Auction  February 19, 2019

Bauhaus at 100: Sotheby's Celebrates the Artists & their Legacy

Courtesy Sotheby's

Paul Klee, Junger Blaumond (Young Blue-Moon), gouache and watercolour on paper mounted on paper, 1918 (est. £70,000-100,000)

Marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the influential German school of art and design, Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening and Day Sales will present artworks by those who taught at the Bauhaus and those whose outputs were transformed by its teachings. Founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus–which resided in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin until it was closed down under pressure from the Nazis in 1933–aimed to unite the disciplines of crafts, art and architecture. This core objective was conceived as a reimagining of the material world that would reflect unity in all the arts as a response to the rapid modernization of life.

The auctions on 26 and 27 February will comprise works by key proponents of the emblematic movement, including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, László Moholy-Nagy and Lyonel Feininger.

Thomas Boyd-Bowman, Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sales in London, said:

Courtesy Sotheby's

Wassily Kandinsky, Vertiefte Regung (Deepened Impulse), oil on canvas, 1928 (est. £5,500,000- 7,500,000

"The Bauhaus is considered one of the birthplaces of Modern Art and design, and on the centenary of its founding we are delighted to celebrate its genesis, the art that was created there and the influence it has had on generations of artists, designers and architects. We are particularly excited to be offering a spectacular Kandinsky painting from the period, alongside an important work by Oskar Schlemmer, which are very rarely seen at auction."

WASSILY KANDINSKY

“Every work of art comes into being in the same way as the cosmos – by means of catastrophes, which ultimately create out of the cacophony of the various instruments that symphony we call the music of spheres. The creation of the work of art is the creation of the world.”

Painted in February 1928 while Kandinsky was teaching at the Bauhaus in Dessau, this meditation on the essential beauty of circles embodies the aesthetic principles that he promoted to his students. Circles dominated Kandinsky’s most meaningful compositions of this intellectually sophisticated period of his career, and he expounded upon their incomparable aesthetic values in his writings. In this composition, the circles appear to be floating in space, like stars eclipsing and colliding with one another in their perpetual motion through the cosmos. When the school moved to Dessau, having been closed by the National Socialists in Weimar, Gropius designed a housing estate for the Bauhaus masters. Once Kandinsky completed this work, he hung it in the exotically colored living room in the Masters’ House that he shared with Klee–set against walls painted gold, pale pink and ivory. The painting’s first owner was businessman and collector Otto Ralfs, who went bankrupt in 1930s and sold it to Salomon Hale, a private collector of Polish origin, based in Mexico City. This was organized with the assistance of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who had wanted to purchase it for himself but was sadly unable to afford it.

Wassily Kandinsky, Sans titre, watercolor and ink on paper, 1941 (est. £450,000-550,000)

Painted in Paris in 1941, this wonderfully playful and optimistic work on paper belongs to the last great period of abstraction in Kandinsky’s art. Drawing on the severe geometric construction which characterized the works of his final Bauhaus years, in Paris he superimposed a repertoire of stylised and biomorphic shapes that seem to have been borrowed from the realm of molecular biology (first explorations into which were occurring at the same moment). Here, a variety of forms–both geometric and organic–are scattered across the surface of the paper, set against a neutral monochrome background.

Courtesy Sotheby's

Oskar Schlemmer, Tischgesellschaft (Group at Table), oil and lacquer on canvas, 1923 (est. £1,000,000-1,500,000)

OSKAR SCHLEMMER

Schlemmer tirelessly strove to achieve a synthesis of the arts, and of all those who taught at the Bauhaus, his works most completely embody its aesthetic and ideals.

In 1920 the artist was invited by Walter Gropius to join the Bauhaus school, working as the ‘master’ of mural, wood and metal workshops–combining dance, stage and costume design as well as architecture with the three-dimensional medium of painting. His art focuses on positioning figures within a pictorial space, which he formed by opposing horizontal, vertical and diagonal planes.

“The figure is static, the space is movement.”

Painted a year after the creation of his ballet, Tischgesellschaft was Schlemmer’s first painting to show a group of people in perspectival space. This space is defined simply by a vertical line at the top, which denotes the corner of a room that is dominated by a dramatically foreshortened table. The exaggerated dive of the table into the background causes an almost Surreal effect, and Moholy-Nagy illustrated this work in his discussion of the importance of dream and the language of the subconscious in the art of the Surrealists. The figures are rendered in solid, gently curved shapes, evoking a sense of classical harmony and give the composition a meditative quality. The human shape is contained in regular, linear, geometric patterns, and purified of all individual features, reminiscent of the teachings of Plato, the Egyptians and Greeks, Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer.

Oskar Schlemmer, Am geländer, fünf-figuren-gruppe (By the Handrail, Group of Five Figures), pencil and colored crayon on paper affixed to the artist’s mount, circa 1931 (est. £40,000-60,000)

Offering an insight into the artist’s working process, and the idea of sublime perfection in his art, this refined drawing depicts five women, each holding onto the handrail of a staircase, superimposed upon each other. Schlemmer achieves a perfect harmony despite the opposing planes of movement, imbuing the figures with a meditative, calming poise as they climb ever higher. The theme of the staircase proved particularly compelling for the artist and this series culminated in the monumental Bauhaustreppe of 1932, today on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Courtesy Sotheby's

László Moholy-Nagy, Segments, tempera and traces of pencil on canvas, 1921 (est. £300,000-500,000)

LÁSZLÓ MOHOLY-NAGY

“Art is the most complex, vitalizing and civilizing of human actions. Thus it is of biological necessity.”

Maholy-Nagy firmly believed that the art of the present must parallel contemporary reality–and the new technological advancements – in order to communicate meaning to its public. Thus he considered traditional, figurative painting obsolete and turned to pure geometric abstraction–attempting to define an objective science of essential forms, colors, and materials, which would promote a more unified social environment. This work demonstrates Maholy-Nagy’s characteristic innovative boldness, establishing a dialogue between the elongated black bar and the semi-circular shapes, as well as between these finely painted elements and the coarse appearance of the bare canvas. The piece also explores a way of representing light and shadow through the purely abstract vocabulary.

Courtesy Sotheby's

Lyonel Feininger, Brücke II (Bridge II), oil on canvas, 1914-15 (est. £4,000,000-6,000,000)

LYONEL FEININGER

Feininger illustrated the front cover of the Bauhaus’ founding proclamation, depicting the united vision of the artistic movement with a radiant image of a gothic cathedral.

One of Feininger’s most accomplished and striking oils painted in the cubist manner, Brücke II, prefigures the artist’s involvement with the Bauhaus by a few years. It was inspired by a small Gothic bridge over the Ilm River near Weimar–a region that provided some of the most iconic motifs in his work. Employing a geometric faceting of forms, the broken-down diagonals of the bridge and its surroundings are at once complex and legible. Demonstrating a strong influence of French Cubism, particularly the landscapes of Georges Braque, Feininger depicts the scene on a monumental scale and renders the modest stone bridge with a sense of majestic splendor. Between 1912 and 1919, the bridge featured in seven oils and several works on paper, tracing the trajectory from his earliest Cubist-inspired style pieces to the more abstract, broken-down forms of his later painting. The series was a turning point, as the move to greater freedom of form revolutionized his entire oeuvre and provided a stepping stone towards the pure forms abstraction developed at the Bauhaus.

Lyonel Feininger, Wüste see (Desert Sea), oil on canvas, 1945 (est. £140,000-180,000)

“Reminiscence, for which I, like all of us, possess an unusual talent, is the most common source for the best in my work.”

Feininger did not create art for purely aesthetic reasons, but rather because of an urge to bring his innermost memories to life, and capturing a fleeting memory was at the core of his creative process. Feininger moved to New York in 1937 after almost fifty years in Germany, and expressed his longing for the Baltic Sea with a series of watercolors and paintings depicting his beloved seaside. Completed on 9 February, just two months before the end of World War II, Desert Sea is a reflection of both blissful and melancholic memories of summers spent swimming, sailing and fishing. Though Feininger managed to leave Germany, he worried about his friends who remained behind, and mourned the destruction of his adopted country. The deep dark colors and almost violent black slashes of the work are in stark contrast to earlier brighter and more tranquil depictions of the motif, as two lonely figures cling to each other against the immense red sky with a tiny ship only just visible on the horizon. The rich reds and ochres, rather than the tranquil blues of his other seascapes, reference the striking rock formations of the California desert and are emblematic of the graphic style of Feininger’s later period.

Courtesy Sotheby's

Paul Klee, Junger Blaumond (Young Blue-Moon), gouache and watercolor on paper mounted on paper, 1918 (est. £70,000 100,000)

PAUL KLEE

A delicate and luminous watercolor representing a seascape by night, created by Klee at a time when color returned to the forefront of the artist’s oeuvre for the first time since his celebrated series of Tunisian landscapes in 1914. Inspired by a Chagall exhibition in Berlin in 1917, Klee introduces a palette of tender and transparent washes of color complementing the fine lines of his drawing. The motif of the moon was of great importance to the artist, and the vibrant blue coloring here can be associated with the Blaue Reiter group’s search for the ‘spiritual in art’.

In 1920 Walter Gropius invited Klee to join the staff of the Bauhaus at Dessau, where he taught various aspects of design, from book-binding to metalwork.

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