Painted in 1938, La Forme rouge belongs to the last great period of abstraction in Kandinsky's art. In 1933 the artist and his wife Nina moved to Paris, in response to the political situation in Germany, with the intention of staying there for a year. Ultimately they would remain there for eleven years, until Kandinsky's death in 1944. They settled in Neuilly-sur-Seine, on the outskirts of Paris, and the years spent there were among the artist's most productive and fruitful. This new environment gave a fresh impetus to Kandinsky's art, as Jean-Louis Prat has commented: "the work he created in the studio at Neuilly bears witness to a change in style and theme. To the severe geometric construction which characterised the works of his final Bauhaus years, he superimposes a repertoire of stylised and biomorphic shapes that seem to have been borrowed from the realm of molecular biology" (J.-L. Prat, Kandinsky, Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, 2001, p. 196).
Following his move to the French capital, Kandinsky increasingly came into contact with works by Surrealist artists such as Joan Miró and Jean Arp, and under their influence he moved away from the hard-edged geometrical abstraction that had dominated his œuvre throughout the 1920s. He found a new, more organic abstract idiom, reflected in the biomorphic shape of the present work. Coupled with the vibrant palette, this organic affinity imbues La Forme rouge with a wonderfully playful and optimistic character. The main form in the present work is built up from bands of bright pigment, seen against the monochrome black background, a feature that characterized a number of Kandinsky's works from this time (fig. 2).
Kandinsky himself viewed this period of his career as a synthesis of his earlier ventures into abstraction in painting. He stated: "Abstract art, despite its emancipation, is subject here also to 'natural laws' and is obliged to proceed in the same way that nature did proceed, when it started in a modest way with protoplasm and cells, progressing very gradually to increasingly complex organisms. Today, abstract art creates also primary or more or less primary art-organisms, whose further development the artist today can predict only in uncertain outline, and which entice, excite him, but can also calm him when he stares into the prospect of the future that faces him" (W. Kandinsky, quoted in Kenneth Lindsay & Peter Vergo, ed., Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, vol. II, New York, 1982, p. 628). Combining his poetic sensitivity with a vibrant palette as well as with his theoretical principles, the present work brings together all the elements Kandinsky deemed essential in abstraction: "in order to devote oneself fully to it, one must be a good draftsman, have great sensitivity for composition and for colours and, most importantly, be an authentic poet" (quoted in J.-L. Prat, op. cit., p. 206).
Oil on canvas
New York, Nierendorf Gallery, Three Masters of the Bauhuas, Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger, 1938
32 1/4 by 23 5/8 in. 82 by 60 cm
The Artist's Handlist IV, no. 652
Will Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, New York, 1958, no. 471, illustrated p. 388
Hans K. Roethel & Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, London, 1984, vol. II, no. 1090, illustrated p. 984
Galerie Maeght, Paris
Adrien Maeght, Paris (sold: Loudmer, Paris, November 28, 1994, lot 56)
Acquired at the above sale