Wassily Kandinsky - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 16, 2022 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • "Must we not then renounce the object altogether, throw it to the winds and instead lay bare the purely abstract?"
    —Wassily Kandinsky, 1911
    Ohne titel (Untitled), executed in 1918, is one of the works that Wassily Kandinsky made after returning to his native Russia from 1914 to 1921, following the outbreak of WWI. It is a vibrant and dynamic example from a period in which the artist moved increasingly towards complete abstraction. Beginning in 1909 in Munich, Kandinsky started to remove identifiable imagery from his paintings, relying more so on color and line to define his compositions. In Ohne titel, the image calls to be read, but denies the viewer a way in. We see space without geography and shape without definition. As line blends with color, an undeniable energy pulsates across the work, which has no gravity, center, nor end.  Previously housed in the private collection of the artist’s wife, Nina Kandinsky, before she gifted it to the preeminent Parisian gallerist Karl Flinker in 1980, this work on paper exhibits a clear desire to challenge formal approaches to art making—a type of avant-garde rebellion that defined the career of Wassily Kandinsky.



    A pioneer in abstraction


    Between 1910 and 1911, Kandinsky came home one evening from a day of sketching and noticed a painting he had never seen before. Unable to recognize anything in the piece, he was instantly moved by the ambiguity of the work. The image, as it turned out, was his own painting, in the wrong orientation—a silly mistake, but one that would end up having a profound effect on his evolving practice. From this point on, Kandinsky committed himself to making art without representation. His seminal text, On the Spiritual in Art, outlined “his program for developing an art independent from observations of the external world.”i As he strove to move away from figuration and imbue his paintings instead with qualities of almost divine vivacity, he became rightfully known as an “eminent aesthetic theorist” and the “pioneer of abstract art.”ii His first ever abstract painting, completed in 1911, Painting with Circle, displays his tenets of abstraction—the focus on color over matter, shape over form—that later came to characterize his more refined works. It was in this same year of 1911 that the artist created the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) group with Franz Marc, changing the course of European Expressionism forever.iii


    Wassily Kandinsky, Picture with a Circle, 1911. Image: Shim Harno / Alamy Stock Photo
    Wassily Kandinsky, Picture with a Circle, 1911. Image: Shim Harno / Alamy Stock Photo


    Kandinsky's Journey Home 

    A few years later, while in Russia, Kandinsky painted little and instead focused on cultural reorganization, devoting his time to education. He engaged with the cultural politics of Russia and museum reform, teaching at the Svomas (Free State Art Studios) in Moscow. During this time, Kandinsky cited his Russian heritage as a main influence on his new work, specifically the rich colors of Russian folk art, which would in turn lead him closer to abstraction. Ohne titel is from this reduced output of 1918, a year when, according to Vivian Endicott Barnett, the artist did not paint any canvases. A composition imbued with his views on the power of form and color, Kandinsky here forges graphic and melodic lines that intersect one another. Upholding the principles of his On the Spiritual in Art, the present work echoes his sentiments that "the painter must train not only his eye but also his soul, so that he learns to weigh color not only by perceiving exterior impressions or sometimes inward ones, but also by utilizing it as definite power in his creations.”iv  In the all-over, explosive composition of this work, it is hard to ignore the movement, and the sense that the piece is shifting and changing before our eyes. Kandinsky, with his typical prowess, has caught something unidentifiable in the act, which is as unsettling as it is beautiful.
    "Painting is like a thundering collision of different worlds that are destined in and through conflict to create that new world called the work. Technically, every work of art comes into being in the same way as the cosmos – by means of catastrophes.... The creation of the work of art is the creation of the world."
    —Wassily Kandinsky, 1913

    i “Kandinsky Gallery,” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, online
    ii Ibid.
    iii “The Blaue Reiter (Recollection),” 1930, in Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, New York, 1994, p. 745.
    iv Wassily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, Munich, 1911

    • Provenance

      Nina Kandinsky, Paris
      Karl Flinker, Paris (gifted from the above in 1980)
      Sotheby's, London, December 1, 1992, lot 17
      Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
      Christie's, New York, May 13, 1999, lot 355
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Tokyo, Galerie Tokoro, Wassily Kandinsky: exposition des aquarelles de 1910 à 1944, October 22–November 24, 1979, no. 7 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Vivian Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky Watercolours, Catalogue Raisonné, Volume One , 1900-1921, London, 1992, no. 502, p. 441 (illustrated)


Ohne Titel

signed with the artist’s monogram “K” lower left; signed and dated "Kandinsky 1918" on the reverse
watercolor, pen and India ink on paper
14 1/8 x 10 5/8 in. (35.9 x 27 cm)
Executed circa 1918.

Full Cataloguing

$300,000 - 400,000 

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 November 2022