- Research article
- Open Access
Kandinsky’s fragile art: a multidisciplinary investigation of four early reverse glass paintings (1911–1914) by Wassily Kandinsky
© The Author(s) 2019
- Received: 16 March 2019
- Accepted: 25 April 2019
- Published: 7 May 2019
- Reverse glass painting
- Non-invasive analysis
- Pigment identification
- Synthetic organic pigment
- Cadmium carbonate
- Aluminium foil
In the past, the technique of reverse glass paintings was often considered to be part of the stained glass genre; however, in contrast to stained glass, reverse glass paintings are viewed in reflected light and their creation does not involve a firing step. The paint layers are, compared with paintings on canvas, applied in reverse succession, starting with the front most layer and ending with the backing layer. Little art-historical research has been done on this technique and especially its importance for 20th-century art is poorly understood. The mass production of folkloristic reverse glass paintings in the 19th-century created a rather undervalued image of this technique in art history. A very limited number of scientific studies on reverse glass paintings have been published. Several publications deal with 14th to 19th-century reverse glass paintings including sampling of the objects [1–4]. Transportation and sampling of paintings is often restricted due to the fragility of the glass support, hence non-invasive methods have been carried out to collect information on the materials [5, 6]. Recently, non-invasive analyses of 20th-century reverse glass paintings has been published [7–9]. A publication on Chinese reverse glass paintings from the 19th-century discusses a possible influence of these paintings on European 20th-century reverse glass painting from the “Blaue Reiter” collective .
This paper will highlight the rediscovery of the technique of reverse glass painting by the artists of the “Blaue Reiter” collective in the early 20th-century and in particular will shed light on the role of Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944). Four of his early reverse glass paintings (Auferstehung, 1911, Allerheiligen II 1911, Rudern, c. 1912, Apokalyptischer Reiter II, 1914) were selected and their iconography, painting technique and painting materials were examined. The main objectives of this study are: (1) to work out the starting date of modern reverse glass paintings (2) to discuss the importance of this technique for Kandinsky’s oeuvre, (3) to examine the painting technique, (4) to highlight the influence of folkloristic 19th-century reverse glass paintings from Bavaria, and (5) to conduct non-invasive, in situ spectroscopic analyses to identify the colourants and classify the binders.
Art historical context
Folkloristic art was an important source of inspiration for Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter (1877–1962) and their colleagues from the “Blaue Reiter” collective. In September/October 1908, Kandinsky and Münter together with their friends Marianne von Werefkin (1860–1938) and Alexej Jawlensky (1864–1941), spent their first summer stay in Murnau near Munich. The four artists came back next year in the summer of 1909, enjoying the natural surroundings and the quiet life in this small village. Until 1914, Kandinsky and Münter lived not only in Munich, but also spent several months every year in Murnau, where Münter bought a small villa.
Murnau, Seehausen and Uffing am Staffelsee were the main sites of folkloristic reverse glass painting tradition, a technique that started to disappear at the turn of the century. Generally, Münter states that this technique was new to their entire group and that they first came in touch with it in Murnau. Moreover, it was Jawlensky who introduced them to the local master brewer Johann Krötz and to the artist Heinrich Rambold (1872–1955) [11, 12]. The private collection of Krötz included numerous traditional Bavarian reverse glass paintings, which were important sources of inspiration for the artists. Kandinsky, Münter and Jawlensky started to build up their own collection of European and non-European reverse glass paintings, which they used to decorate their flats . Heinrich Rambold was the last artist in the region who created folkloristic reverse glass paintings as souvenirs for tourists. He focussed primarily on 19th-century templates of religious motifs including saints, votive pictures and titular saints in various sizes, but he also created his own designs in an expressive colour style . Münter was the first one of the four to start with this technique by learning from Rambold and copying some of his paintings [11, 12]. She also inspired Kandinsky to try this technique, and they spent evenings creating reverse paintings on glass with their own style and motifs. Traditional 19th-century reverse glass paintings reveal characteristic features like two-dimensional areas of unbroken colour, simplification of the forms, reduction of the colouration and dominance of the line. The combination of the graphic contour and pictorial elements was a contemporary achievement of non-academic pictorial art. The graphic enclosing of coloured areas also played an important role in the works of Paul Gauguin and of the members of the “Nabis” and “Fauves” groups. Jawlensky and Werefkin in particular, studied these French painters and discussed their observations with Kandinsky and Münter in Murnau. The four artists became enthusiastic about the intense and luminous paintings by Georges Braque, André Derain and Henri Matisse . The same luminosity of colours can be found in the traditional Bavarian reverse glass paintings. Hence, for the “Blaue Reiter” artists, the “primitive” originality of the folkloristic reverse glass paintings corresponds to the modern pictorial principles of the avant-garde movements. To achieve a look of simplicity, nativeness and originality, the “Fauves” and “Brücke” artists searched for oriental and exotic artworks; however, the “Blauer Reiter” collective found these desired features in the folkloristic art of the surrounding rural area. There were no academic rules and guidelines for the technique of painting on the reverse side of a glass panel, so it became an important source of inspiration, that supported the striving for clarity of expression and simplification of composition. This led Münter and Kandinsky to consciously adapt their art to the pictorial principles of the folkloristic art.
Wassily Kandinsky—reverse glass painter
Kandinsky must have thought highly about this technique, as he created more than 70 reverse glass paintings in his career and allowed three of them to be shown in the first “Blaue Reiter” exhibition at the Moderne Galerie Thannhauser in Munich in 1911/12 . His fascination and intense focus on the technical and stylistic opportunities of this technique are especially visible during his stays in Murnau and when he was finalizing his search for a fundamental, novel pictorial conception in 1911. Kandinsky also states in a letter to Franz Marc that he hardly knows any work that is more delightful than creating reverse glass paintings—unfortunately, these paintings are so fragile . He continued with this technique during his stays in Moscow (1915–1921) and Paris (1933–1944). Besides Gabriele Münter and Heinrich Campendonk (1889–1957), Kandinsky created the largest number of reverse glass paintings among the artists associated with the “Blaue Reiter” collective, which further indicates that this genre plays a substantial role in his oeuvre.
The major artistic challenge of painting on the reverse side of a glass panel may be the reverse succession of the paint layers. Kandinsky had to apply the frontmost layer (i.e. the most visible layer) first and the background layer last. He started his paintings with black contours and lines, followed by the detailed painting of internal areas and the application of the background.
Kandinsky often used cardboards painted black as supports for his reverse glass paintings as they further intensify the depth of colours . Such black-painted cardboard was used in Auferstehung, Allerheiligen II and Rudern. Black-painted supports (paper or wooden veneer) are also known from traditional Bavarian and Swiss reverse glass paintings from the 18th and 19th-century respectively . 19th-century Bavarian reverse glass paintings may also have been Kandinsky’s source of inspiration to decorate the frames of his paintings (Fig. 1). The folkloristic paintings from Oberammergau, in particular, have black frames painted with flower motifs. Kandinsky used a commercial wooden frame for Auferstehung, which he decorated with green, blue and violet paints (Fig. 1). He chose industrially gilded frames for the other three paintings, which he partially overpainted with lustre paint (Fig. 1).
X-ray fluorescence (XRF)
The handheld spectrometer Tracer III-SD (Bruker AXS Microanalysis GmbH) was fixed on a tripod perpendicularly to the sample (sample to spectrometer distance ~ 1 mm, spot size ~ 10 mm). The instrument consists of an electrothermally cooled Xflash SDD detector (energy resolution = 150 eV for Mn Kα radiation) and an X-ray tube equipped with a rhodium anode. The excitation parameters were set to 40 kV, 15 μA and 20 s (acquisition time).
VIS spectroscopy (VIS)
The spectrophotometer SPM 100 (Gretag-Imaging AG, Regensdorf, Switzerland), measures the reflection of visible light (from 380 to 730 nm) with a spectral resolution of 10 nm. The surface of the sample is illuminated for half a second, using a 2 W bulb (spot size 4 mm). The reflectance spectra are normalized, and the first derivative is plotted for better peak comparison.
Diffuse reflectance infrared fourier transform spectroscopy (DRIFTS)
Diffuse reflectance spectra were recorded, using a 4100 Exoscan FTIR spectrometer (Agilent) fixed on a tripod perpendicularly to the sample (sample to spectrometer distance ~ 1 mm, spot size ~ 10 mm). In this configuration, the reflected signal is collected inside an imaginary cone of 45° around the emission beam, which supports the detection of diffuse reflected light. The instrument is equipped with a ZnSe beam splitter, a Michelson interferometer and a thermoelectrically cooled dTGS detector. For every spectrum, 500 scans were recorded in the mid IR range (650–4000 cm−1) with a spectral resolution of 4 cm−1. A gold reference cap was used for background calibration. The spectrum intensity was defined as pseudo-absorbance A′ = log (1/R). The Thermo Scientific™ OMNIC™ Specta software (Version 9.7, Madison, WI, USA.) was used for comparison with internal databases.
Raman measurements were performed with an i-Raman®Plus spectrometer (B&W Tek Inc.) equipped with a handheld fibre optic probe and a CCD detector. The probe was connected to a microscope head (BAC151B, B&W Tek Inc.) with an Olympus 50× objective and was fixed on a motorized xyz stage of a tripod. After focusing through the microscope, the maximum laser power of the 785 nm diode laser was ~ 160 mW. The recorded spectra range from 100 to 3300 cm−1 (spectral resolution 4 cm−1) with varying acquisition parameters of 1–200 s and 2–10% laser power. The holographic grating was fixed at 1200 lines/mm. The Thermo Scientific™ OMNIC™ Specta software (Version 9.7, Madison, WI, USA.) was used for baseline correction and for comparison with internal databases.
Comparison of the analytical results of the four paintings
Auferstehung (Jüngstes Gericht), 1911 (23 spots tested)
Allerheiligen II, 1911 (34 spots tested)
Rudern, c. 1912 (27 spots tested)
Apokalyptischer Reiter II, 1914 (32 spots tested)
Zinc whitea, lead whitea,c, gypsumc
Zinc whitea, lead whitea,c, gypsumc
Zinc whitea, lead whitea, gypsumc, barium sulfatea,c
Zinc whitea, lead whitea, barium sulfatea,b
Carbon blackb, bone blacka
Cinnabar + cadmium yellowa,d
Chrome yellowa,b, strontium yellowa,b,c, Naples yellowa,c
Strontium yellow + cadmium yellowa,b,c,d, cadmium yellowa,c
Strontium yellowa,b,c,d, cadmium yellowa,d, yellow SOPc
Cadmium yellowa,d, cadmium yellow + strontium yellowa,c,d
Viridian + strontium yellowa,c, Prussian blue + chrome yellowa.c, Prussian blue + strontium yellowc, Prussian blue + Naples yellowa,b,c
Prussian blue + strontium yellow + cadmium yellowa,c
Viridian + strontium yellowa,d, Prussian blue + strontium yellow + cadmium yellowa,b,c, Prussian blue + yellow SOPc, PB52 + yellow SOPc
Viridian + strontium yellowa,c,d, emerald green + strontium yellowa,c, viridian + emerald green + strontium yellowa,c
Prussian bluea,bc,d, ultramarine bluea,b,c,d
Prussian blueb,c, ultramarine blueb,c,PB52b,c
Prussian bluea,b,c,d, ultramarine bluea,b,d, cobalt bluea
Prussian blue + cinnabara,b,c
Prussian blue + cinnabara,b,c, ultramarine blue + cinnabara,b,c
Ultramarine blue + PR83a,c
Prussian blue + PR60a,b,c, cobalt blue + PR60a,b
Aluminium foila, tin foila
Drying oilc, proteinaceous binder + lipidsc
The painting Apokalyptischer Reiter II (1914) reveals several unpainted areas (i.e. the glass substrate is visible) and thin paint layers (Fig. 4a–c). XRF measurement of the glass shows high amounts of calcium, potassium and silicon and weak peaks of manganese, iron, strontium and lead. Zinc white and small amounts of lead white were reported from every spot. Barium sulfate was found only in the red areas, associated with a SOP. Kandinsky used ultramarine blue and Prussian blue (Raman bands at 275, 543, 2094, 2154; Fig. 11h) for the blue areas. The presence of significant Co peaks in the XRF spectra of the greenish blue (body of the horse) and lilac areas (the oval form around the inner scene) (Fig. 4c) suggest the presence of cobalt blue (Co-metal oxides, variable composition). Viridian was found in most green areas, where it is mixed with strontium yellow. Viridian yields typical IR bands at 1062, 1259 and 1291 cm−1 (Fig. 11d), of which the latter two indicate chromium borate, a by-product of the production process . Strontium yellow shows characteristic bands at 858, 878 and 935 cm−1 in the DRIFT spectrum. XRF measurements of the bluish green areas (Fig. 4, spot 3) yield particularly high values for copper and arsenic, suggesting the presence of a Cu–As green. Emerald green (3Cu(AsO2)2·Cu(CH3COO)2) was identified by means of DRIFTS, showing typical bands at 780, 1024 (CH bending), 1466 (COO symmetric stretching) and 1560 (COO antisymmetric stretching) in the spectrum (Fig. 11c) . Moreover, a combination of both greens can be observed in some areas. Kandinsky used cadmium yellow, sometimes mixed with minor amounts of strontium yellow, for the yellow hues. Cadmium carbonate was not present in any DRIFT spectrum of these areas (Fig. 9a). Cinnabar and the red SOP PR60 were found in the red and pinkish red areas (Fig. 4c spot 2) respectively. PR60 yielded a high number of intense Raman bands, which are in good agreement with the reference spectrum (Fig. 11g) . PR60 was mixed with cobalt blue to create the lilac hue of the oval form around the inner scene. Drying oil was classified in all spectra, and a typical spectrum is given in Fig. 9a. Bands at 1466, 1747, 2856 and 2943 cm−1 can be ascribed to the oily binder, whereas the small spectral features at 1321 and 1365 cm−1 originate from oxalates .
A direct comparison of the pigments used in the paintings is given in Table 1. The results reveal specific differences in the palettes, but the following observations are valid for all the paintings: (1) zinc white is dominant among the white pigments, whereas lead white appears only in minor amounts and fillers were scarcely detected; (2) Prussian blue and ultramarine blue were mainly used for the blue areas and both were mixed with various reds to obtain violet hues, whereas only Prussian blue was mixed with various yellows for green hues; (3) Kandinsky particularly used strontium yellow and cadmium yellow for yellow areas; (4) violet pigments are absent; here these hues are always mixtures of blues and reds; and (5) viridian mixed with strontium yellow is the most common green in the paintings. Kandinsky used up to four different mixtures for green hues in one painting, but only one mixed green is reported from Allerheiligen II, where he varied the ratio of Prussian blue and strontium yellow (with minor amounts of cadmium yellow) to obtain green to bluish green hues (Fig. 5a–c).
Kandinsky’s choices of materials evolved with his painting style throughout his career, as several technical examinations suggest [e.g. 20, 43–46]. Unpublished reports by the Doerner Institut and several technical studies [44–46] of paintings between 1901 and 1913 allow a comparison of the used pigments with the presented results of our study. Generally, the previously reported results are consistent with our observations: zinc white is the dominant white pigment; Prussian blue and cadmium yellow are the most common blue and yellow pigments, respectively; cinnabar, Naples yellow, strontium yellow, chrome yellow and yellow ochre were also found in some paintings; viridian was mostly used for green areas, and violet pigments are completely absent. Additionally, unpublished results of Kandinsky’s Munich palette from 1910/11 reveal the presence of cobalt blue, viridian, cinnabar, cadmium yellow, chrome yellow, bone black, zinc white and a synthetic red lake (unpublished report, Doerner Institut). Certain differences need to be emphasized when comparing them with the results of the four reverse glass paintings. Several proofs of PR3 in paintings from 1910 and of cadmium red in a painting of 1913 indicate an early use of these pigments by Kandinsky [44, 46], but both reds are absent in our study and in the Munich palette. The identification of emerald green in Apokalyptischer Reiter II proves that Kandinsky must have used this pigment also in his Munich period and not only in his later paintings .
McMilian et al. investigated a cardboard painting (1930) and four canvas paintings (1938–1941) and explored Kandinsky’s use of Ripolin colours, a French brand of oleoresinous enamel paint . The results show that mainly emerald green and viridian, sometimes mixed with cadmium yellow, Prussian blue or cerulean blue, were used for the green hues in these paintings. Cadmium yellow appears in four paintings, whereas strontium yellow is completely absent. Prussian blue, ultramarine blue and cobalt-based blues were identified as blue pigments. Moreover, the authors reported cobalt violets (Co-arsenate in one painting, Co-phosphate in three paintings) from the violet areas. Some organic yellow and red pigments were found in two paintings, but a closer identification was not possible with the methods applied. Microscopic investigation of several paint samples confirmed that Kandinsky mixed tube paints with dry pigment powders and other tube paints before applying them . Generally, the palette reveals significant differences from the pigments identified in our study: (1) strontium yellow is absent; (2) cobalt violets were used instead of mixing red and blue paints; and (3) titanium white (production started 1909/10 ) is present in three paintings along with zinc white, lead white, barium sulfate and chalk.
The use of synthetic organic pigments in two paintings needs to be further emphasised. PR83 (synthetic alizarin; CI 58000:1) and anthraquinone lake PB52 (CI 63000) were reported in Rudern. PR83 is a common SOP and can be considered as part of the standard palette of artists at that time. It has often been reported in various artworks and 20th-century reverse glass paintings [e.g. 7, 9, 48]. PB52 is formed by combining an acidic (Alizarin Saphirol B, CI 63010) and a basic dye (Methylene Blue, CI 52015)  and was previously identified in a product palette for artists’ colours made by Farbenfabriken vorm. Friedr. Bayer & Co (1924) . No further information on this pigment is available, and to the best of our knowledge only one proof of it in an artwork has been reported so far: Stege et al. found PB52 in the painting Masken auf der Strasse (1910) by Ernst L. Kirchner . Its unspectacular greenish blue hue and its limited use in the painting could indicate that this colour was not so important for Kandinsky and that the pigment could be a cheap replacement product for a more expensive inorganic blue. This situation is well known for cinnabar, which was often replaced by PR3 at that time. Moreover, the naphthalene sulfonic acid pigment lake PR60 (CI 16105) was identified in Apokalyptischer Reiter II. It was mentioned as a pigment among the Mussini resin-oil colours (H. Schmincke & Co. GmbH & Co. KG), where it was used at least until 1922 . It was also found in two Eilido colour charts (Pelikan/Wagner) from 1912 and 1926/38, which further indicates its use as artists’ colours . PR60 was reported in several paintings by Ernst L. Kirchner between 1913 and 1926 and in a lithographic ink of a printed poster from 1919 [51, 53]. Kandinsky painted large areas of Apokalyptischer Reiter II with PR60, revealing a characteristic, intense scarlet red hue (Fig. 4) that is unattainable with inorganic colourants. Hence, in contrast to PB52 (Rudern), Kandinsky very probably used PR60 intentionally, and it played a major role in the composition of Apokalyptischer Reiter II.
Another important aspect of reverse glass paintings is the use of metal foils (cf. Rudern; Fig. 10), as they enhance the gloss and create a glittering effect when the painting is viewed in reflected light. Metal pigments (e.g. fine-grained bronze powder) were also reported in other early paintings by Kandinsky . Moreover, such metal powders and a tin foil were found in some reverse glass paintings by Heinrich Campendonk, who joined the “Blaue Reiter” collective in 1911 [7, 54]. Tin foils were common packaging materials for cigarettes and chocolate bars in the 19th and early 20th centuries . Historical references also recommend tin foils as a backing layer for reverse glass paintings [55, 56]. Kandinsky not only used tin foils, but also, in Rudern, glossy and silvery aluminium foils. The first commercial aluminium foil was produced in Switzerland in 1910 and started to replace its more expensive tin counterpart . Its first use in Switzerland and Germany was for wrapping chocolate bars .
The presence of cadmium carbonate in two paintings (Allerheiligen II, Rudern) was proven by DRIFTS (Fig. 9). The measured area of Rudern does not seem to show any colour change, whereas the area of Allerheiligen II reveals a significant browning (Fig. 5c, spot 4). Cadmium carbonate was reported in early 20th-century paintings by Henri Matisse, James Ensor, Pablo Picasso and Edvard Munch and is often accompanied by other Cd phases like sulfates, oxalates and chlorides [58–64]. Synchrotron-based spectroscopic methods applied on the microscale have allowed researchers to reveal the distribution of various cadmium compounds and confirm that cadmium carbonate can occur as a photo-degradation product of cadmium yellow and as a remnant of the production process [55, 56]. It was not only used as a starting agent for cadmium yellow synthesis [47, 65] but was also added as a lightener to the pigment powder . However, the source of CdCO3 in the study presented here cannot be determined, and further investigations are needed to answer this question. Please note that cadmium carbonate is absent in Apokalyptischer Reiter II (Fig. 9a), although Kandinsky used cadmium yellow for the yellow areas. Reasons for this observation cannot be proven with the data available, and the following hypotheses need further investigations to be validated: (1) the paintings are all dated in a narrow timespan of 1911–14, which may be too short to see differences in alteration of the same substance (i.e. when the preservation conditions have been equal for all paintings); (2) Kandinsky worked with painting materials from different brands and companies throughout his career, hence it is likely that he did not used the same cadmium yellow in 1911 and 1914; (3) it needs also to be considered that one brand may also include the same pigment in different pigment qualities; and (4) other paintings (canvas, watercolour) from the same time should be further investigated to reveal if cadmium carbonate and/or degraded cadmium yellow occur to a larger extent.
Barnett  described the painting technique of the investigated works of art as tempera (Auferstehung), tempera and china ink (Apokalyptischer Reiter II) and tempera and oil (Allerheiligen II; Rudern). It cannot be determined if this classification is based on inspections of the front or of the reverse side. Our visual inspection of the reverse side of the paintings suggests oil-based binders for Auferstehung, Rudern and Apokalyptischer Reiter II rather than tempera, indicated by the slightly pastose, glossy and wet-in-wet application of the paint. China ink can be found in Allerheiligen II, Rudern and Apokalyptischer Reiter II and shows the typical craquelure pattern. Allerheiligen II displays differences in the visual appearance of the painted areas ranging from glossy to matt (Fig. 7). This suggests the use of tempera and oil-based paints and confirms the description of Barnett .
Kandinsky mentions that he divides his artworks between oil and watercolour paintings, although he states that he also used different materials (tempera, gouache, watercolour, oil) in both categories [68 and references therein]. Personal notes on the binding media systems of his reverse glass paintings are not known, but Roethel  mentions that Kandinsky was not yet using glass as a special kind of surface, as the character of brush strokes is in no way different from that used on canvas. Tempera paints can be roughly described as water-thinnable paints (e.g. egg) or as a system with a continuous aqueous phase (e.g. oil in a water emulsion of egg yolk and linseed oil), but the exact definition may vary distinctively for different artists and periods . Around 1900, Kandinsky conducted many experiments with tempera, as several handwritten recipes prove. For all mixtures marked “tempera”, he used egg yolk and various water-soluble (e.g. casein, gum arabic) and -insoluble components (e.g. mastic, wax, copal, Canada balsam) . Several of his historical tube paints (tempera and oil paints) are preserved, but many of them cannot be exactly dated . In Germany, the earliest reference to commercially available, tempera-based tube paints dates from the 1870s . Analysis of the binders of nine paints from Kandinsky’s Munich palette (1910/11) identified beeswax, drying oil, egg yolk and resins as major and polysaccharides (e.g. gum arabic) as minor components, but all the paints are mixtures with at least two binders . The results suggest that Kandinsky used tube paints, which he modified sometimes by adding other components (mainly beeswax in turpentine) to adjust the texture, drying time and gloss of the paint . The results of the four paintings in our study classify drying oil as the main binder. Only the DRIFT spectrum of the orange area of Allerheiligen II gave a hint at the presence of proteins as the water-soluble part of a tempera. The matte appearance (Fig. 7b) further suggests a different binding media system for that specific orange area. Generally, the structure (i.e. brush stroke, pastosity) and gloss of the painted surface do not play an important role for reverse glass paintings. That might be why Kandinsky used mainly oil-based colours for these paintings. Furthermore, oily binders provide the best adhesion properties for the smooth, non-porous glass surface. It is likely that Kandinsky preferred the oily binder to create more durable paintings rather than creating complex paint surfaces with different appearances using tempera mixtures. The four paintings show a good state of preservation, indicating a skilful use of materials.
We want to emphasize that DRIFTS may not be sensitive enough to detect small amounts of other binders, which could be also present in the other paintings. Please note that a mixture of one-part egg yolk and one-part oil (i.e. maximum oil content for egg tempera) would yield a dry paint with ~ 90% lipids and only ~ 10% proteins after evaporation of the water . Furthermore, DRIFTS is restricted to the surface and cannot probe underlying paint layers. Advanced analyses (e.g. GC–MS), including micro-samples, are needed to get more precise information on the binders used in these paintings. Therefore, although it cannot be excluded that some of the studied paints are tempera paints, it seems rather likely that they are indeed oil paints.
The results show clearly the great importance of this technique in Kandinsky’s oeuvre, as he not only used it in Murnau between 1909 and 1914, but also continued with it later in Moscow and Paris. Kandinsky presented several of his reverse glass paintings in exhibitions together with paintings on canvas and cardboard (e.g. “Der Blaue Reiter” exhibition, 1911), implying a coequal importance of these techniques . He found inspiration in folkloristic Bavarian reverse glass paintings from the 19th- century and adapted his paintings with their characteristic features like black-painted backboards and painted frames or their stylistic features like two-dimensional areas of unbroken colour, simplification of the forms, reduction of the colouration and dominance of the line. The use of corrugated glass and cathedral glass, however, could be evidence that Kandinsky wanted to distance himself from the folkloristic tradition of reverse glass painting . The presented analytical results of the four reverse glass paintings reveal a broad palette of materials. Kandinsky painted not only with inorganic pigments, but also with synthetic organic pigments. For the scarlet red pigment PR60 in Rudern, a deliberate choice of this specific pigment seems likely, despite that time’s ongoing debate on the fastness and stability of coal tar pigments in general. The application of metal foils is a specific feature of reverse glass paintings. The aluminium and tin foils in Rudern, which were both used originally as wrapping material, create a glittering effect that can be interpreted as light reflections on the water. Further research on Kandinsky’s reverse glass paintings from different periods is needed to compare the palettes and may define certain mixtures as specific for this technique. Moreover, advanced analyses of binding media (e.g. GC–MS), including micro-sampling, would give precise information also on the minor binding media components.
SS conducted the measurements and was responsible for most of the writing of the manuscript. SS, HS and OH interpreted the data. DO and GG examined the iconography and the art historical context. SB, LF and IW investigated the painting and glass technique and made the photographs available. GG managed the research project. All authors contributed to the discussion of the results and reviewed the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors would like to thank Patrick Dietemann for helpful comments on the binding media section and Olivier Bonnerot for fruitful discussions.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Availability of data and materials
The datasets used and/or analysed in this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
The project “Hinterglasmalerei als Technik der Klassischen Moderne 1905–1955“is funded by the Volkswagen-Stiftung, Hannover “Forschung in Museen” reference 89921.
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