Siebdruck fur den Verlag Sintesi (Screenprint for the Sintesi Publishing House) is a rectangular abstract print in a horizontal format that features strong, contrasting colours, a lively sense of movement and a complicated composition. While its right half is dominated by round shapes and curves, these are juxtaposed with thick straight lines and angular rhomboids that are depicted on the left. Several areas of the work also feature ambiguous spatial relationships, such as the white shapes adorning the rhomboids near to the centre, which could be read as either flat forms attached to the rhomboids’ surfaces or holes that are cut out of them. The print also presents stark contrasts in colour – juxtapositions of black and white, relatively neutral beige tones and vibrant pink, blue and yellow hues.
This work was designed by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky in Paris in 1935 and is the only screenprint that he published during his lifetime. Kandinsky initially produced the design as a tempera painting and the work was then screenprinted in Paris in two hundred numbered editions. The prints were subsequently distributed by the Barcelona-based publishing house Sintesi in May 1936. Sintesi had first approached Kandinsky in 1935, originally intending to publish this work as part of a series of screenprints by various ‘modern’ artists (Roethel 1970, p.413), although the rest of the series was never produced. Shortly after the publication of Kandinsky’s screenprints in 1936, civil war broke out in Spain and Sintesi subsequently decided that profits from the prints’ sale would be donated to aid refugees from the Spanish conflict. This may decision may have been particularly meaningful for Kandinsky, who at the time was a refugee living in France, having fled Germany in 1933 due to the rise of National Socialism.
The interplay between geometric and organic forms that dominates the composition in Siebdruck fur den Verlag Sintesi is characteristic of Kandinsky’s artistic practice from this period. While his early work had featured expansive, flowing forms and his paintings of the 1920s and early 1930s had been dominated by clean lines and geometric shapes, from 1934 onwards Kandinsky’s work began to combine both formal approaches. Nonetheless, this screenprint stands out from his other works from this time due to the way in which it emphasises the contrasts between these different types of formal and spatial relationships. The art historian Volker Adolphs has argued that in his early prints, Kandinsky often returned to pictorial ideas that he had formulated previously in his work in paint, and that he used the possibilities for experimentation with colour, line and space offered by printing methods such as woodcuts to explore those ideas further (Volker Adolphs, ‘Wassily Kandinsky and the Prints of the Blaue Reiter’, in Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau 2008, pp.37–9).
Although Kandinsky had not published screenprints before this edition, he was an experienced lithographer. In 1926 he had written of the ‘almost limitless number of prints’ that lithographers can produce ‘with the greatest rapidity’, arguing that this lent a ‘democratic nature’ to the medium (quoted in Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau 2008, p.8). His decision to produce this work as a screenprint and distribute it through a commercial publishing house may therefore reflect Kandinsky’s interest in disseminating his art to a large number of viewers.
Hans Konrad Roethel, Kandinsky, das Graphische Werk, Cologne 1970, p.413.
Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2006.
Kandinsky: Das druckgraphische Werk / Complete Prints, exhibition catalogue, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich 2008.
Supported by Christie’s.