Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
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Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)


20 1/8 x 17 ¼ in. (51.2 x 43.8 cm.)
Nina Kandinsky, Neuilly-sur-Seine (wife of the artist; until at least 1953).
The Pinacotheca Gallery, New York.
Kleemann Galleries, New York (circa 1957).
Royal Marks Gallery, New York.
Anon. sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 4 July 1962, lot 308.
Brook Street Gallery, London (acquired at the above sale).
Heinz Berggruen, Paris.
David B. Findlay Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, 1966).
Stanford Z. Rothschild, Baltimore (acquired from the above, June 1969).
Gift from the above to the present owner.
The Artist's Handlist of Watercolors, no. 357.
V.E. Barnett, Kandinsky, Watercolours, Catalogue Raisonné, 1922-1944, Ithaca, 1994, vol. 2, p. 269, no. 948 (illustrated; illustrated again in color, p. 259).
Copenhagen, Liniens Samenslutning, Efter-Expressionisme, Abstrakt Kunst, Neoplasticisme, Surrealisme, September 1937, no. 39.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Kandinsky, November-December 1949.
Lucerne, Galerie Rosengart, Kandinsky, Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, June-September 1953, no. 10.
New York, Kleemann Galleries, Wassily Kandinsky, January 1957, no. 4 (illustrated; titled "K357").
Baltimore, Temple Oheb Shalom, Gropius Memorial Exhibit, December 1969.
The Baltimore Museum of Art, Rembrandt to Rivers, Art Assembled from Maryland Collectors, October 1971.
The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Collects, Constructivism & De Stijl, From a Private Collection, December 1983-February 1984, no. 10.
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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco


Bestimmt "Determined" is a radiant and brilliantly ordered composition that dates from the height of Kandinsky's involvement with the Bauhaus. A completely abstract construction of colorful geometric forms, its dynamic yet balanced composition consists of an extraordinary series of interactions between triangles, rectilinear shapes and the minor segments of circles. A magical exercise in contrasts held together by the artist's complete mastery of form and color, this highly finished watercolor is one that gives clear expression to Kandinsky's oft-stated intention that his paintings become complete "worlds" in themselves.
The present work derives from a period when Kandinsky was putting into practice the theoretical analysis of form that he had published in 1926 in his treatise Pünkt und Linie zu Fläche "Point and Line to Plane"; fig. 2). A play of opposites between the soft, warm and harmonious tones of his colors and the stark, hard-edged geometry and sparse graphic severity of a mechanical or architectural diagram, Bestimmt is a work that echoes many of the ideals outlined in this often complex and detailed analysis of abstract form. It is, however, like the vast majority of Kandinsky's works, an entirely intuitively arrived-at and ultimately poetic approximation of these ideals rather than a literal transcribing of them. In his theoretical writing, Kandinsky was scrupulous, methodical and dry, but when painting he was, essentially, sensual and impulsive, responding to form and color in the way that he also hoped his viewer would: emotionally.
Through his art, Kandinsky aimed to articulate an abstract language that induced powerful emotions in the viewer in much the same way that music does. Believing that "form itself, even if completely abstract...has its own inner sound," to the point where it becomes "a spiritual being" with its own "spiritual perfume," Kandinsky sought to discover the rules of an underlying and universal order of harmony that he believed lay at the root of all creation (W. Kandinsky, "Malerei als reine Kunst," Der Sturm, Berlin, 1913, reproduced in P. Vergo and K. Lindsay, eds., Wassily Kandinsky, Complete Writings on Art, Boston, 1982, pp. 348-354). It was, however, only in his painterly work that this essentially mystical belief was articulated with any persuasive force, for it was only through the lyrical power of his paintings that this transcendent nature of abstraction to instill deep feeling and emotion in the viewer was fully expressed.
During his Bauhaus years, especially after the move to Dessau in 1925, Kandinsky often adopted more suggestive and literary titles for his work. His work also became more specifically concerned with the relationship of forms. Bestimmt expresses this notion of relationship, tension and contrast in its title as well as in its dramatic use of opposing and intersecting form and color.
Kandinsky considered the triangle and the circle as "the two primary, most strongly contrasting plane figures" ("Pünkt und Linie zu Fläche," 1926, reproduced in ibid, pp. 527-699). He set his students at the Bauhaus exercises whereby they had to use a combination of shapes as an expression of aggression when the triangle is dominant, of calm with the square dominant and of interiorization or deepening when the circle is dominant. In line with the core objective of the Bauhaus, for Kandinsky, painting was not an end in itself but a contributory organizing force. To feel the affinity between the elements and laws of nature was to gain insight into the elements and laws of the arts—a paving of the way for a synthesis of all the arts of the spirit, thereby transcending specialization in the name of culture.

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