Art Market: Kandinsky defies the slump to reach 5.5m pounds

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The Independent Online
WHEN A dramatic abstract by Kandinsky, the Russian modern master, sold for pounds 5.5m at Sotheby's last night, it confirmed that serious pictures fetch serious prices in any economic climate.

Sotheby's was confident about such a significant work by an artist regarded by some as the father of abstract art, and gave an estimate of around pounds 5m. Bidding started at pounds 3.8m and, within seconds, had leapt to pounds 4m. It went to a private collector.

Sketch I for Composition VII - which one Kandinsky scholar has interpreted as a culmination of the themes of Last Judgement, Resurrection, Deluge and the Garden of Love - dates from 1913. Three years earlier, Kandinsky (1866-1944) painted his first abstract composition - though, from an early age, he is known to have been particularly sensitive to the emotional impact of pure colour.

Sketch I was consigned to Sotheby's by Alexander Klee, grandson of another modern master, Paul Klee, with whom Kandinsky swapped this painting for one of his friend's works.

It is the most complete of six oil studies for Composition VII, which hangs at the state Tretiakov gallery in Moscow. All the other oil sketches for this work are in public collections. Kandinsky numbered his compositions in the way a composer numbers his symphonies, a reflection of his love of music. The sound of the hammer descending on a pounds 5.5m bid was music to the auctioneers' ears.

Leslie Waddington, a leading dealer, said that although he expected it to sell, 'whether or not it did was unimportant. If it hadn't, it might have meant that there were problems for pictures valued between pounds 5m and pounds 8m.' He suggested that Christie's secondary sale of impressionist and modern art told more about the market in general as there was such strong competition for works in the pounds 50,000 to pounds 200,000 range. La Caresse d'un Oiseau, 1967, one of Juan Miro's anthropomorphic painted figures, sold for pounds 407,000 at Christie's yesterday, against an estimate of only pounds 30,000-40,000.