How Britons backed the genius of Kandinsky

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The crucial work of a British educationalist and his son in championing the work of the pioneering Russian-born artist, Wassily Kandinsky, is to be recognised this summer when their correspondence is published in English for the first time.

Sir Michael Ernest Sadler, vice-chancellor of Leeds University, and his son, also Michael, were early patrons of the great painter whose work is to be honoured with a major exhibition at Tate Modern, in London, in June.

Crucially, Michael Jr produced an English translation of Kandinsky's seminal Modernist text, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, only two years after it first appeared in German, helping to spread his influential ideas.

To coincide with its show, the Tate is publishing letters and poems sent between the Sadlers and the artist.

The collection, which was purchased by the gallery in 1982 and has been catalogued by the curator Adrian Glew, and includes 40 letters, telegrams and cards giving special insights into Kandinsky's thinking.

"Read my texts without looking for an explicit narration. Just let them work on your feeling, on your soul," he urged Michael Jr in 1911.

And later, to Sir Michael, he indicated his sadness when, in the 1930s, his art proved offensive to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis who purged Germany of Modernism, including the closure of the Bauhaus school where Kandinsky had moved from Russia to teach.

"All my pictures have been taken down in German museums, with the exception of the museum in Halle/Saale where everything remains untouched ... Unfortunately people today are so taken up with politics that there is neither time nor space for poor art. I am glad however that England is at least showing a lot of interest in new art," Kandinsky wrote.

The Sadlers first encountered Kandinsky's work at an exhibition in London in 1909 and subsequently visited him in Germany where Michael junior agreed to produce the translation.

Mr Glew said: "There's no comparable correspondence with Kandinsky at this period in Britain. In that sense, it's unique."

Sean Rainbird, who is curating the exhibition, said Concerning the Spiritual in Art was a key Modernist text. "It's about finding a new mission for art, if you like, but also restating the importance of art as something spiritual."

However, many other important theoretical texts were not produced in English for decades which was why this translation was so important.

"He was a great proselytiser so to have an English translation and to have it so soon was a very important step. It meant Kandinsky was able to have a whole different audience for his writings," Mr Rainbird said.

Concerning the Spiritual in Art will be re-published with the full Kandinsky-Sadler correspondence in May.

Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction 1908-1922 runs from 22 June to 1 October.