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the prodigal poet
by Raphael Firsching

Wassily Kandinsky
The Red Poet
   Wassily Kandinsky's The Red Poet, painted in Munich in 1903 and missing for 95 years, goes up for sale on Nov. 13, 1998, at the Neumeister auction house in Munich. The sale is to be conducted by Neumeister's modern art expert (and daughter of Rudolf Neumeister), Katrin Stoll.

It turns out that the painting, done in tempera on jute, was in the hands of a private individual for several decades, and even weathered World War II hidden in a jute sack in a summerhouse. The Red Poet is signed and inscribed in tempera on its back with the phrase "Kandinsky- Der Dichter" and next to this in pencil "Nr 19" and "Herrn Dr. Kandinsky Friedrichstr." The picture is a barely vertical rectangle, measuring about 51 by 47 cm. In her 1992 catalogue raisonné, Kandinsky expert Vivian Barnett mentions the painting and says that it is "probably lost." Now, however, its authenticity has been certified by the Société Kandinsky.

The Red Poet occupies a key position in both the development of Kandinsky's art and in his personal life. In regard to the former, the painting makes the stylistic change from Jugendstil to Expressionism. In regard to the latter, the painting marks the beginning of the artist's 14-year-long liaison with his student, the artist Gabriele Münter.

In 1896 Kandinsky arrived in Munich with his first wife Anja. Inspired by Impressionism as well as by Wagner's Lohengrin, the 30-year-old economist abandoned his academic career to study art with Franz von Stuck.

In 1901 Kandinsky founded the artists' group Phalanx together with some friends, and also founded an art school with the same name, where Gabriele Münter became a student. The professor and his pupil fell in love in 1902, at first keeping their romance a complete secret.

The Red Poet was painted during this turbulent time. Kandinsky was unable to dissolve his marriage to Anja and marry Gabriele. The painting, therefore, can be interpreted as a profile of Kandinsky's situation, with the red-dressed artist in conflict with his feelings and dark forces.

The painting was included in an exhibition in Wiesbaden in Feb. 1903 together with the companion work, The Blue Horseman, which had been done shortly before. Kandinsky listed these two paintings as no. 18 (The Blue Horseman) and no. 19 (The Red Poet) in his private inventory.

After the exhibition in Wiesbaden the two paintings were also shown in Krefeld and then in 1904 in St. Petersburg. At that point, The Red Poet came back to Munich into the gallery of Hugo Helbing, was in the house of Gabriele Münter and probably came subsequently directly to the southern German owners of today.

The Red Poet carries a presale estimate of DM 250,000.

RAPHAEL FIRSCHING is an art historian and critic.