla Rebay. Guggenheim was immediately smitten by the vanguard genius of the Non-Objective art, and he devoted himself to building what is now one of the greatest modern art collections in the world around the primacy of Bauer and Kandinsky. Guggenheim acquired hundreds of Bauer's works over the years and in 1939 went so far as to preemptively purchase the artist's entire estate. He filled his massive suite at the Plaza Hotel exclusively with Bauer's work, gave Bauer funds to create a museum devoted to Non-objective art in Germany, and even entrusted Bauer to purchase works from other emerging European artists on his behalf. As a result Bauer was responsible for selecting many of the greatest Kandinsky's in the Guggenheim collection, though a letter from Hilla Rebay to Bauer reveals that in one case, "Mr. Guggenheim likes the Kandinsky very much but (he likes) yours better. He would like all your most recent works. He is very excited and wants nothing else in his bedroom" (quoted in Joan M. Lukach, Hilla Rebay: In Search of the Spirit in Art
, New York, 1983, p. 58).
The present work is a dynamic and vibrant example of Bauer's dramatic expressionist style which he developed at Der Sturm between 1916 and 1920. It was at this time that Bauer first encountered Kandinsky, and the mutual influence is visible in works by the Russian master of the same period (see fig. 1). By 1925, Bauer permanently abandoned this expressive, biomorphic style in favor of more geometric constructions, and as result early masterpieces such as the present work are exceptionally rare. The precise relationships of color, line and form are a testament to Bauer's inspired yet meticulous process, improvising with complete fluency of emotion and technique, while carefully maintaining balance and harmony in a unified composition. The turbulent aura and ominous black forms may stem from the coinciding horrors of World War I inhabiting Bauer's subconscious, but the work itself remains a completely autonomous object, entirely invented and original. As Bauer himself said, "A painting should not interpret but create, art means giving birth... a painting should not be an imitation but a complex by itself; nature was not fashioned after nature, it was created. The same should apply to painting" (quoted in Der Sturm (exhibition catalogue), Galerie Der Strum, Berlin, 1917, n.p.).