The artwork of 20th-century painter Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866–1944) is a staple of the Guggenheim’s permanent collection. The exhibition currently on view, Kandinsky in Paris, 1934–1944, highlights works from the final decade of the artist’s life. Kandinsky’s success extends beyond the walls of the museum into the auction world. The year 2013 has proved to be one of his most successful. In celebration of his work, artnet Analytics is taking a look at both the art and the market for this Russian artist and theorist.
Kandinsky was an early 20th-century Russian painter, who is now primarily recognized for bringing pure abstraction to Modern Art. Born and raised in Moscow, Kandinsky attended the University of Moscow where he studied economics and law; however, at the age of 30, his interest shifted to art and he enrolled in art school in Munich. While he was still in Russia, Kandinsky was introduced to Claude Monet’s Haystacks at Giverny. The Impressionist style of the painting deeply influenced Kandinsky work, but he eventually moved from Impressionism into pure abstraction.
His earliest works were colorful landscapes characterized by broad strokes of vibrant color. While still figurative in nature, these works show the first signs of his evolution toward Expressionism as the colors express a reaction to the surroundings rather than the natural state of the environment. During the early 1910s, Kandinsky’s work became progressively more Expressionist, and his theories of art became more articulate. Together with his German colleagues, Kandinsky established the group known as The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) and released an almanac by the same name. In 1912, he also published his literary work, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, one of his greatest contributions to art theory.
In the 1920s, Kandinsky taught at the Bauhaus, and his works became more geometrical, concentrating on simple forms such as circles, lines, angles, and curves. In 1926, he published the book Point and Line to Plane, which analyzed these geometric elements and their effects on the viewer. After the closing of the Bauhaus by the Nazi regime, Kandinsky moved to Neuilly-sur-Seine. His art took on a more biomorphic quality, using colors similar to his early palettes. During these final years, he also played with the medium and texture of his works. Kandinsky passed away in France in 1944.
Nearly 70 years after his death, the market for Kandinsky shows significant growth, with 2013 being one of the strongest years to date. The graph above tracks Kandinsky’s performance at auction against the S&P 500 and the Modern 25 over the past decade. Since 2003, Kandinsky has consistently outperformed both indices, even after the market contraction in 2009. In 2013, Kandinsky’s index reached the 800 mark, a gain of over 250% since 2012.
Thus far in 2013, Kandinsky’s auction sales have generated US$52 million—surpassing the 2012 total by over US$4.5 million—and making this his highest selling year. This sum is bolstered by success at the top end of his market, with his top 10 lots of 2013 responsible for over US$50 million. Topping the list for 2013 is Studie zu Improvisation 3 (1909), which sold for US$21 million at Christie’s London in June. The same painting also sold for US$18.8 million in 2008.
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