Studie für Improvisation 10, painted in 1910, is a powerful and eloquent expression of the artist’s quest for abstraction. The composition achieves an exquisite balance between colour and form, displaying a joyous assembly of purple, blue and yellow tones applied in sweeping shapes and fluid brushstrokes. This ground-breaking work represents Kandinsky’s achievement of a nearly entirely abstract idiom which he conceived in 1909-10 alongside the completion of his text On the Spiritual in Art. Other works from this crucial period still possess specific figurative elements. These early works are particularly vital to understanding Kandinsky's concept of abstraction. Referring to the present work Will Grohmann writes: ‘The landscapes Kandinsky called ‘Improvisations’ occupy a special place in his works of the transitional period 1910-1912. They come closest to the ideas he developed in On the Spiritual in Art. The strict canon of the human figure is less amenable to new conceptions than the landscape which can be treated with greater freedom […] All the forms are of equal value and interrelated, without regard for meaning. The so-called Etude [the present work] can be interpreted with the help of the Klänge woodcut [fig. 1]: the four parallels near the half-circle indicate the branches of a weeping willow, and below it are four figures’ (W. Grohmann, op. cit., p. 116). Discussing the evolution of abstraction in Kandinsky’s work, Hans Roethel describes the journey to Paris the artist undertook in 1906 and his acquaintance with Fauve paintings by Derain, Delaunay and Vlaminck. However, alongside his fellow painter Alexej von Jawlensky, Kandinsky began to develop a heightened palette and more expressive style of painting which was not directly influenced by the French artists, but which had developed from a more intuitive reaction to their own discoveries. The journey toward abstraction was further precipitated by his return Germany. As Roethel writes: ‘When Kandinsky returned to Munich, ideologically and practically, the ground was well prepared for abstract painting and yet it needed a final spark to come into being’ (H. K. Roethel & J. K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, London, 1979, p. 25).\n\nThe present work is a study for Improvisation 10 (fig. 2) which is now in the Fondation Beyeler in Basel. This monumental work belongs to a group of sequentially numbered oils and a few unnumbered works all entitled Improvisation, which contain a few pertinent figurative elements such as the horse and rider in Improvisation 9, or the dog in Improvisation 11 (figs. 3 & 4). Kandinsky considered his Improvisations to be amongst his most important experimental works, in which his development and mastery of Abstraction is fully evident. In his text On the Spiritual in Art Kandinsky explained his use of this title and described the Improvisations as ‘chiefly unconscious, for the most part suddenly arising expressions of events of an inner character, hence impressions of ‘internal nature’’ (W. Kandinsky, quoted in Kandinsky. The Path to Abstraction (exhibition catalogue), Tate Modern, London, 2006, p. 33).\nIn addition to the interpretation given by Grohmann for the figurative elements in both the present work and Improvisation 10, Reinhard Zimmermann suggests that the arching black stripes refer to both the structure of a mountainous landscape and other natural phenomena – such as a rainbow, rather than a weeping willow. This interpretation is reinforced by the fact that Kandinsky gave Improvisation 10 a secondary title - Regenbogen (Rainbow). This natural event is precisely the ecstatic, ephemeral incident that Kandinsky’s art seems to express in his abstract compositions and which he tries to convey in his writings. In addition to the rainbow, Zimmermann isolates other motifs in the composition of Improvisation 10 which are derived from figurative sources: ‘Three further motifs can be identified with relative certainty: the flashes of lightning in the shape of jagged lines above the rainbow aiming at the cupola tower; in the left foreground three warriors or guards holding three vertical lances – a motivic connection to Composition IV; and in the lower left corner a crouching figure. One has the sense that this painting derives from a very particular idea or story, but it is hard to reconstruct a logical narrative from identifiable elements’ (R. Zimmermann, ibid., p. 35).\nKandinsky later recorded in his Reminiscences the precise moment at which the ‘spark’ of abstraction was ignited: 'Once, while in Munich I underwent an unexpectedly bewitching experience in my studio. Twilight was falling; I had just come home with my box of paints under my arm after painting a study from nature. I was still dreamily absorbed in the work I had been doing when, suddenly, my eyes fell upon an indescribably beautiful picture that was saturated with an inner glow. I was startled momentarily, then quickly went up to this enigmatic painting in which I could see nothing but shapes and colours and the content of which was incomprehensible to me. The answer to the riddle came immediately: it was one of my own paintings leaning on its side against the wall. The next day, by daylight, I tried to recapture the impression the picture had given me the evening before. I succeeded only half way. Even when looking at the picture sideways I could still make out the objects and that fine thin coat of transparent colour, created by last night's twilight, was missing. Now I knew for certain that the subject matter was detrimental to my paintings. A frightening gap of responsibility now opened up before me and an abundance of various questions arose. And the most important of them was: what was to replace the missing object?' (W. Kandinsky, quoted in H. K. Roethel & J. K. Benjamin, ibid., p. 25).\n\nPeg Weiss writes that Kandinsky’s return from Paris to Bavaria was the catalyst of change in his output: ‘As if a gate had suddenly opened onto a new vista, Kandinsky now experienced a liberation in style that represented a drastic break with the recent past. All at once, there seemed to be a way to resolve the dichotomy between his impressionist landscapes and the lyric works that had held his heart for so long. In several later statements Kandinsky explained that his transition to abstraction had been effected by means of three major steps: the overcoming of perspective through the achievement of two-dimensionality; a new application of graphic elements to oil-painting; the creation of a new “floating space” by the separation of colour from line’ (P. Weiss, Kandinsky in Munich 1896-1914 (exhibition catalogue), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1982, p. 59). These major developments enabled Kandinsky to create in works such as Studie für Improvisation 10 a more purely abstract arrangement of form which sublimates any specific figurative references, whilst reinforcing the emotional impact of his use of colour.