The National Gallery of Art has purchased an early and prophetic work by Wassily Kandinsky, who may have been the first European painter to commit himself to a wholly abstract art.
"Improvisation No. 31 (Sea Battle)" is the title of the painting. The price was not disclosed.
The work was done in 1913, the year the painter came to feel that the worlds of art and nature, which had forever been united, were "essentially, organically, and by universal law different from each other." The painting was bought from the estate of Joseph Muller, a Swiss collector, who purchased it in Munich when it was first shown.
The Moscow-born Kandinsky, who in 1897, at the age of 31, gave up a law career to devote himself to painting, believed that he had freed himself from reliance on "the object," and had thus found a way "to experience painterly forms purely and abstractly."
"Sea Battle," however, does not entirely support his claim. Though abstract in intention, it tells a rather concrete story to the eye.
Two ships are engaged in a battle on the sea. One sees their blue-gray sails and the dark lines of their masts; their dark cannon-puff gray smoke; the grouped lines at the lower right-hand corner seem to indicate the shadowed ripples on the waves.
Though he has been called "the father of abstraction," Kandinsky can perhaps stake a stronger claim to fathering the sort of free improvisation that blossomed at mid-century in New York action painting. "All the forms which I ever used," he wrote in 1913, "came 'from themselves,' they presented themselves complete before my eyes, and it only remained to me to copy them, or they created themselves while I was working, often surprising me."
The canvas, which is on exhibit in the new East Building, is the first oil by the artist to enter the gallery's permanent collection.
The gallery also has purchased a set of six impressions of "Two Women on the Shore," a print by Edvard Munch. Though printed from the same wood blocks, these six prints vary greatly. The first was made in 1898, the most recent in the 1920s. and their many differences help trace changes in Munch's art over three decades. CAPTION: Picture, "Sea Battle," by Wassily Kandinsky, is "abstract in intention, but tells a rather concrete story to the eye. Two ships are engaged in a battle on the sea One sees their blue-gray sails and the dark lines of their masts; their dark cannon-puff gray smoke; the grouped hand corner seem to lines at the lower right-indicate the shadowed ripples on the waves."