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  • Sotheby's to Sell Work by Wassily Kandinsky
    March 11, 2005 NEW YORK.

    Wassily Kandinsky, Zwei Reiter und liegende Gestalt (Two Riders and Reclining Figure), 1909-10 (detail).

    Sotheby's evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on May 3, 2005 will include a rediscovered masterpiece by Wassily Kandinsky entitled Zwei Reiter und liegende Gestalt (Two Riders and Reclining Figure). Painted in 1909-10, this brilliantly-colored and fantastical composition had, until recently, been unseen for nearly a century and largely unknown to scholars. It is one of two compositions that the artist originally painted on the front and back of a single piece of millboard. The other composition, which has since been separated from the reverse of the present work, is currently in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Kandinsky gave the double-sided painting to his friend and fellow Expressionist painter Alexej von Jawlensky, and the present work, Zwei Reiter und liegende Gestalt, is estimated to sell for $15/25 million. Prior to its exhibition and sale in New York, Zwei Reiter und liegende Gestalt will be on view at Sotheby's Bond Street Galleries in London on March 17, 18 and 20.

    David Norman, Executive Vice President and Co-Chairman of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Department Worldwide, said, "The recent exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, in which the museum's Studie zu Improvisation 5 (Study for Improvisation 5) was re-united with its long-lost companion Zwei Reiter und liegende Gestalt (Two Riders and Reclining Figure) was a moment of historic importance to scholars and enthusiasts of Kandinsky's art. Both works represent the very moment when one of the 20th Century's leading artists would forever change the course of Western Art through the creation of Abstraction. Zwei Reiter und liegende Gestalt is a symphony of heightened color, abstracted form and dynamically charged space. This work issues from a key moment in Kandinsky's career and demonstrates why he was one of the most important contributors to the birth of Modern Art. Acquired by his fellow artist, Alexej von Jawlensky, the work has been unseen for nearly a century. Its discovery, and the subsequent research that led to scholars' identification of the work as the lost companion to the great painting belonging to the Minneapolis museum, is a thrilling occurrence. Its appearance now on the market creates a historic and almost unique opportunity for collectors to acquire a great work from the artist's most important period."

    When Kandinsky painted Zwei Reiter und liegende Gestalt in 1909-10 he was integrating this new metaphysical aesthetic with his existing predilection for depicting symbolic motifs and Russian-inspired iconography. The mounted rider, for example, is understood to be the symbol of the Christian dragon slayer, St. George. One can decipher his lance-like arms, outstretched in opposite directions, as he leaps over the hills with his horse. The sleeping figure along the bottom left edge is understood to be symbolic of introspection and imagination, which were both characteristics that Kandinsky valued very highly in his art. The present work also codifies the stylistic and thematic concerns that Kandinsky would extol one year later in his treatise, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, in which he wrote passionately about his color theories and the recent advances of his art. This treatise set the stage for the direction of all of his future work in that it gave resounding praise for color as a means of complete and spiritually-penetrating expression.

    The fact that Jawlensky acquired this important painting, and its attached companion, directly from Kandinsky is not surprising, given that the two artists frequently exchanged pictures over the course of their lifetimes. Jawlensky received the double-sided millboard from Kandinsky before 1914. The two compositions were subsequently separated whilst the painting was in Jawlensky's possession and the present work was signed by an unidentified hand, which may have been that of the artist himself, Jawlensky or his assistant Lisa Kümmel. Mr. Norman continued, "Jawlensky had separated some of his own double-sided millboard compositions, and in letters maintained in the archives, he instructs his son to do so to many of his own compositions. Sotheby's recent sale of Jawlensky's 1910 masterpiece Schokko (Schokko mit Tellerhut) for a record $8.3 million is one such example. As with the aforementioned painting and the present pairs of Zwei Reiter und liegende Gestalt and Studie zu Improvisation 5, each picture set off on its own separate journey through history."

    London Exhibition: March 17, 18, 20
    New York Exhibition: April 29 - May 3
    Auction (New York): May 3, 2005