DescriptionVASILY KANDINSKY (Russian 1866 - 1944)
Weiss Verschwommen (Blurred White), 1927
Oil on canvas
32 x 23-7/8 in.
Signed in monogram and dated in the lower left corner, VK 27
INSCRIPTIONS, MARKS, STAMPS AND LABELS ON REVERSE:
THOMPSON inscribed on top stretcher bar (right);
Partial paper label reading, Zürich Düsseldorf Den Haag 1960/61 on upper left stretcher bar;
Inscribed on the unlined canvas near upper left corner, VK No. 373A / 1927;
Below the number in what appears to be the same hand is the title, Weiss Verschwommen;
Oval canvas supplier stamp below the title, G. VASSEUR SUCC. (Paris);
Stenciled black ink number on bottom stretcher bar, 25 P;
Central stretcher bar support bears paper label typed with name of artist, title, and date of work with no. 66 (the number corresponds to the exhibition catalogue number for the 1960/61 touring exhibition);
Central stretcher bar also bears a sticker with the numbers 172, and a small oval stamp that reads DEPOT;
J. B. Neumann (born "Jsrael [or Israel] Ber Neumann" in Skole, Austria-Hungary 1887- died New York 1961), owner of New Circle Gallery (1923-1961), New York, where during the 1930s he was the sole U.S. agent for Kandinsky (outside California), and sold the painting to the following sometime before October 1960;
Collection of G. David Thompson (b. 1898-d. June 26, 1965), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh industrialist and trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, by October 1960, when it toured Europe through April 1961 in an exhibition of selected works from his collection organized by Swiss dealer Ernst Beyeler of Galerie Beyeler, Basel;
Sold, Thompson back to J. B. Neumann, 1961;
By descent to his son, Peter G. Neumann, California, 1961 until circa 1973;
Private Collection, Switzerland (to whom sold privately by Peter G. Neumann), circa 1973 to circa 1981;
Private Collection, London, Ontario (acquired directly from the private Swiss collector in the 1980s)
EXHIBITED (each venue had its own catalogue):
Zürich, Switzerland, Kunsthaus Zürich, Thompson Pittsburgh: Aus einer amerikanischen Privatsammlung, October 15-November 27, 1960, no. 66, ill. black and white, and traveled to the following: Düsseldorf, Germany, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Sammlung G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh, December 14, 1960-January 29, 1961, no. 66, (in the catalogue, opposite the foreword is printed the acknowledgment: "Die Ausstellung dieser Sammlung wurde durch die Galerie Beyeler, Basel, vermittelt.") and traveled to the following: The Hague, The Netherlands, Haags Gemeentemuseum, Collectie Thompson uit Pittsburgh, USA, February 17-April 9, 1961, no. 66.
This important geometric abstraction of 1927 by Vasily Kandinsky, the Russian-born father of non-objective painting in the west, dates from his highly productive years with the Bauhaus in Germany. Most specifically, it is a work Kandinsky produced shortly after his move from Weimar to Dessau (June 1925), when he entered into a very close, mutually inspirational artistic relationship with the Swiss modernist, Paul Klee. He regarded the move from Weimar to Dessau a liberating one, owing to the opportunity to get away from the intensive Bauhaus politics.
As the title Weiss Verschwomme suggests, this painting belongs to a phase of Kandinsky's work that focused sharply not only upon the emotional and spiritual properties of color, something that had always been a key facet of his work, but upon the way colors are applied to the surface, either by blurring, spraying, or making sharp edges to the color patches which contribute to these emotive sensations. How these colors relate and resonate in relation to one another, and to the other pictorial factors, including shape, size, plane and line placement, was a primary preoccupation at this phase, and one that is reflected in the titles. Blurred White fits comfortably with other Kandinsky titles of the same period. They are less cerebral than his earlier labels, and focus on more sensual, tactile, optical, and even olfactory qualities such as musty, obscure, calm tension, evasive, glittering, and so forth.
The dominance of circles in this and related works was something Kandinsky acknowledged. According to the artist, circles were to his work of the later 1920s and 30s what horses were to his early paintings, his most important imagery. They had symbolic, cosmic significance. Kandinsky wrote, "The circle is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the excentric [sic] in a single form, and in equilibrium." Another key element of Weiss Verschwommen is the idea of a painting within a painting, a picture within a picture. This is created by the placement of an articulated square field within a second field within the frame of the canvas. This motif, together with the dominant circles, is present in other works from the later 1920s, most noticeably in his Akzent in Rosa [Accent in Pink] of 1926, a painting extremely close in composition to Weiss Verschwommen. Now in the collection of the Pompidou Centre, Paris, Akzent in Rosa was a work the artist gave to his wife, painter Gabriele Münter, on January 27th, 1930, and one he listed in Handlist II, no. 325 (See H. K. Roethel and R. E. Benjamin, Kandinsky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, London, vol. 1 of 2, 1982, no. 769).
A great deal of the history of Weiss Verschwommen is quite literally written all over it, on its reverse. At the top of this entry is an itemized list of the many marks, by Kandinsky's own hand, and by later ones that tell its fascinating history. The starting point is, of course, the artist's own monogram, date, and number indicated above the title. This is the manner by which Kandinsky strove to keep track of his oil paintings both on the works themselves, and in the "handlists" he kept, which fill numerous notebooks that are now preserved in the Pompidou Centre, Paris. As Hans Roethel and Ruth Benjamin discovered when producing their massive catalogue raisonné of Kandinsky's paintings, all the works the artist ever produced are not listed in the handlists, which makes them a useful record but unfortunately not a complete one.
Weiss Verschwommen bears Kandinsky's number 373A, which suggests that it was a variation on his 373rd painting in the handlist, and that it would fall directly after his no. 373. The style of the inscription as well as its disposition and spacing (the number is underlined and the date is written underneath) is completely consistent with Kandinsky's manner of labeling his works during the period of 1927 (see the Kandinsky Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 1982, p. 18 for an illustration of this type of numbered inscription). However, in the catalogue raisonné of paintings, which sought to put all of Kandinsky's oils into chronological order based upon his four handlists, no. 373A does not appear. However, there is a no. 373 called Schwarz Gesteigert [Black Increasing], also produced in 1927. Like this painting, Schwarz Gesteigert is a composition dominated by large circles of contrasting colors placed randomly with smaller circles across the field. Another noteworthy similiarity is the fact that no. 373 and no. 373A were both owned at one time by the same two men-J. B. Neumann of New York and G. David Thompson of Pittsburgh.
J. B. Neumann was the exclusive agent for the work of Kandinsky in the United States (outside of California) during the 1930s, and apparently until the artist's death in 1944. He started his art dealing business initially in Berlin in 1910, and then moved to New York, where he opened the New Circle Gallery, which he operated until his death in 1961. In New York, Neumann championed numerous modernists with one-person exhibitions and group shows, and in addition to showing Kandinsky, Klee, and various young American painters, he also notably gave the first one-man show in America to another major figure associated with the Bauhaus, Josef Albers. In 1931, he mounted a show of watercolors by Kandinsky, in which a composition related to the present work, called simply Verschwommen and dated 1921 (now lost) was shown. This fact is recorded in a letter written by Neumann's son, Peter G. Neumann, dated September 26, 1973, to a later owner of the present painting. J. B. Neumann and Kandinsky shared an extensive written correspondence which was as friendly as it was business-related (preserved in the Kandinsky papers at the Getty Research Institute, Special Collections, Accession no. 850910, Los Angeles, California). One of the topics they addressed at length involved the record numbers of works of art crossing the Atlantic to the United States by way of a number of committed dealers, such as Neumann. This dialogue suggests that both Kandinsky and Neumann must have regarded the marketplace as a potential ally against Hitler. The Kandinsky Catalogue Raisonné reveals that Neumann handled numerous works by Kandinsky. (The J.B. Neumann papers and scrapbook are preserved in the Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C.)
By the time he was 60 years old, Pittsburgh industrialist G. David Thompson, the next owner of Weiss Verschwommen had amassed an enormous collection, numbering something close to 600 works of modern art from the giants of the twentieth century. In addition to Weiss Verschwommen, he purchased at least one other Kandinsky from Neumann, the painting Schwarz Gesteigert [Black Increasing] mentioned above.
Thompson was a self-made man who loved to barter and bargain, trade up for better and better works. He loved the thrill of the chase, and judging from his collection of marvelous Picassos, Légers, Braques, Miros, some 70 Giaocomettis and one of the world's largest collections of work by Paul Klee, he was very good at it. By 1959, his collection of twentieth century modern art was one of the finest in the country, and he was extremely proud of it. He was in some ways cut from the same cloth as another well-known collector, Dr. Barnes of Philadelphia. That year Thompson offered 330 works from his collection (roughly half of it) to the city of Pittsburgh with one proviso that the Mellon Trust of Pittsburgh donate roughly $5 million to the city to build a museum to house it. When the Trust rejected his offer, saying they had commitments to the National Gallery for $79 million and other out-of-town projects, Thompson was not simply injured, he was irate. Enlisting the assistance of his friend and one of his art agents in Europe, the highly respected modern art dealer Ernst Beyeler of Basel, Switzerland, Thompson decided he was going to take his work out of Pittsburgh and sell it off to individuals who understood it. According to Thompson, "Pittsburgh has no place for the mind, for matters of the heart and spirit." He chose to send 343 works from his collection on a European tour, the same batch of works he wanted to give to Pittsburgh, give or take a few, and make it clear that all the works were for sale. Beyeler organized this tour for his friend and client (a very good client who had bought from him often). In fact, Beyeler had just facilitated the sale of his massive Paul Klee collection in 1960 for $1.5 million to the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Even though the works were for sale, Beyeler was able, through his impeccable credentials and reputation among museum directors and curators, to create a tour for Thompson's collection in museum venues, not commercial galleries. Weiss Verschwommen went on Beyeler's tour to Zürich, Düsseldorf, and The Hague, together with four other Kandinskys.
In 1961, the Thompson collection returned to the United States, where it was shown in reduced size at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (see New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, One Hundred Paintings from the G. David Thompson Collection, May-August 1961). Weiss Verschwommen was no longer part of the show, nor was it listed in the catalogue because Thompson decided to sell it back to J.B. Neumann. It was not part of the large May 1961 sale of the greater part of the touring collection which fetched Thompson a reported $6 million. In the catalogue to the Guggenheim exhibition, Harry F. Guggenheim announced in a foreword that this [reduced] selection of paintings from the Thompson collection was now owned by Ernst Beyeler. The New York Times ran an illustrated story on May 20, 196,1 about the sale of Thompson's collection which had the headline "Rejected Art Sold for $6,000,000." That the article ran concurrently with the Guggenheim venue must have pleased Thompson to no end. He no doubt relished the thought that he'd given Pittsburgh its comeuppance.
Heritage Galleries' sale of Kandinsky's Weiss Verschwommen represents the first time in the painting's history that it has become available at public auction.
Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000.
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