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The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi


Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love II)

Vasily Kandinsky (French (born Russia), Moscow 1866–1944 Neuilly-sur-Seine)

Oil on canvas
47 3/8 x 55 1/4 in. (120.3 x 140.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Description

    Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky moved to Munich to study painting in 1896. There, he became one of the founding members of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a loose association of artists formed in 1911 to promote a new art, one that would reject the materialist world in favor of the world of emotion and the spirit. The following year, when the artist painted "The Garden of Love," he also published his influential book, ¦On the Spiritual in Art¦. In accordance with his belief in the primacy of the inner, spiritual world, Kandinsky's art was abstract, meant to be expressive of our preconscious selves, before the intervention of reason. By dematerializing the external appearance of his subject, without eliminating all visual reference to it, he could reveal the subject's essence. Kandinsky often used musical terminology to describe his work. The "improvisation" in the subtitle of this painting suggests "a largely unconscious, spontaneous expression of inner character, the non-material nature."

    The specific source for the imagery in "The Garden of Love" is most likely the biblical story of Paradise and the Garden of Eden, one of several Old and New Testament themes addressed by the artist. The imaginary landscape revolves around a large yellow sun in the center of the composition, which pulses with rays of red. The garden is occupied by three abstract pairs of embracing figures: a reclining couple above the sun, another at the lower right, and a third, smaller pair seated at the left. Surrounding them are several animals—certainly a snake and perhaps a grazing horse and a sleeping dog. Kandinsky, who was a master of watercolor, successfully achieved similar effects in his oil paintings. Here, large areas of bright, transparent color fill the space amorphously, their fluid motion fixed by various linear accents painted in black that represent the ground, a fence, and dark patches of rain.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Signature: Signed and dated (lower left): Kandinsky 1912

  • Exhibition History

    Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, January 28, 2001 - April 22, 2001. ¦Alfred Stieglitz and Modern Art in America¦. Cat. no. 23, ill. in color.

    Madrid, Spain: Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundación "la Caixa", 16 de setiembre - 13 de noviembre de 1994; Barcelona, Spain: Centre Cultural de la Fundación "la Caixa", 25 de noviembre de 1994 - 22 de enero de 1995. ¦Two roads to abstraction: Vasily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian¦, Presentación: Luis Monreal, Texts: Thomas M. Messer, Vivian Endicott Barnett, Herbert Henkels. cat #27 (illus. in color).

    Paris, France: Musee d'Orsay, October 18, 2004-January 16, 2005; Madrid, Spain: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia,
    February 10-May 16, 2005. Stieglitz et son Cercle. p. 177, no. 97, illus. in

    Munich, Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachaus: October 25, 2008- March 8, 2009; Centre de Georges Pompidou, Paris, April 8, 2009- August 10, 2009; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY, September 18, 2009- January 10, 2010. Kandinsky, pg. 179, cat. 30.

  • References

    Nora B. Beeson. Guide to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. MMA. NY, 1972, p. 277, illustrated p. 276 no. 3.

    Donna M. Cassidy. "Arthur Dove's Music Paintings of the Jazz Age," in The American Art Journal, vol. 20, no. 1, 1988, pp. 19-20, 23 n. 56, illustrated fig. 13, p. 19

    Lowery Stokes Sims. “The African-American Artist and Abstraction,” in Norman Lewis: Black Paintings 1946-1977. NY: The Studio Museum in Harlem, 1998. p. 43; ill. p. 42 fig. 24.

    Greenough, Sarah, et. al. Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries. National Gallery of Art, 2000. Cat. no. 23, p. 126 (ill. in color), 128.