Kandinsky and the Harmony of Silence: Painting with White Border provides a fascinating, in-depth look at Wassily Kandinsky’s creative process during the five months leading up to his 1913 masterpiece Painting with White Border (Moscow), now in the collection of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. For the first time in the United States, this exhibition reunites the painting with Kandinsky’s 1913 oil study Sketch 1 for Painting with White Border (Moscow), a major holding of The Phillips Collection, as well as ten other preparatory studies in watercolor, ink, and pencil.
The exhibition also highlights the results of an in-depth conservation study of the Phillips and Guggenheim paintings, including an infrared image that reveals another painting beneath the Phillips oil study.
Inspired by a visit to his native Moscow in 1912, Kandinsky sought in Painting with White Border to express his “extremely powerful impressions” of the city. His preparatory studies and the painting include veiled allusions to a troika, or three-horse sled (suggested in the painting by a three-lobed element at upper left) and to St. George and the dragon (two elements linked by a glowing white horizontal lance). Kandinsky ultimately resolved the composition by surrounding it with soft white space, the “white border” of the title. He refers to white as offering “the harmony of silence” in his seminal treatise On the Spiritual in Art (released in late 1911, with a publication date of 1912); its 2011 centennial inspired this exhibition.
During the Kandinsky exhibition, the Phillips also presents Stella Sounds: The Scarlatti K Series, contemporary works by American artist Frank Stella, a longtime admirer of Kandinsky’s ideas. In keeping with the museum’s concept of conversations between works of art, the two exhibitions—each one complete in itself—juxtapose two pioneers of abstract art, working a century and an ocean apart.
A richly illustrated, 136-page catalogue edited by Phillips curator Elsa Smithgall accompanies the exhibition.
About Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) was an influential modern painter who grew up in Russia, but spent most of his artistic career in Germany and his last years in France. Born to a well-to-do Moscow family on December 4, 1866, he received a broad education in the humanities and took up a legal career. At the age of 30, he abandoned law and moved to Munich to study art. In 1901 he cofounded the exhibition society Phalanx, which was active until 1904. After extensive travels in France, Italy, and Russia, he settled in Munich and Murnau with his companion, painter Gabriele Münter.
In 1909 Kandinsky founded the Neue Kunstlervereinigung (New Artists Association), but he resigned in 1911 to establish the more avant-garde group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), which grew out of his friendship with fellow artists Franz Marc, Paul Klee, and August Macke.
With the outbreak of the First World War, Kandinsky returned to Moscow, where he participated in the intellectual and artistic ferment of the Russian Revolution and briefly served in an official capacity. By late 1921, however, he was disillusioned with the new regime’s art policies and returned to Germany, joining the Bauhaus faculty in 1922. In 1933, after the Nazis came to power, Kandinsky left for Paris, where he painted the biomorphic forms for which is he is well-known. He died in Neuilly, France, on December 13, 1944.