Painted in 1908, Bayerisches Dorf mit Feld is one an important series of landscapes that Kandinsky painted in Murnau that mark the first full flowering of his art and the beginning of his epic and pioneering journey into abstraction. These Murnau landscapes are the first cohesive group in the artist's oeuvre to demonstrate a complete independence from the formative influences of Van Gogh, Gauguin and French Fauvism and to assert the emergence in his work of a new and wholly unique vision.
It was Kandinsky's discovery of Murnau, when visiting with Gabrielle Münter in the summer of 1908 that was to prove the catalyst for this key development in his art. This small and sleepy town in the Bavarian Alps not far from Munich and perched on the edge of the Staffelsee held an instant appeal for Kandinsky and Münter who after first visiting in June, later joined Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin for a prolonged sojourn in August 1908, later settling permanently to the area in 1909. The simple rustic life and the vast picturesque expanse of the mountain landscape around Murnau, proved highly conducive for Kandinsky prompting in him both a resurgence of his affection for folk art and inspiring his sense of the 'spiritual'. Heightening his use of colour to a level of expressionistic intensity and broadening his brushstrokes to the point where each essentially abstract mark takes on an autonomous formal function of its own, the Murnau landscapes formed a model from and through which Kandinsky was able to begin to free himself of subject-matter and paint ever more freely and abstractly.
Seeming in many paintings almost like stage-sets that encouraged his painterly departure away from the objecthood of the world, Kandinsky's Murnau landscapes are not recordings of visual phenomena ort the appearance of external reality so much as formal experiments in a new way of seeing that had revealed itself to Kandisnky as a revelation shortly before he arrived there. As he recorded in his Reminiscences of this seminal period in his life and on the genesis of his abstract art, this new way of seeing derived from a series of recent events and experiences that 'stamped my whole life and shook me to the depths of my being.' They were, the hearing of the apparent divisibility of the atom, a performance of Wagner's Lohengrin at the Court Theatre and a sudden recognition of the abstract qualities inherent within one of Claude Monet's Haystack paintings that awoke him to a new understanding of painting as a medium of 'fairy tale power and splendour' (Wassily Kandinsky, Reminiscences, 1912-13, quoted in P.Vergo and K.Lindsay, ed., Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, London, 1982, p. 363).
In Murnau, after witnessing the 'advanced' developments that Jawlensky had also recently made in his painting Kandinsky abruptly, 'let myself go. I thought little of houses and trees but applied coloured stripes and spots to the canvas with the knife and made them sing out as strongly as I could' (Wassily Kandinsky, quoted in F. Whitford, Kandinsky , London 1967, p. 31).
Combining his belief in the spiritual 'sound' or resonance of colour with the boldness, intensity and simplicity of Russian folk art and indeed, the folk tradition of hinterglasmalerei or glass-painting which he had recently discovered in Murnau, Kandinsky's paintings there grew quickly to depict more than external appearances and to evoke a sense of an innate and holistic spiritual dimension holding this world of things together. Colour, liberated from its descriptive function and used in a pure, intuitive and autonomous sequence of near rectangular brushstrokes and strips began to imbue his paintings with an emotive power and an autonomous abstract energy independent of their subject. Painting became an expression of what Kandinsky was later to describe in his introduction to the first exhibition of his paintings with the Neue Künstler Vereinigung (The Association of New Artists) in 1909, as 'the reciprocal permeation' and 'inner world' stimulated by the 'impressions' the artist 'receives from the world of external appearances'. It was an 'artistic synthesis' in which forms 'freed from everything incidental' now powerfully 'pronounce only that which is necessary' (Wassily Kandisnky quoted in P. Vergo and K.Lindsay, ed., op cit, p.53).
Depicting what is probably a view of Murnau as seen from the west, Bayerisches Dorf mit Feld is a work still rooted in the world of external appearance, but which seems to be hovering on the edge of abstraction. The dazzling and variegated patterns of radiant colour that define the village landscape are comprised of autonomous, independent and predominantly rectangular brushstrokes that seem to hover on the surface of the painting as if momentarily conveying this vista before disassembling into a non-represntational world of their own. Marking the point where Kandinsky took the lead from Jawlensky in the freeing of colour and form from such representational duties, the sleepy town of Murnau here seems to serve as an idyllic but artificial setting in which a free-form fairy tale adventure in colour is taking place.
It is this dual aspect of this painting and others like it - the representational structure and the intuitively arrived-at abstract life that their surfaces also took on at this point -that was to prove the final springboard into complete abstraction for Kandisnky. As he remembered of another work of this type made at this time, it was the seeing of its abstract surface in the twilight that finally awoke him to his artistic destiny.
'Once, while in Munich I underwent an unexpectedly bewitching experience in my studio. Twilight was falling, I had just come home with my box of paints under my arm after painting a study from nature. I was still dreamily absorbed in the work I had been doing when, suddenly, my eyes fell upon an indescribably beautiful picture that was saturated with an inner glow. I was startled momentarily, then quickly went up to this enigmatic painting in which I could see nothing but shapes and colours and the content of which was incomprehensible to me. The answer to the riddle came immediately: it was one of my own paintings leaning on its side against the wall. The next day, by daylight, I tried to recapture the impression the picture had given me the evening before. I succeeded only half way. Even when looking at the picture sideways I could still make out the objects and that fine thin coat of transparent colour, created by last night's twilight, was missing. Now I knew for certain that the subject matter was detrimental to my paintings. A frightening gap of responsibility now opened up before me and an abundance of various questions arose. And the most important of them was: what was to replace the missing object?' (Wassily Kandinsky, quoted in H. K. Roethel and J. K Benjamin, Kandinsky, London, 1979, p. 25).
Bayerisches Dorf mit Feld
Oil on cardboard
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Signed 'KANDINSKY' (lower left)
Wassily Kandinsky , 1900s, Paintings, oil, Russia, Modern, landscape
New York, The New Gallery, Wassily Kandinsky, Paintings of 1905-1940, February 1961, no. 3 (illustrated).
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
15 x 18 1/8 in. (38 x 46 cm.)
W. Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, New York, 1958, pp. 344 & 396 (illustrated p. 569).
H.K. Roethel & J.K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, vol. I, 1900-1915, London, 1982, no. 235, p. 229 (illustrated).
G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh.
Paul Hirschland, Great Neck, New York.
Eugene V. Thaw, The New Gallery, New York.
Martin Nachmann, Forest Hills, New York, and thence by descent.
Dickinson Roundell Ltd., London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008.
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