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About this work

Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.

Maidens in peasant costumes dance in forests outside of medieval cities, and knights ride in service of an idealized world. Xylographies (Xylographs) sounds Kandinsky's longing for the Old Russia of his imagination, a fairy-tale land of spiritual harmony. In these prints, Kandinsky reduces identifiable form and dematerializes figures and ground under a veil of decorative patterning, leaving only the most essential aspects decipherable. Kandinsky devalued recognizable subject matter, stating in an exhibition catalogue published in 1910, "Speaking of secrets through secrets? Is that not the content?"

Kandinsky likened printmaking to music, and his process here draws out "inner sound" of his subject matter. The portfolio's title is an antiquated word for woodcut, though it also suggests another wood instrument, the xylophone. Kandinsky placed two bars of an unconventional musical composition on the title page, above an image of a mounted rider, a figure he repeatedly used to symbolize the fight for new art.


The Paris-based Symbolist periodical Les Tendances Nouvelles, which had previously published thirty-three woodcuts by Kandinsky, issued this portfolio comprising reproductions of woodcuts from 1907. Kandinsky had befriended the publication's editor, Alexis Mérodack-Jeaneau, while living in Paris from 1906 to 1907.

Vasily Kandinsky (French, born Russia. 1866–1944)

The Birds (Les Oiseaux) from Xylographs (Xylographies)

1909 (executed 1907)
One from a portfolio of eight heliogravures after woodcuts (including front cover, back cover and title page)
composition: 5 3/8 x 5 11/16" (13.7 x 14.5 cm); sheet: 12 5/8 x 12 5/8" (32 x 32 cm)
Cream, smooth, wove.
Tendances Nouvelles, Paris
1000; plus an unknown number in two brochures for Xylographs (machine-printed from the original woodblock); an unknown number in the periodical Les Tendances Nouvelles vol. 4, no. 49 (1909) (machine-printed from the original woodblock); and three known hand-printed woodcut proofs before the editions
Credit Line:
Gift of Nina Kandinsky
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Roethel 65. Roethel Annotations 5, page 437.
MoMA Number:
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