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Rediscovered After 70 Years, Kandinsky Watercolor Sells for $1.3 Million

The modern art pioneer painted the work, which resurfaced in a private collection last month, in 1927

Wassily Kandinsky, Curved Tips, 1927 (Ketterer Kunst)
smithsonianmag.com

For seven decades, the only clue to the whereabouts of Gebogene Spitzen (Curved Tips), a 1927 watercolor by Russian Expressionist Wassily Kandinsky, was a small drawing scribbled into the margins of a list of works. The painting had been presumed missing since 1949, when the paper trail of its existence went cold.

“Many Kandinsky experts did research into the work, however, its exact appearance and whereabouts remained a mystery for decades,” says Robert Ketterer, owner of Ketterer Kunst auction house, in a statement. “The only hint came from the catalog raisonné of Vivian Endicott Barnett: a tiny sketch made from memory inscribed ‘Location: Unknown.’”

To the surprise and elation of art historians, Curved Tips resurfaced in the estate of a private collector in western Germany last month. Then, on June 18, the watercolor sold to a Berlin-based collector for nearly $1.3 million (€1.13 million)—a sum more than triple its estimate of $300,000, as Deutsche Welle reports.

The work—an arrangement of straight, thin lines and curved edges of circles on yellowed paper—was last displayed in public in 1932. Ahead of Friday’s sale, Ketterer Kunst took Curved Tips to multiple cities throughout Germany, marking the work’s first recorded public outing in nearly a century, notes Angelica Villa for ARTNews.

Before he painted this watercolor in 1927, Kandinsky (1866–1944) won renown in the European art world for his animated, brightly colored landscapes that verged on abstraction. A synesthete who “literally saw colors when he heard music, and heard music when he painted,” according to Denver Art Museum, Kandinsky harbored a lifelong passion for conveying the emotional experience of music through art, wrote Sarah Rose Sharp for Hyperallergic earlier this year.

A black and white hand drawn sketch of the above watercolor, with all the various shapes and lines indicated in a rough manner
For years, the only evidence of Curved Tips was this small sketch, drawn from memory in a catalogue raisonné of Kandinsky's works. (Ketterer Kunst)

In his seminal 1911 treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky summed up his ambitious theory of painting by noting, “Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the [viewer’s] soul.”

The painter traveled to Germany to teach at the Bauhaus, a state-sponsored school that sought to break down the barrier between craft and art, in 1922. While at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky was inspired by his Constructivist peers to incorporate entirely abstract, geometric shapes and “clearly delineated forms” into his compositions, according to the Guggenheim Museum.

Kandinsky taught at the Bauhaus’ various locations until 1933, when the Nazi government pressured the school to close and forced him and his wife Nina to relocate to Paris. Per the statement, Curved Tips bears a customs stamp on its reverse, suggesting the couple carried the work in their luggage as they fled Germany.

Nina administered her husband’s estate after his death in 1944. Notes from her papers indicate that she sold Curved Tips in 1949 through art trader Rudolf Probst. But after that brief mention, the location of the painting remained unknown.

In other Kandinsky news, Sotheby’s plans to sell Tensions calmées, a painting from late in the artist’s career, on June 29. The large, abstract composition is estimated to sell for between $25 and $35 million, the auction house notes in a statement.

Tensions calmées is infused with Kandinsky’s own distinctly musical and poetic sensibilities, with rich jewel-like colors that are carefully pitched, the overall effect highly sophisticated,” says Helena Newman, head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art department, in the statement. “This great masterpiece of abstraction stands as one of the most important works by Kandinsky to come to auction in the last ten years.”

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