Wassily Kandinsky masterpiece expected to sell for £19 million

By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky was already beginning to shatter the old order of art. We see this in Studie fur improvisation 8, a bright, molecular work that jarred against anything that had previously been seen.
The oil painting, which was executed in 1909, as part of his Improvisation series, is expected to go for as much as $30 million (approximately £19 million) in November, which would be a record for the artist at auction. The current Kandinsky record was set 22 years ago for Fugue (1914), which went for $20.9 million (£13.2 million).
Studie fur improvisation 8 depicts a near-mythological scene, with a number of figures in the foreground – all without features – set against a background which is thought to be the old city of Kiev. As such, domes and cupolas make their mark in the skyline.
There are various ideas as to who one of the figures is – a male holding a disproportionately long sword, which matches his exact height. One theory is that he may be Saint George, which Christie’s, who is hosting the sale of the painting, explains was a favourite motif of the artist early in his life.
Another suggestion is that the swordsman and the gentleman beside him are in fact the brothers Boris and Gleb, the sons of Vladimir the Great, the first Christian ruler in Kievan Rus (which is now modern-day Ukraine).
Though easily identifiable with the fauvist movement with its gorgeous, generous and non-realistic colours, as well as daintily echoing Russian styles, it is considered a masterpiece because it represented the early forays into abstract art, of which Kandinsky is often held to be one of its true originators.
“From a collector’s perspective, Kandinsky’s Improvisation series is at the nexus of some of the most compelling innovations of the avant-garde era,” noted Brooke Lampley, head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s.
“Through these paintings, Kandinsky was pushing the traditional limits of artistic expression in order to advance radical new theories about form, colour, subject matter and most of all, artistic impulse. It is remarkable to look at this exceptionally beautiful modern painting today and see that all of our contemporary notions of abstract art evolved from pioneers like Kandinsky, who truly blazed the trail for so many to follow.”
Studie fur improvisation 8, which is being offered from the collection of the Volkart Foundation, a charitable trust, has been on loan to Kunstmuseum Winterthur in Switzerland since 1960. It has, however, been seen around the world, featuring in exhibitions organised by the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Montreal and the Tate Modern in London.
The sale has attracted a lot of attention, both for the grandeur of the painting and its exceptional price. The success of its sale is considered by many to be another test of how resilient the art market is, which has made a miraculous recovery since the financial crisis.
Moreover, the industry has continued to thrive. 2012 has been a notable year for outstanding sales – especially with modern and contemporary art – regardless of the fact that much of the world is still trying to resolve economic stagnation.
“The record-setting estimate assigned to the work is indicative of both its exceptional museum provenance and its great rarity,” the auction house explained with regards to its groundbreaking composition.
“Studies from Kandinsky’s landmark ‘Improvisation’ series of 1909 have come to auction only twice in recent years from private collections and nearly all of the known finished versions of the studies are housed in museum collections.”
The last time was in 2008, when Christie’s offered Studie zu improvisation 3, another example of the seemingly intuitive march towards abstraction. It sold in New York for $16.9 million (£10.7 million).
Kandinsky amazingly came to art, relatively speaking, quite late in life, with a concerted focus on painting occurring from the age of 30. He had studied law and economics, though never felt satisfied by the distinct lack of creativity and expression the two disciplines offered. It was through painting, and indeed writing, that he would find home.
“The great epoch of the spiritual which is already beginning, or, in embryonic form, began already yesterday amidst the apparent victory of materialism, provides and will provide the soil in which this kind of monumental work of art must come to fruition,” he penned in Content and Form, between 1910 and 1911.
“In every realm of the spirit, values are reviewed as if in preparation for one of the greatest battles against materialism. The superfluous is discarded, the essential examined in every detail. And this is happening also in one of the greatest realms of the spirit, that of pre-eternal and eternal art.”
Studie fur improvisation 8 will feature in Christie’s evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on November 7thin New York.
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