Lot 25
  • 25

Max Bill

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Max Bill
  • Durchdringung von Farbbündeln
  • signed, titled and dated 1970 on the overlap; signed and dated 1970 on the reverse
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 120 by 120 cm. 47 1/4 by 47 1/4 in.


Galerie Suzanne Bollag, Zurich
Private Collection, Milan
Private Collection, Italy (acquired from the above)
Sotheby's, London, 17 June 2013, Lot 173 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Geneva, Musée d’Art et d'Histoire, Max Bill, 1972


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is lighter and more vibrant in the original. Condition: This work is in good condition. Extremely close inspection reveals some tension cracks with some associated specks of paint loss along the turnover edges as well as some underlying craquelure, most notably to the white pigment, all of which are stable. There are some very minor inconsistencies in the paint surface such as in the upper vertical red stripe and in the lower vertical orange stripe. There is some light wear to all four corner tips and some unobtrusive surface accretions, most notably to the lower vertical orange stripe. Inspection under ultraviolet light shows some areas in the white paint to fluoresce unevenly, with small areas in the lower left quadrant that appear to have been repainted. There are small spots of retouching within the stripes.
"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

A geometric construct of a vertical and a horizontal line, Max Bill’s Durchdringung von Farbbündeln unfolds into a complex polyphony of intersecting lines, colour, and movement. The linear composition dissecting the canvas perpendicularly into four equally sized canvasses is broken up internally into a mesmerising delineation of luminous triangles. The resulting juxtaposition of pure monochrome white with the vibrating effect of carefully arranged colour fields is exemplary of Max Bill’s celebrated abstract oeuvre. An advocate of mathematically based artistic production, Bill sought to create autonomous forms that in turn visually echo the New Physics of the early Twentieth Century.

Executed in 1970, the present work is a mature example of Bill’s multifarious practice. In his use of empirical calculations as a neutralising compositional device, Bill transcends personal and artistic expression to achieve a universal visual lexicon: “Art plainly calls for both feeling and reasoning… It is mankind’s ability to reason which makes it possible to coordinate emotional values in such a way that what we call art ensues. Now in every picture the basis of its composition is geometry or in other words the means of determining the mutual relationship of its component parts either on plane or in space” (Max Bill, ‘The Mathematical Approach in Contemporary Art’, in: Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings, Berkeley 2012, pp. 92-93).

Versed in painting, architecture and graphic design, Bill initially trained as a silversmith apprentice before studying at the Bauhaus in the late 1920s. At Dessau, Bill met and engaged with some of the most respected designers of the day, studying under Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer, while Albers taught the preliminary course at this time. A quintessentially Bauhaus endeavour, equipping his students with only scissors and paper, Albers instructed his cohort to simply fold and cut, an exercise in strength and construction. The result was an optically complex composition, simultaneously elegant and pure. Thus the ethos of Bauhaus – simplicity of design with form and function hierarchically equal – profoundly influenced the Swiss-born artist. Both preoccupied with the Modernist triumvirate of proportion, colour and composition, Bill and Albers later exhibited together in 1948.  Albers, Arp, Bill was held at the Galerie Herber Hermann in Stuttgart and the following year in 1949, Max Bill and Josef Albers exhibited at the Galerie Gerd Rosen in Berlin.

In the present work we can see Piet Mondrian’s significant influence on the artist and in fact, Bill was an enthusiastic collector of Mondrian’s work.  Along with Theo van Doesburg, Mondrian founded De Stijl in 1917. Originally a publication, the group of Dutch artists were characterised by the idiosyncrasy of neo-plasticism through the use of horizontal and vertical lines combined with primary colours. A group that pioneered abstract art, modern architecture and design, De Stijl had a profound influence on the Bauhaus. Works such as Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue eloquently illuminates such an aesthetic connection. Mondrian’s restricted palette is certainly discernible in Bill’s Druchdringung von Farbbündeln, as well as a unitary and formulaic composition in which panels of bare canvas are framed by polychromatic linear accents. In both Bill and Mondrian’s artistic production, the white backdrop espouses a peace neutrality, silence in a plethora of pigment. A close affinity to Mondrian, in 1955 Bill designed the catalogue for a Mondrian exhibition at the Zurich Kunsthaus as well as lending to it three Mondrian paintings from his own personal collection.

Bill’s influence on the canon of art history cannot be underestimated. Intriguingly, Bill was a key protagonist in implementing the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Germany following the Second World War. This role was partly given to Bill for his early anti-fascist efforts, which began before the Nazi’s seized power in Germany. Significantly, institutions such as Bauhaus and Black Mountain College promoted the Marshall Plan, ultimately situating modernism as the defiant polar opposite of fascist architectural aesthetics. An exquisitely masterful work, Druchdringung von Farbbündeln is a stellar example of Bill’s profound influence on post-war art and design in the West.