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    "Repetition is a potent means of heightening the inner vibration […] a source of elementary rhythm, which, in turn, is a means to the attainment of elementary harmony in every form of art.”
    —Wassily Kandinsky

     
    With its striking lyrical precision characterized by bold color and the rhythmic repetition and variation of geometric forms, Fliessend is a lively expression of the radically non-representational directions in which Wassily Kandinsky pushed painting in the 1920s and 1930s. Executed in 1931, the work represents a key moment in the artist’s career, drawing together the core formal motifs and theoretical preoccupations that he had refined over his years as a master at the Bauhaus before the ascendancy of the Third Reich and his move to Paris two years later that ushered in a new phase in his work.

     

     

    A Kind of Blue

     

     

    "Almost without exception, blue refers to the domain of abstraction and immateriality."
    —Wassily Kandinsky

     

     

    Set against a background of rich, midnight blues and vibrantly animated by a series of alternating triangular shapes, broad arcs, slim dash lines, and small, circular forms, the present work shares the visual vocabulary and compositional complexity of Kandinsky’s most iconic works. Within Fliessend’s sharply delineated geometric forms, the artist explored more subtle modulations of surface texture and tone, the counterpoint of denser and more diffused passages creating a strikingly spatial and even musical effect as motifs emerge and recede across the composition. In this respect, the painting belongs to a small but significant group of works from Kandinsky’s last years at the Dessau Bauhaus which combined his earlier examinations into the spiritual dimension of color and its affects with the spatial possibilities between these more strictly geometric forms. As with several other works from this group including Sanfter Nachdruck and Leicht Berührt, both at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the title of the present work is directly borrowed from musical terminology. Fliessend corresponds to the English term “flowing” notably used in Austrian composer Anton Webern’s Bagatelles and in Arnold Schoenberg’s music notation.

     

     

     

    Wassily Kandinsky, Soft Pressure, 1931. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

    Wassily Kandinsky, Soft Pressure, 1931. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

     

     

     

    Geometry, Abstraction, and the Bauhaus

     

     

    Like many European artists of his generation, Kandinsky became increasingly interested in the mathematical precision and universality of geometry, and of the foundational possibilities that it presented for a radically new artistic language freed from directly representational concerns. Deftly transfusing the Constructivist lessons he had absorbed from the likes of Kazimir Malevich during his return to Russia between 1915 and 1921 into the ethos of interdisciplinarity that characterized life at the Staatliches Bauhaus, Kandinsky transitioned away from “the expressionistic elements of his pre-war Compositions toward a more universal, objective idiom.”i

     

    In the playful interactions established between a deliberately restricted repertoire of forms, Fliessend also records the influence of Kandinsky’s close friend and fellow Bauhaus master Paul Klee, with whom the artist reunited when he took up his position at the school alongside his old friend in 1922. While Klee’s work from this period remained more closely tied to the representational, the visual resonance between certain recurring shapes and compositional elements testifies to their close working practices, and to a broader culture of creative and intellectual exchange encouraged at the Bauhaus.

     

     

     

    [left] Kazimir Malevich, Dynamic Suprematism, 1915 or 1916, Tate Collection, London [right] Paul Klee, Red Balloon, 1922, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    [left] Kazimir Malevich, Dynamic Suprematism, 1915 or 1916, Tate Collection, London [right] Paul Klee, Red Balloon, 1922, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     

     

     

    Successfully synthesizing these various elements, by 1923 Kandinsky had “consolidated the geometric tendencies that had been developing in his art from 1919 and brought to the fore the schematic construction and other theoretical principles he emphasized in his teaching at the school.”ii Presenting a masterful balance of color, rhythm, and harmonizing geometries with organic elements, Fliessend is an exuberant expression of Kandinsky's maturation in this tendency, and what celebrated critic and art historian Will Grohmann aptly described as the “incomparable richness” of these Dessau years.

     

    "The impact of an acute angel of a triangle on a circle produces an effect no less powerful than the finger of God touching the finger of Adam in Michelangelo."
    —Wassily Kandinsky

     

    Within the new and increasingly complex compositional arrangements that characterize Kandinsky’s Bauhaus period, the circle and triangle were particularly privileged as “the two primary, most strongly contrasting plane figures.”iii In a letter to Grohmann, Kandinsky elaborated on this prevailing geometric logic. Describing the circle as a link to the cosmic, he emphasized its simultaneity and versatility: at once stable and unstable, loud and soft, precise and variable, the circle becomes “the synthesis of the greatest oppositions,” combining “the concentric and the eccentric in a single form, and in balance.”iv

     

     

     

     

     

     

    In a powerful visualization of the “flowing” qualities suggested by the title, the present work develops these formal relationships, the triangle’s stability and repeated sense of upward momentum balanced and counterpointed by the chromatic brilliance and seeming weightlessness of the small circular forms. Harmonious and serenely ordered, the composition nevertheless possesses a sense of remarkable fluidity. The pictorial elements of geometric form, subtle shifts in surface textures, and exchanges between warmer and cooler colors all dynamically interact, responding to one another in a complex, polyphonic arrangement. It not only prefigures the rhythmic, all-over qualities that would define Abstract Expressionism, but speaks to a musical legacy of syncopated rhythms, atonality, and developing variation that runs across the 20th century and beyond.

     

    i Magdalena Dabrowski, Kandinsky Compositions, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1995, p. 46.
    ii C. V. Poling, Kandinsky: Russian and Bauhaus Years, 1915 – 1933, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1983, p. 49.
    iii Wassily Kandinsky, quoted in ibid., p. 52.
    iv Wassily Kandinsky, quoted in Will Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky: Life and Work, 1958, New York, p. 188.

    • Provenance

      Otto Gerson, New York
      Mrs. E.L. Froelicher, New York
      Mr. and Mrs. Samuel J. Holtzman, Baltimore
      Private Collection, Baltimore (by descent by 1986)
      Hôtel Drouot, Paris, June 26, 2006, lot 258
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, April 1937
      New York, Nierendorf Gallery, Kandinsky, A Retrospective View, October 1937
      New York, Nierendorf Gallery, Kandinsky, March 1941, no. 19, n.p.
      New York, Nierendorf Gallery, Kandinsky, A Retrospective Show, December 8, 1942 - February 1943, no. 12

    • Literature

      Artist’s Handlist IV, no. 548
      Will Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky: Life and Work, New York, 1958, pp. 339, 382 (illustrated, p. 392)
      Hans K. Roethel and Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky. Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings Volume Two 1960-1944, London, 1984, no. 994, p. 898 (illustrated)

24

Fliessend

signed with the artist’s monogram and dated "31" lower left; signed with the artist's monogram, titled and dated "1931 "Fliessend."" on the reverse
oil on board
27 1/2 x 23 1/2 in. (69.9 x 59.7 cm)
Executed in 1931.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
New York Head of Department & Head of Auctions
+1 212 940 1278
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021