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Skizze fur sintflut ii (sketch for deluge ii)
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The brilliantly colored canvases from Kandinsky’s Munich period present an ecstatic beauty that is rarely expressed in painting (see fig. 1).  In Skizze für Sintflut II (Sketch for Deluge II), created in 1912 at the height of his involvement with the avant-garde Expressionist group, Der Blaue Reiter, Kandinsky floods the surface of his canvas with opaque and translucent colors.  Amorphous forms appear to explode, overlap, and evaporate beyond the boundaries of the picture plane, alluding to the constant flux of energy and entropy at play in the universe. The goal of Kandinsky’s art of this period, in the painter’s own words, was “to awaken as yet nameless feelings of a finer nature.”  It is with these grand canvases, pulsating with color, that the artist attempted to create a new aesthetic experience for the 20th century.   Skizze für Sintflut II (Sketch for Deluge II) is one of the first canvases that established the artist’s signature style among the avant-garde in Europe.  As is the case for the present work, most of the paintings that Kandinsky completed during this important period of his career made highly abstracted references to the material world.   The titles of these works, while somewhat descriptive like The Last Judgment or Autumn, generally denote the spirit of the picture rather than assign a narrative to it.  The title of present work refers to a flood, but nowhere in this composition is there any distinguishable symbol of such an event.  The world “Sintflut,” or deluge, is more of an allusion to the movement of the composition, with its free-flow of line and color.  Earlier in the year Kandinsky painted another work, known as Sintflut I (see fig. 2), which also demonstrates a similar compositional abstraction and freedom of expression.   Skizze für Sintflut II ( Sketch for Deluge II), created in the summer, is the artist’s final composition in oil on this theme from that year.  In his Handlist III, Kandinsky added “Sketch” to the title of this picture, perhaps intending to execute another canvas.  There is no known final version for the painting, but a related watercolor exists and is now in a private collection (see fig. 3).\nThe theme of the Deluge had interested the artist in 1911, when he painted another work of this title on glass (see fig. 4).  That composition was much more figurative than either of the two Deluge pictures of 1912.  By 1913, Kandinsky had reworked the 1911 composition into a more abstract painting on canvas, which he called Composition VI (see fig. 5).   The lessons of the previous year, including his experience painting Deluge I and Skizze für sintflut II ( Sketch of Deluge II), had revealed to him the true beauty of total abstraction.  In 1913, Kandinsky wrote about his approach to the Deluge theme and his realization that it was the emotion, not the event, that he aimed to convey in these pictures: “So it is that all these elements, even those that contradict one another, inwardly attain total equilibrium, in such a way that no single element gains the upper hand, while the original motif out of which the picture came into being (the Deluge) is dissolved and transformed into an internal, purely pictorial independent, and objective existence.  Nothing could be more misleading than to dub this picture the representation of an event.  What thus appears a mighty collapse in objective terms is, when one isolates its sound, a living paean of praise, the hymn of that new creation that follows upon the destruction of the world” (quoted in Jelena Hahl-Koch, Kandinsky, Brussels, 1993, p. 205).\nThis transformative realization manifested in Kandinsky’s art in 1911 coincided with his involvement with the artistic group known as Der Blaue Reiter (see fig. 6).  Founded by Kandinsky and Franz Marc in 1911, this group of painters, which included Franz Marc, Alexei Jawlensky, and Gabriele Münter, emphasized the importance of abstraction and the primacy of color as a means of expression in art.  The paintings that Kandinsky and his fellow painters completed with Der Blaue Reiter in Munich between 1911 and 1913 called for the renunciation of the representational in art and the adoption of a purely expressive aesthetic.  Although some of his initial work, including his cover for Der Blaue Reiter Almanac (see fig. 7), incorporated vestiges of the iconography of his native Russia, Kandinsky’s compositions became increasingly abstract and mystical in nature as the group developed.  His devotion to the mystical or spiritual underpinnings of his art set him apart from his colleagues within Der Blaue Reiter, eventually leading to the group’s demise.  By the time the present work was completed, Kandinsky’s paintings were heavily reliant upon the impact of color.\nKandinsky’s palette had long been influenced by the vibrant folk art of Russia, but as he developed his aesthetic in Munich, the reasoning behind his color choices was based more on philosophy than on nostalgia.  The color theory that Kandinsky developed in the 1910s was an all-encompassing philosophy that proposed a link between emotional well-being and different tones and hues of the spectrum. Expanding on the teachings of the 19th century chemist and color theorist, Michel Eugène Chevreul, Kandinsky explained the impact of color on the senses with his own quasi-scientific justifications.   Color, he believed, was the elicitor of emotional and even physical reactions.  The year that he completed this picture, Kandinsky wrote the treatise, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, in which he discussed the synesthetic effect of color.  He described how the eye’s response to color can elicit sensations from the other parts of the body, claiming that different shades of red, for example, “can enliven the heart,” while blue “can lead to temporary paralysis.”  Rarely in his text does Kandinsky provide a source for these rather questionable physiological findings, but his passion for and his belief in the power of color is well-noted.  At the end of his text, he offers this poetic synopsis: “In general, color is the means of exerting direct influence upon the soul.  Color is the keyboard.  The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano, with its many strings” (Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual In Art, 1912, excerpts reprinted Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, Art in Theory, 1900-1990, An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Oxford, 1993, pp. 93-94)\nKandinsky’s reference to music reveals another driving force behind his aesthetic.  At the time he completed this work, the artist was very much affected by the music of the Austro-Hungarian composer, Arnold Schönberg, whose concert Kandinsky had attended in Munich in 1911.  Kandinsky channeled his enthusiasm for music into his painting, rendering on canvas a range of visual harmonies and dissonances not unlike those heard in an avant-garde symphony.  Many of his works, such as Composition, Improvisation 28 (Rudern) (see fig. 8) and Impression III (Concert) (see fig. 9), have titles that are similar to those of musical compositions, and Kandinsky intended to make connections between the art forms in as many ways as possible.  For him, painting, like music, offered a transcendent experience that moved its audience with sensations of profound beauty.   He would frequently use musical and visual qualifiers interchangeably in his descriptions of his art, enabling him to express the powerful, multi-sensual experience he attempted to convey in his paintings.  Take, for example, the following text, which can be applied to the present work:  "Yellow is disquieting to the spectator, pricking him, revealing the nature of the power expressed in this colour, which has an effect on our sensibilities at once impudent and importunate. This property of yellow affects us like the shrill sound of a trumpet played louder and louder, or the sound of a high pitched fanfare. Black has an inner sound of an eternal silence without future, without hope. Black is externally the most toneless colour, against which all other colours sound stronger and more precise" (ibid.).\nWith Deluge II, it is as if Kandinsky has invited us to visualize the music of an orchestra, as it swells to a mighty crescendo and crashes down in a flood of instrumental harmonies.    Given this assessment of the power of the yellow, it is not surprising that the artist has picked this color for this picture.   Filling his canvas with “the shrill sound of a trumpet player,” Kandinsky releases a symphonic explosion of yellows, as well as reds, oranges, and bold blues.  The effect is at once “disquieting,” as the artist had stated, and enlivening, perhaps eliciting from the viewer the adrenaline rush one might experience when listening to the rich and booming sounds of a horn ensemble.\nTo say that Kandinsky’s primary aesthetic emphasis was on color only begins to acknowledge his obsession with this characteristic of his art.  His writings on color from this period and from his teachings at the Bauhaus in the 1920s read like religious exaltations.  Thomas Messer has noted that for Kandinsky, “painting was always above all ‘spiritual’ (geistig), that is, an attempt to render insights and awareness transcending the commonly descriptive as well as the explicitly logical.  Aware in his Russian soul of the deep layers of mystery that underlie all forms of overt knowledge, Kandinsky favored the internal over the external, the symbolic over the factual and the essential over the phenomenological.  Like many philosophers and poets before him, he looked for what Goethe termed ‘das was die Welt im Innersten zusammenhält [sic]’ (‘that which made up the world in its innermost being’) and, as a painter, strove for images capable of expressing such aspirations.  He keenly felt the interrelationship of thought in the various creative media and saw music as the spiritual, nonobjective art form par excellence.  This sense of underlying kinship among disciplines extended in Kandinsky’s mind beyond the arts to sciences, to philosophy and psychology, and beyond these to the occult theories of theosophy and anthroposophy.  In all of these, the basically sober and rational Kandinsky sought a world view that would not be limited to casual, eternal and temporal dimensions” (Thomas Messer, introduction to Vivian Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky at the Guggenheim, New York, 1983, pp. 10-11).\n\nFig. 1, The artist in front of one of his Expressionist paintings, circa June 1913.\nFig. 2, Wassily Kandinsky, Sintflut I (Deluge I), 1912, oil on canvas, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld\nFig. 3, Wassily Kandinsky, Entwurf zu ‘Skizze für Sintflut II’, Summer 1912, watercolor, Private Collection\nFig. 4, Wassily Kandinsky, Sintflut (Deluge), 1911, painting on glass, location unknown\nFig. 5, Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VI, 1913, oil on canvas, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg\nFig. 6, The artist in Munich, surrounded by the Russian imagery that inspired him, July 1911\nFig. 7, Wassily Kandinsky, Final Study for the Cover of the Blaue Reiter Almanac, 1911, India ink, watercolor, and pencil, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich\nFig. 8, Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 28 (Rudern), 1912, oil on canvas, The Guggenheim Museum, New York\nFig. 9, Wassily Kandinsky, Impression III (Concert), 1911, oil on canvas, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich\nSigned and dated Kandinsky 1912 (lower left)
US
NY, US
US

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Wassily Kandinsky

dimensions

37 1/2 by 42 1/2 in.

exhibition

Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Un demi-siècle de Peinture Française, 1950 Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Panorama de l’Art Contemporain, 1953, no. 65 Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Eindhoven, Van Abbe Museum, Collection Phillipe Dotremont, 1954, no. 37 Brussels, Exposition Internationale, 50 Ans d’Art Moderne, 1958, no. 143 New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Vassily Kandinsky, 1963-64, no. 18

literature

Artist’s handlist no. 159 Will Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, New York, no. 80, illustrated p. 356 François le Targat, Kandinsky, Paris, 1986, no. 49, illustrated Hans K. Roethel and Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky: A Catalogue Raisonné, Ithaca, 1983, no. 439, illustrated pp. 429 & 437

provenance

Nina Kandinsky, Paris Galerie Maeght, Paris Phillipe Dotremont, Brussels Robert S. and Jean K. Benjamin, New York (sold: Christie’s, New York, October 21, 1980, lot 233) Acquired at the above sale

signedDate

Signed and dated Kandinsky 1912 (lower left)

consignmentDesignation

Property from the Collection of Hester Diamond

creator_nationality_dates

1866-1944





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