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Phillips Collection Features Works by Pioneering Abstract Artist Wassily Kandinsky

June 13, 2011

Wassily Kandinsky, Painting with White Border (Moscow), 1913 (detail). Oil on canvas, 55 1/4 x 78 7/8 in. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift 37.245. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

WASHINGTON, DC.- After a visit to his native Moscow in 1912, Wassily Kandinsky (1866−1944) sought to record the “extremely powerful impressions” that lingered in his memory. Working tirelessly through numerous drawings, watercolors, and oil studies over a five-month period, Kandinsky eventually arrived at his 1913 masterpiece, Painting with White Border. This exhibition, co-organized with The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, reunites Painting with White Border with 11 preparatory studies in oil, watercolor, ink, and pencil from international collections. By examining this singular masterpiece within the context of Kandinsky’s artistic production, the exhibition sheds light on a defining moment in his career. It coincides with the centennial anniversary of Kandinsky’s seminal publication, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911), a breakthrough treatise of profound significance to generations of artists and the international development of abstract art.

At the heart of the exhibition are results from the latest technical research on the painting and its related studies. Conservators from the Phillips and the Guggenheim examined Sketch I for Painting with White Border (owned by the Phillips) and the culminating Painting with White Border (owned by the Guggenheim) side by side for the first time since the works left the artist’s studio. Using numerous techniques, from infrared imaging to chemical analysis, conservators scrutinized the surfaces of both paintings, comparing the brushwork, media, and development of the compositions. The study offers insights into Kandinsky’s creative process, including the discovery of a previously unknown painting beneath the surface of Sketch I for Painting with White Border. The underpainting, a representational landscape with figures, has been attributed to the German artist Gabriele Münter, Kandinsky’s partner from 1903 to 1916, based on its similarity to Münter’s gouache, Garden Concert (1911−12). There are few known instances of Kandinsky painting over an existing canvas and no other known instances of him painting over a work by Münter.

“We are pleased to be able to reunite one of the key works by Kandinsky in our collection with the Guggenheim’s final version of the painting and other related studies, to deepen our understanding of one of the defining figures in the history of modern art. Drawing on the latest technical and art historical research, this focused exhibition gives visitors a rare glimpse into Kandinsky’s working process,” says Dorothy Kosinski, director of The Phillips Collection.

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