Published in 1922, shortly after Vasily Kandinsky began teaching at the Bauhaus, this portfolio includes four prints each in etching, woodcut, and lithography. As the artist explains in the portfolio's introduction, each technique was chosen for its unique character: etching is characterized by its precision and appropriateness to the study of lines; woodcut is marked by the interplay of foreground and background, and the richness of textures; lithography combines a range of markings and colors to produce an image that most closely approximates a painting. As evident in their titles, each print represents an autonomous microcosm, a reflection of Kandinsky's view of the world as a self-contained cosmic entity consisting of innumerable independent, hermetic units.
Gallery label from 2006.
In Kleine Welten (Small worlds) Vasily Kandinsky demonstrates the different effects of drypoint, lithography, and woodcut, providing four examples of each technique. As suggested by the portfolio's title, each abstract image is a world unto itself; meaning is generated exclusively through the interplay of line, plane, and color and the specific properties of the given medium. The constellation of dots orbiting the center of the drypoint Kleine Welten X penetrates deeply into the paper's surface. By contrast, the elegant marks in the lithograph Kleine Welten III seem barely to brush the surface. In the woodcut Kleine Welten V, dots made by digging into the soft, wood block with a cold, metal instrument express violent energy.
Kandinsky systematically elaborated his position on the inherent qualities of each print technique in the set's foreword and in his 1926 book, Punkt und Linie zur Fläche (Point and Line to Plane). Drypoint expressed passion and haste, foregrounding line and point. The limited number of impressions that could be pulled from a metal drypoint plate made it an "aristocratic" medium. Woodcut was more egalitarian in that it allowed for greater edition sizes; it also best conveyed planar relationships. Lithography was the most painterly, and its unlimited reproducibility made it the most "democratic," a quality that led Kandinsky to proclaim it the medium of his time.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.