Krass und Mild (Dramatic and Mild)¸ painted during Kandinsky's final months at the Bauhaus, is a visual symphony of geometry and color. The composition explores the dimensionality of space by layering transparent color bands on top of opaque black forms to create an illusion of depth. It is also a superb example of the artist's mature style, with its emphasis on individual shapes and their harmonious placement within a composition. Kandinsky believed that particular arrangements of shapes triggered an "inner resonance" or "spiritual vibration," and could elicit from a viewer a powerful emotional response. Jagged solid forms, arcs, grids, triangles and circles, whether overlapping or adjacent, were strictly non-representational and created only to celebrate the beauty of form for form's sake.
The provocative title for this picture, also known throughout its history as Stark and Mild and Drastic and Mild, evokes the powerful forces at play during the era in which it was created. Kandinsky painted this work in the spring of 1932, only months before the National Socialists closed the Bauhaus headquarters in Dessau. The avant-garde art school briefly re-established itself as a private institution in Berlin by the end of the summer, but many of its left-leaning faculty could not escape the censure of the Gestapo and the school ultimately shut down by 1933. Kandinsky's Russian origins in particular made him a target of the Gestapo's suspicion, and he feared for the future. "If the Nazis or Communists should come," Kandinsky confided to his friend Galka Scheyer, "I'll be immediately without a job." For the time being, he struggled to support himself amidst the dwindling German economy and looked towards the United States and France for potential purchasers of his pictures. Scheyer proved to be a great resource, exporting some of the artist's most important canvases, including this one, to America.
Clark V. Poling has written about the extraordinary pictures that Kandinsky produced during this particularly tense period of his career: "At the conclusion of his Bauhaus period, Kandinsky painted a number of major pictures that brought together elements of his work of the previous several years and exploited the rage of visual effects and evocative values of abstract geometry and color.... In his last two years in Germany Kandinsky developed and intensified these characteristics through a somewhat denser use of the elements. A vivid resonance of color within a grid-derived composition is created in Layers of early 1932, whose multiple planes occupy various positions in the shallow space. Order is maintained among the varied forms by the strict arrangement of the picture here and in Decisive Rose, also of 1932, where many small elements of different shapes are evenly distributed and, for the most part, aligned vertically" (C. V. Poling in Kandinsky: Russian and Bauhaus Years, 1915-1933 (exhibition catalogue), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1983, pp. 81-82).
Kandinsky's years at Dessau were some of his most productive. His artistic development was strongly influenced by his Bauhaus colleague Paul Klee, whose watercolors and oil paintings of these years demonstrate similar artistic predilections. But Kandinsky's pictures possess a distinctive 'musicality,' as we can see in the present composition. Graphic elements, such as the backwards s-curve, sharp horizontal lines and punctuating circular marks are not unlike the elegant clefs, notes and bars of sheet music. Indeed, music was not far from Kandinsky's mind when he painted his most inspired compositions. "Color is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano, with its many strings," he famously wrote in Concerning the Spiritual in Art. "The artist is the hand that purposefully sets the soul vibrating by means of this or that key" (W. Kandinsky, "Concerning the Spiritual in Art," 1911, reprinted in C. Harrison & P. Wood, Art In Theory, 1900-1900, Oxford, 1992, p. 94).
We would like to thank Vivian Endicott Barnett for clarifying the provenance of this painting.
Oil on canvas
New York, Valentine Gallery, An Exhibition of Paintings by Kandinsky, 1932, no. 25 (titled Harsh and Mild)
Los Angeles, Stendahl Art Galleries, Kandinsky, 1936, no. 39
San Francisco, Museum of Fine Art, Paintings by Wassily Kandinsky, A Survey 1923 to the Present, 1939, no. 30
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Kandinsky, 1948, no. 17
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1954-60 (on extended loan)
39 5/8 by 47 3/8 in. 100.5 by 120.5 cm
Artist's handlist no. 578
Will Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, New York, 1958, no. 578; fig. 418, illustrated p. 384
Hans K. Roethel & Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, Catalogue raisonné of the Oil Paintings, vol. II, 1916-1944, Ithaca, 1984, no. 1023, illustrated p. 922
Valentine Dudensing, New York (acquired from the artist in Autumn 1932)
Galka Scheyer, Hollywood (acquired from the above in January 1935 and until at least 1942)
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (by 1948)
Museum of Non-Objective Painting (later Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), New York (acquired from the above in 1949 and sold: Sotheby's, London, June 30, 1964, lot 45)
Acquired at the above sale