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. Over 1,300 watercolours and gouaches by Kandinsky are listed in the catalogue raisonné of his work, of which around 250 were produced during his final eleven years in Paris, from 1934 to 1944. The artist regarded his gouaches and watercolours as fully independent works of art, and many entered private collections in his lifetime; indeed, the vast majority of the artist’s works on paper are to be found today not in museum collections, but remain in private ownership. 

The present sheet was drawn in February 1939. 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…’

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 – such as the present sheet - were done as autonomous works. 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.’

Date:  1939
Period:  20th century
Origin:  Russia, France
Medium: Gouache on black paper, Laid down on board
Signature: Signed and dated K / 39 at the lower left.
Numbered and dated No.620 / 1939 on the backing board

Dimensions: 32.2 x 49.8 cm (12⁵/₈ x 19⁵/₈ inches)
Provenance: The studio of the artist, Neuilly-sur-Seine
By descent to the artist’s widow, Nina Kandinsky, Paris
Kleeman Galleries, New York, in c.1957
Anonymous sale, New York, Parke-Bernet, 2 May 1974, lot 148
William Louis-Dreyfus, New York and Mount Kisco
His sale, London, Christie’s, 3 February 2003, lot 32
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 22
William Louis-Dreyfus, Mount Kisco
The Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection.
Literature: The Artist’s MS Handlist (Hauskatalog), Watercolours, no.620 (‘ii 1939, 620. La forme blanche (Aq + gouache)’; Vivian Endicott Barnett and Armin Zweite, ed., Kandinsky. Kleine Freuden: Aquarelle und Zeichnungen, exhibition catalogue, Düsseldorf and Stuttgart, 1992, p.227, no.168, pl.168; Vivian Endicott Barnett and Armin Zweite, ed., Kandinsky: Watercolors and Drawings, Munich, 1992, p.227, no.168, pl.168; Vivian Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky Watercolours: Catalogue Raisonné. Volume Two: 1922-1944, London, 1994, p.459, no.1255; illustrated in color p.437, pl.1255.
Exhibitions: Paris, Galerie René Drouin, Kandinsky: gouaches, aquarelles, dessins, 1947, no.61; Liège, Association pour le progress intellectual et artistique de la Wallonie, Kandinsky: gouaches & dessins, 1947, no.60; New York, Kleemann Galleries, Wassily Kandinsky 1866-1944, 1957, no.17; Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlungen Nordrhein-Westfalen and Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Kandinsky. Kleine Freuden: Aquarelle und Zeichnungen, 1992, no.168.
Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints