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Kandinsky and the Harmony of Silence

Painting with White Border


$12 for adults, $10 for visitors 62 and over and students, free for members and visitors 18 and under.

image for 2011-06-11-exhibition-kandinsky

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.

Curator’s Notes

“Our Kandinsky painting Sketch I for Painting with White Border (Moscow) is a full-size easel picture,” says Phillips curator Elsa Smithgall. Re-uniting it with other studies and the artist’s finished work, Painting with White Border (Moscow), “provides a broader context for the Phillips work, which can easily be mistaken as an independent work of art. We’re bringing to life the whole story behind the final painting and the part that our oil study plays in it.”

Recently, conservators from the Phillips, the Guggenheim, and Harvard Art Museums unexpectedly detected another painting below the Phillips oil study, an entirely separate work by Kandinsky’s companion Gabriele Münter. “There’s no other known instance of Kandinsky painting over another artist’s work, and it’s unusual for any artist to do so,” Smithgall explains. Kandinsky specialists believe the overpainting was almost certainly done with permission from Münter: “There’s nothing in their relationship to suggest otherwise,” she says.

But the hidden painting has an effect on Sketch 1: “The colors ofSketch I appear darker and richer due to the dark green underlayer, which Kandinsky used to block out Münter’s composition. The finished painting is more luminescent, in part because there’s no underpainting.” By looking closely at this single masterwork, viewers can “gain a rare glimpse into the artist’s working process and abstract vocabulary during an intensely creative and experimental phase of his career.

A century after its publication, Kandinsky’s theoretical book, On the Spiritual in Art, remains “one of the most important texts in the history of modern art,” Smithgall says. “It outlines Kandinsky’s ideas on abstraction as an expression of the internal realm, as an artist’s personal expression, and it was hugely influential. This painting was created on the heels of that then-one-year-old publication, with the ideas still brewing in the artist. It links to this defining period in his life when he was still grappling with the relationship of the artist to the real world.”