Friday 2 December 2016

My brush with Kandinsky, Magaloff & Josefowitz

My brush with 
Kandinsky, Magaloff & Josefowitz

It was an eerie drive through the snow, winding through the dark pine trees to Nina Kandinsky's chalet above Gstaad, Switzerland. My partner Vivian King, an American cellist studying with Pierre Fournier in Geneva in the mid-seventies, had been invited to a chamber music evening and dinner by David Josefowitz. An extraordinary, extremely wealthy Ukrainian entrepreneur and philanthropist, he was in the habit of inviting young musicians to play chamber music on his quartet of Stradivarius instruments. The 1735 cello was slightly shorter than usual and Vivian was excited to be invited to try it out. Rather intimidating though, because the great pianist Nikita Magaloff was also a guest. I tagged along with my sketchbook and paints, to seize the opportunity of making some musical impressions. 

The door opened to a babble of Russian, French and German and the dinner was multi-lingual. Nina provided us with liberal quotes from Kandinsky's ideas on the relationships between music and painting. As a comparatively lowly painter of musical themes, I became terribly aware that I was on holy ground. The intellectual giant of modern art himself had of course passed away in 1944. How I wished I could have met him.

Anyway, the idea was to sight-read some piano quintets with Magaloff. I remember the Schumann, but I'm hazy about the others. It had been a very good dinner - and it was delightful to hear how many mistakes even the greatest can make on a crazy evening like this - and just laugh them off. But Magaloff's sound and style was unforgettable, what has been described as his "limpid tone and a certain controlled impetuosity". Little of my impetuous brushwork was worth keeping, but I still have these fragmentary line sketches of Magaloff to remind me of that amazing evening. We drove home with the feeling that we had been deep into the heart of Russia.

(Below) Vivian and the author in the seventies. In the background, my painting of Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra with Stravinsky's "Firebird".

Following Kandinsky's death, the value of his work rocketed and with her new-found wealth, Nina soon acquired a reputation for collecting fine jewellery. Imagine our shock and horror when, a few years after our visit, we heard the news that Nina's chalet had been broken into and that she had been murdered. No priceless paintings were missing - only her latest million-dollar diamond necklace. A mystery that has never been solved. It feels strange, that of all the people in the chalet that evening, I may be the only one still alive.


  1. My wife as a teenager used to go to tea often at Madame Kandinska's chalet. Her father was the painter Raymond de Botton and they lived in Saanen, next to Gstaad. Other Russians that she knew in Gstaad at the time included Dmitri Nabokov. It was a village full of fascinating people at the time, Krishnamurti, Menhuin, Nathan Milstein, William F Buckley. It is a very different story to today. More recently of course Balthus lived nearby in his beautiful Grand Chalet in Rossiniere, and again she had tea with him at his home shortly before he died around 1999. Le Monde d'hier.