Vasily Kandinsky’s Painting with White Border

Vasily Kandinsky, Painting with White Border (Bild mit weissem Rand), May 1913

Vasily Kandinsky, Painting with White Border (Bild mit weissem Rand), May 1913. Oil on canvas, 140.3 x 200.3 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift  37.245. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Guggenheim to Begin Conservation Work on Important Kandinsky in Collection

On October 11, 2009, members of the Friends of Heritage Preservation, a private charitable group committed to critical preservation needs, met with Guggenheim staff to review the proposed conservation and restoration treatment of Vasily Kandinsky’s Painting with White Border (Bild mit weissem Rand) (1913). The Guggenheim is pleased to announce that the Friends of Heritage Preservation members and founder Suzanne Deal Booth have voted to generously support this project with a grant for the technical study and conservation treatment of the work.

Not only is Painting with White Border considered a major work from the Guggenheim collection, the work is also to be the focus of an exhibition at the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, in 2011. As part of the Guggenheim conservation project, the Phillips Collection has agreed to bring a closely related work, Sketch 1 for Painting with White Border (1913), to the Guggenheim Museum’s conservation laboratory to analyze the two paintings side by side. The unusual opportunity to undertake this intensive examination is the outcome of a genial collaboration between the Phillips and the Guggenheim and will utilize infrared, x-ray, microscopy, and XRF analysis. This direct comparative analysis of these two paintings will aid in understanding Kandinsky’s painting process, as well as inform the treatment of the work in the Guggenheim’s collection. While the painting is in good condition and is structurally sound, it has several varnish layers, which were applied over the years in a well-meaning effort to “protect” the painting. However, the application of varnish to the surface of a painting like this one, which relies so greatly on the impact of the colors and the illusion of the spatial relationships within the composition, is now recognized to have an adverse effect upon the visual appreciation of the painting. Kandinsky did not apply these varnishes, which are known to consist of synthetic resins, and it is anticipated that the treatment will consist of the removal of these various varnish layers. Kandinsky is known to have used, and to have mixed, a variety of painting mediums to achieve desired painting effects. For this reason it is very important to complete scientific analysis of the painting materials in order to fully understand their properties in advance of establishing possible treatment options.

This study continues to build upon the Guggenheim’s recent Kandinsky pilot study in using similar techniques to gain an in-depth understanding of the methods and materials the artist employed. Thanks to the generous support of Friends of Preservation Heritage, the Guggenheim’s conservation efforts will continue to enhance an understanding of the museum's extraordinary Kandinsky holdings and provide insight into the working methods of one of the artists of greatest significance in the 20th century.

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