Vasily Kandinsky referred to the early 1920s as his “cool period.” From this time geometric shapes became increasingly prevalent in his work, often floating in front of or within a broad plane, as in White Cross. Here straight lines and circles offset looser, organic forms and irregularly geometric shapes. A corresponding variation of brushstroke produces highly active passages contrasting with less inflected areas. Some shapes may have their distant origins in a naturalistic vocabulary of forms. Thus, the fishlike crescent and the lancing black diagonal that crosses it, which appear also in the related Red Oval of 1920 (Collection Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York), may recall the boat with oars in earlier works. However, the motifs are stripped of their representational meaning and do not contribute to an interpretation of the whole in terms of realistic content.
The title isolates a detail of the composition, the white cross at upper right, a formal consequence of the checkerboard pattern (a recurrent motif in works of this period). In this instance negative space is treated as positive form. Once the cross of the title is seen, one begins to perceive throughout the work a proliferation of others, varying in degrees of explicitness. Though Kandinsky, like Kazimir Malevich, uses it as an abstract element, the cross is an evocative, symbolic form.
The viewer’s compulsion to read imagery literally is used to unexpected ends by Kandinsky, who includes two signs resembling the numeral 3 upended and affixed to directional arrows. The variations in direction of the resulting forms suggest the rotation of the entire canvas. The antigravitational feeling of floating forms and the placement of elements on a planar support against an indefinite background in White Cross reveal affinities with Malevich’s Suprematist works.