Description & Technical information

Wassily Kandinsky worked in watercolour or gouache throughout his career, producing both finished, autonomous works as well as sketches for larger compositions. It was also with the medium of watercolour that he began to study the possibilities of pure abstraction. 

Kandinsky regarded oil painting and watercolour as two separate but complementary disciplines. While many of the artist’s watercolours and gouaches served as studies for oil paintings or prints, many others were done as autonomous works, and he attached as much significance to his works on paper as he did his paintings. As Frank Whitford has pointed out, ‘For most of his career Kandinsky’s watercolours, gouaches and oils form part of a virtually seamless whole in which pictorial problems of a similar kind are addressed in a similar way at the same time in every medium that he used. Stylistic shifts occur more or less simultaneously in all these media, so it is possible, at least after he had achieved artistic maturity, to trace almost his entire development in the watercolours alone.’
As he further notes, however, ‘In many of his works on paper the colours nevertheless achieve a brilliance and saturation rarely approached in his oils. Given the central importance of colour in his oeuvre, it might therefore be argued that Kandinsky’s sensibilities found its fullest expression in his watercolours.’

A characteristic of several of Kandinsky’s watercolours and gouaches of this mature Parisian period, from around 1935 onwards, was the use of black or dark paper. As Christian Derouet has noted, ‘At the same time as his palette approached Art Nouveau delicacy, Kandinsky reverted to a technique that had won attention for his first entries at the Salon d’Automne at the beginning of the century: black backgrounds. On black paper or paper colored black, he used tempera to deposit a few spots of color – and this was enough to make the whole surface vibrate immediately with phosphorescent spots and filaments…’

This large gouache drawing is closely related to the painting Reduced Contrasts (Contrastes Réduits), executed in July 1941 and today in a private collection in Japan. The composition of the painting has been described by one scholar as ‘a ballet scene consisting of three large and two small figures, and a chimaera-like creature at the left under the gray-green moon.’

Date:  1941
Period:  20th century
Origin:  Russia, France
Medium: Laid down on board, Gouache on black paper
Signature: Signed and dated K / 41 in white gouache at the lower left.
Stamped KANDINSKY in black ink and numbered and dated No.721/ 1941 in pencil on the backing board.

Dimensions: 32 x 49.5 cm (12⁵/₈ x 19¹/₂ inches)
Provenance: The studio of the artist, Neuilly-sur-Seine
By descent to the artist’s widow, Nina Kandinsky, Paris
Acquired in 1977 by Galerie Karl Flinker, Paris
Private collection, New York
Private collection
Anonymous sale (‘Eight Watercolours by Wassily Kandinsky: Property from a Distinguished Private Collection’), London, Sotheby's, 19 June 2012, lot 25
William Louis-Dreyfus, Mount Kisco
The Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection.

Literature: The Artist’s MS Handlist (Hauskatalog), Watercolours, no.721 (‘1941, 721 (g.s. noir)’; Will Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky: Life and Work, London, 1959, p.347, no.CC 751, illustrated p.412, fig.751; ‘Ausstellungen: Kandinsky’ [exhibition review], Das Kunstwerk, January 1931, illustrated p.51; Vivian Endicott Barnett, 'Kandinsky Watercolours', in New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Kandinsky Watercolours: A Selection from The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and The Hilla von Rebay Foundation, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1980, p.18; Hans K. Roethel and Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, Volume Two 1916-1944, London, 1984, p.1015, under no.1119; Vivian Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky Watercolours: Catalogue Raisonné. Volume One: 1900-1921, London, 1992, p.36; Vivian Endicott Barnett and Armin Zweite, ed., Kandinsky. Kleine Freuden: Aquarelle und Zeichnungen, exhibition catalogue, Düsseldorf and Stuttgart, 1992, p.228, no.188, pl.168; Vivian Endicott Barnett and Armin Zweite, ed., Kandinsky: Watercolors and Drawings, Munich, 1992, p.228, no.188, pl.188; Vivian Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky Watercolours: Catalogue Raisonné. Volume Two: 1922-1944, London, 1994, p.523, no.1356; illustrated in color p.478, pl.1356.

Exhibitions: Paris, Galerie Karl Flinker, Kandinsky: peintures, dessins, gravures, éditions, oeuvres inédites, 1972, no.12; Cologne, Galerie Bargera, Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944: Gouachen, Aquarelle, Ölbilder und Zeichnungen, 1973, no.69; Paris, Galerie Karl Flinker, Kandinsky: 82 oeuvres sur papier de 1902 à 1944, 1977, no.38; Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlungen Nordrhein-Westfalen and Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Kandinsky. Kleine Freuden: Aquarelle und Zeichnungen, 1992, no.188.
Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints