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Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky

Overview
Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky kænˈdɪnski was an influential Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n painter
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

 and art theorist. He is credited with painting the first purely-abstract
Abstract art
Abstract art uses a visual language of form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Western art had been, from the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the logic of perspective and an...

 works. Born in Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

, Kandinsky spent his childhood in Odessa
Odessa
Odessa or Odesa is the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the northwest shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000 .The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement,...

. He enrolled at the University of Moscow, studying law
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 and economics
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

. Successful in his profession—he was offered a professorship (chair of Roman Law
Roman law
Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, and the legal developments which occurred before the 7th century AD — when the Roman–Byzantine state adopted Greek as the language of government. The development of Roman law comprises more than a thousand years of jurisprudence — from the Twelve...

) at the University of Dorpat
University of Tartu
The University of Tartu is a classical university in the city of Tartu, Estonia. University of Tartu is the national university of Estonia; it is the biggest and highest-ranked university in Estonia...

—he began painting studies (life-drawing, sketching and anatomy) at the age of 30.

In 1896 Kandinsky settled in Munich
Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

, studying first at Anton Ažbe
Anton Ažbe
Anton Ažbe was a Slovene realist painter and teacher of painting.Ažbe, crippled since birth and orphaned at the age of 8, learned painting as an apprentice to Janez Wolf and at the Academies in Vienna and Munich. At the age of 30 Ažbe founded his own school of painting in Munich that became a...

's private school and then at the Academy of Fine Arts
Academy of Fine Arts, Munich
The Academy of Fine Arts, Munich was founded 1808 by Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria in Munich as the "Royal Academy of Fine Arts" and is one of the oldest and most significant art academies in Germany...

.
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Quotations

But, as well as the body, the spirit fortifies itself and develops itself by the exercise. As a neglected body which becomes weak and finally impotent, the spirit becomes weaker. The innate feeling of the artist is like the talent of the Gospel which must not be buried. The artist which lets its gifts unemployed is the lazy servant.

Kandinsky, On the Spiritual In Art, 1912

Painting is an art, and the art in its whole is not a vain objets creation which get lost in the void, but a power which has a goal and must serve to the evolution and to the refinement of the human soul, to the moving of the Triangle. It is the language which speaks to the soul, in its proper form, of things which are the daily bread of the soul and which it can receive only under this form.

Kandinsky, On the Spiritual In Art, 1912

The artist must train not only his eye, but his soul

Kandinsky, On the Spiritual In Art, 1912

the artist must have something to say, mastery over form is not his goal but adaption of form to its inner meaning.

Kandinsky, On the Spiritual In Art, 1912

In a composition in which corporeal elements are more or less superfluous, they can be more or less omitted and replaced by purely abstract forms, or by corporeal forms that have been completed abstracted. (on making abstraction, 1912)

Kandinsky, On the Spiritual In Art, 1912

Is beautiful what proceeds from an inner necessity of the soul. Is beautiful what is inwardly beautiful.

Kandinsky, On the Spiritual In Art, 1912

Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the strings.The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.

Kandinsky, Concerning the spiritual in Art, Munich, 1911

Every phenomenon can be experienced in two ways. These two ways are not arbitrary, but are bound up with the phenomenon – developing out of its nature and characteristics : Externally – or – inwardly.

Kandinsky, Point and line to plane, Munich, 1926

The geometric point is an invisible thing. Therefore, it must be defined as an incorporeal thing. Considered in terms of substance, it equals zero. […] Thus we look upon the geometric point as the ultimate and most singular union of silence and speech. The geometric point has, therefore, been given its material form, in the first instance, in writing. It belongs to language and signifies silence.

Kandinsky, Point and line to plane, Munich, 1926
Encyclopedia
Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky kænˈdɪnski was an influential Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n painter
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

 and art theorist. He is credited with painting the first purely-abstract
Abstract art
Abstract art uses a visual language of form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Western art had been, from the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the logic of perspective and an...

 works. Born in Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

, Kandinsky spent his childhood in Odessa
Odessa
Odessa or Odesa is the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the northwest shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000 .The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement,...

. He enrolled at the University of Moscow, studying law
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 and economics
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

. Successful in his profession—he was offered a professorship (chair of Roman Law
Roman law
Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, and the legal developments which occurred before the 7th century AD — when the Roman–Byzantine state adopted Greek as the language of government. The development of Roman law comprises more than a thousand years of jurisprudence — from the Twelve...

) at the University of Dorpat
University of Tartu
The University of Tartu is a classical university in the city of Tartu, Estonia. University of Tartu is the national university of Estonia; it is the biggest and highest-ranked university in Estonia...

—he began painting studies (life-drawing, sketching and anatomy) at the age of 30.

In 1896 Kandinsky settled in Munich
Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

, studying first at Anton Ažbe
Anton Ažbe
Anton Ažbe was a Slovene realist painter and teacher of painting.Ažbe, crippled since birth and orphaned at the age of 8, learned painting as an apprentice to Janez Wolf and at the Academies in Vienna and Munich. At the age of 30 Ažbe founded his own school of painting in Munich that became a...

's private school and then at the Academy of Fine Arts
Academy of Fine Arts, Munich
The Academy of Fine Arts, Munich was founded 1808 by Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria in Munich as the "Royal Academy of Fine Arts" and is one of the oldest and most significant art academies in Germany...

. He returned to Moscow in 1914, after the outbreak of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. Kandinsky was unsympathetic to the official theories on art in Moscow, and returned to Germany in 1921. There, he taught at the Bauhaus
Bauhaus
', commonly known simply as Bauhaus, was a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught. It operated from 1919 to 1933. At that time the German term stood for "School of Building".The Bauhaus school was founded by...

 school of art and architecture from 1922 until the Nazis
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 closed it in 1933. He then moved to France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 where he lived the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1939. He died at Neuilly-sur-Seine
Neuilly-sur-Seine
Neuilly-sur-Seine is a commune in the western suburbs of Paris, France. It is located from the center of Paris.Although Neuilly is technically a suburb of Paris, it is immediately adjacent to the city and directly extends it. The area is composed of mostly wealthy, select residential...

 in 1944.

Artistic periods



Kandinsky's creation of purely-abstract work followed a long period of development and maturation of intense thought based on his artistic experiences. He called this devotion to inner beauty, fervor of spirit, and spiritual desire inner necessity; it was a central aspect of his art.

Youth and inspiration (1866–1896)


Kandinsky was born in Moscow, the son of Lidia Ticheeva and Vasily Silvestrovich Kandinsky, a tea merchant. Kandinsky learned from a variety of sources while in Moscow. Later in life, he would recall being fascinated and stimulated by colour as a child. His fascination with colour symbolism and psychology continued as he grew. In 1889, he was part of an ethnographic research group which travelled to the Vologda
Vologda
Vologda is a city and the administrative, cultural, and scientific center of Vologda Oblast, Russia, located on the Vologda River. The city is a major transport knot of the Northwest of Russia. Vologda is among the Russian cities possessing an especially valuable historical heritage...

 region north of Moscow. In Looks on the Past, he relates that the houses and churches were decorated with such shimmering colours that upon entering them, he felt that he was moving into a painting. This experience, and his study of the region's folk art (particularly the use of bright colours on a dark background), was reflected in much of his early work. A few years later he first likened painting to composing music in the manner for which he would become noted, writing, "Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul".

In 1896, at age 30, Kandinsky gave up a promising career teaching law and economics to enroll in art school in Munich. He was not immediately granted admission, and began learning art on his own. That same year, prior to leaving Moscow, he saw an exhibit of paintings by Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement's philosophy of expressing one's perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. . Retrieved 6 January 2007...

. He was particularly taken with the impressionistic Haystacks
Haystacks (Monet)
Haystacks is a title of a series of impressionist paintings by Claude Monet. The primary subjects of all of the paintings in the series are stacks of hay in the field after the harvest season...

; it, to him, had a powerful sense of colour almost independent of the objects themselves. Later, he would write about this experience:
Kandinsky was similarly influenced during this period by Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

's Lohengrin
Lohengrin (opera)
Lohengrin is a romantic opera in three acts composed and written by Richard Wagner, first performed in 1850. The story of the eponymous character is taken from medieval German romance, notably the Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach and its sequel, Lohengrin, written by a different author, itself...

which, he felt, pushed the limits of music and melody beyond standard lyricism. He was also spiritually influenced by H. P. Blavatsky
Madame Blavatsky
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky , was a theosophist, writer and traveler. Between 1848 and 1875 Blavatsky had gone around the world three times. In 1875, Blavatsky together with Colonel H. S. Olcott established the Theosophical Society...

 (1831–1891), the best-known exponent of theosophy
Theosophy
Theosophy, in its modern presentation, is a spiritual philosophy developed since the late 19th century. Its major themes were originally described mainly by Helena Blavatsky , co-founder of the Theosophical Society...

. Theosophical theory postulates that creation is a geometrical progression, beginning with a single point. The creative aspect of the form is expressed by a descending series of circles, triangles and squares. Kandinsky's book Concerning the Spiritual In Art (1910) and Point and Line to Plane (1926) echoed this theosophical tenet. Illustrations by John Varley in Thought Forms
Thought Forms
Thought-Forms is a book by Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater, which is a study on the nature and power of thoughts. It has been translated into more than five languages....

(1901) influenced him visually.

Metamorphosis


Art school, usually considered difficult, was easier for Kandinsky. It was during this time that he began to emerge as an art theorist as well as a painter. The number of his existing paintings increased at the beginning of the 20th century; much remains of the landscapes and towns he painted, using broad swaths of colour and recognizable forms. For the most part, however, Kandinsky's paintings did not feature any human figures; an exception is Sunday, Old Russia (1904), in which Kandinsky recreates a highly colourful (and fanciful) view of peasants and nobles in front of the walls of a town. Riding Couple (1907) depicts a man on horseback, holding a woman with tenderness and care as they ride past a Russian town with luminous walls across a river. The horse is muted while the leaves in the trees, the town, and the reflections in the river glisten with spots of colour and brightness. This work demonstrates the influence of pointillism
Pointillism
Pointillism is a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of pure color are applied in patterns to form an image. Georges Seurat developed the technique in 1886, branching from Impressionism. The term Pointillism was first coined by art critics in the late 1880s to ridicule the works...

 in the way the depth of field is collapsed into a flat, luminescent surface. Fauvism
Fauvism
Fauvism is the style of les Fauves , a short-lived and loose group of early twentieth-century Modern artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong colour over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism...

 is also apparent in these early works. Colours are used to express Kandinsky's experience of subject matter, not to describe objective nature.

Perhaps the most important of his paintings from the first decade of the 1900s was The Blue Rider (1903), which shows a small cloaked figure on a speeding horse rushing through a rocky meadow. The rider's cloak is medium blue, which casts a darker-blue shadow. In the foreground are more amorphous blue shadows, the counterparts of the fall trees in the background. The blue rider in the painting is prominent (but not clearly defined), and the horse has an unnatural gait (which Kandinsky must have known). Some art historians believe that a second figure (perhaps a child) is being held by the rider, although this may be another shadow from the solitary rider. This intentional disjunction, allowing viewers to participate in the creation of the artwork, became an increasingly conscious technique used by Kandinsky in subsequent years; it culminated in the abstract works of the 1911–1914 period. In The Blue Rider, Kandinsky shows the rider more as a series of colours than in specific detail. This painting is not exceptional in that regard when compared with contemporary painters, but it shows the direction Kandinsky would take only a few years later.

From 1906 to 1908 Kandinsky spent a great deal of time travelling across Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 (he was an associate of the Blue Rose
Blue Rose (art group)
Blue Rose was a Symbolist artist association in Moscow from 1906 to 1908. They emphasised color as a 'tonal' medium to construct rhythm in a painting and the elimination of shape and contour. Members included Anatolii Arapov, Petr Bromirsky, V...

 symbolist group of Moscow), until he settled in the small Bavaria
Bavaria
Bavaria, formally the Free State of Bavaria is a state of Germany, located in the southeast of Germany. With an area of , it is the largest state by area, forming almost 20% of the total land area of Germany...

n town of Murnau
Murnau am Staffelsee
Murnau am Staffelsee is a market town in the district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in the Oberbayern region of Bavaria, Germany.Murnau is situated on the edge of the Bavarian alps, approx. 70 km south of Munich. Directly to its west is the Staffelsee lake.-History:Murnau was first documented in...

. The Blue Mountain (1908–1909) was painted at this time, demonstrating his trend toward abstraction. A mountain of blue is flanked by two broad trees, one yellow and one red. A procession, with three riders and several others, crosses at the bottom. The faces, clothing, and saddles of the riders are each a single colour, and neither they nor the walking figures display any real detail. The flat planes and the contours also are indicative of Fauvist influence. The broad use of colour in The Blue Mountain illustrates Kandinsky's inclination toward an art in which colour is presented independently of form, and which each colour is given equal attention. The composition is more planar; the painting is divided into four sections: the sky, the red tree, the yellow tree and the blue mountain with the three riders.

Blue Rider period (1911–1914)




Kandinsky's paintings from this period are large, expressive coloured masses evaluated independently from forms and lines; these serve no longer to delimit them, but overlap freely to form paintings of extraordinary force. Music was important to the birth of abstract art, since music is abstract by nature—it does not try to represent the exterior world, but expresses in an immediate way the inner feelings of the soul. Kandinsky sometimes used musical terms to identify his works; he called his most spontaneous paintings "improvisations" and described more elaborate works as "compositions".

In addition to painting, Kandinsky was an art theorist; his influence on the history of Western art stems perhaps more from his theoretical works than from his paintings. He helped found the Neue Künstlervereinigung München
Neue Künstlervereinigung München
The Neue Künstlervereinigung München e.V , formed in 1909 in Munich around Wassily Kandinsky, and prefigured Der Blaue Reiter, the first modernist secession which is regarded as a forerunner and pathfinder for Modern art in 20th century Germany.-Historical background:The founding members were:...

 (New Artists' Association), becoming its president in 1909. However, the group could not integrate the radical approach of Kandinsky (and others) with conventional artistic concepts and the group dissolved in late 1911. Kandinsky then formed a new group, the Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter
Der Blaue Reiter
Der Blaue Reiter was a group of artists from the Neue Künstlervereinigung München in Munich, Germany. The group was founded by a number of Russian emigrants, including Wassily Kandinsky, Alexej von Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin, and native German artists, such as Franz Marc, August Macke and...

) with like-minded artists such as August Macke
August Macke
August Macke was one of the leading members of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter . He lived during a particularly innovative time for German art which saw the development of the main German Expressionist movements as well as the arrival of the successive avant-garde movements which...

 and Franz Marc
Franz Marc
Franz Marc was a German painter and printmaker, one of the key figures of the German Expressionist movement...

. The group released an almanac (The Blue Rider Almanac) and held two exhibits. More of each were planned, but the outbreak of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 in 1914 ended these plans and sent Kandinsky back to Russia via Switzerland
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 and Sweden
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

.

His writing in The Blue Rider Almanac and the treatise "On the Spiritual In Art" (which was released around the same time) were both a defence and promotion of abstract art and an affirmation that all forms of art were equally capable of reaching a level of spirituality. He believed that colour could be used in a painting as something autonomous, apart from the visual description of an object or other form.

These ideas had an almost-immediate international impact, particularly in the English-speaking world. As early as 1912, On the Spiritual In Art was reviewed by Michael Sadleir
Michael Sadleir
Michael Sadleir was a British novelist and book collector.-Biography:He was born Michael Sadler, though upon beginning to publish novels he altered the spelling of his name to differentiate himself from his father, Michael Ernest Sadler, a historian and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds...

 in the London-based Art News. Interest in Kandinsky grew apace when Sadleir published an English translation of On the Spiritual In Art in 1914. Extracts from the book were published that year in Percy Wyndham Lewis's periodical Blast, and Alfred Orage's weekly cultural newspaper The New Age.
The New Age
The New Age was a British literary magazine, noted for its wide influence under the editorship of A. R. Orage from 1907 to 1922. It began life in 1894 as a publication of the Christian Socialist movement; but in 1907 as a radical weekly edited by Joseph Clayton, it was struggling...

 Kandinsky had received some notice earlier in Britain, however; in 1910, he participated in the Allied Artists' Exhibition (organised by Frank Rutter
Frank Rutter
Francis Vane Phipson Rutter was a British art critic, curator and activist.In 1903, he became art critic for The Sunday Times, a position which he held for the rest of his life...

) at London's Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall is a concert hall situated on the northern edge of the South Kensington area, in the City of Westminster, London, England, best known for holding the annual summer Proms concerts since 1941....

. This resulted in his work being singled out for praise in a review of that show by the artist Spencer Frederick Gore in The Art News.

Sadleir's interest in Kandinsky also led to Kandinsky's first works entering a British art collection; Sadleir's father, Michael Sadler, acquired several woodprints and the abstract painting Fragment for Composition VII in 1913 following a visit by father and son to meet Kandinsky in Munich that year. These works were displayed in Leeds
Leeds
Leeds is a city and metropolitan borough in West Yorkshire, England. In 2001 Leeds' main urban subdivision had a population of 443,247, while the entire city has a population of 798,800 , making it the 30th-most populous city in the European Union.Leeds is the cultural, financial and commercial...

, either in the University or the premises of the Leeds Arts Club
Leeds Arts Club
The Leeds Arts Club was founded in 1903 by the Leeds school teacher Alfred Orage and Yorkshire textile manufacture Holbrook Jackson, and was probably one of the most advanced centres for modernist thinking in Britain in the pre-First World War period.-History:...

, between 1913 and 1923.

Return to Russia (1914–1921)




From 1918 to 1921, Kandinsky dealt with the cultural politics of Russia and collaborated in art education and museum reform. He devoted his time to artistic teaching, with a program based on form and colour analysis; he also helped organize the Institute of Artistic Culture in Moscow. He painted little during this period; in 1916 he met Nina Andreievskaya, whom he married the following year. His spiritual, expressionistic view of art was ultimately rejected by the radical members of the Institute as too individualistic and bourgeois. In 1921, Kandinsky was invited to go to Germany to attend the Bauhaus
Bauhaus
', commonly known simply as Bauhaus, was a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught. It operated from 1919 to 1933. At that time the German term stood for "School of Building".The Bauhaus school was founded by...

 of Weimar
Weimar
Weimar is a city in Germany famous for its cultural heritage. It is located in the federal state of Thuringia , north of the Thüringer Wald, east of Erfurt, and southwest of Halle and Leipzig. Its current population is approximately 65,000. The oldest record of the city dates from the year 899...

 by its founder, architect Walter Gropius
Walter Gropius
Walter Adolph Georg Gropius was a German architect and founder of the Bauhaus School who, along with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture....

.

The Bauhaus (1922–1933)



Kandinsky taught the basic design class for beginners and the course on advanced theory at the Bauhaus
Bauhaus
', commonly known simply as Bauhaus, was a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught. It operated from 1919 to 1933. At that time the German term stood for "School of Building".The Bauhaus school was founded by...

; he also conducted painting classes and a workshop in which he augmented his colour theory with new elements of form psychology. The development of his works on forms study, particularly on points and line forms, led to the publication of his second theoretical book (Point and Line to Plane) in 1926. Geometrical elements took on increasing importance in both his teaching and painting—particularly the circle, half-circle, the angle, straight lines and curves. This period was intensely productive. This freedom is characterised in his works by the treatment of planes rich in colours and gradations—as in Yellow – red – blue (1925), where Kandinsky illustrates his distance from the constructivism
Constructivism (art)
Constructivism was an artistic and architectural philosophy that originated in Russia beginning in 1919, which was a rejection of the idea of autonomous art. The movement was in favour of art as a practice for social purposes. Constructivism had a great effect on modern art movements of the 20th...

 and suprematism
Suprematism
Suprematism was an art movement focused on fundamental geometric forms which formed in Russia in 1915-1916. It was not until later that suprematism received conventional museum preparations...

 movements influential at the time.

The two-meter-wide Yellow – red – blue (1925) consists of several main forms: a vertical yellow rectangle, an inclined red cross and a large dark blue circle; a multitude of straight (or sinuous) black lines, circular arcs, monochromatic circles and scattered, coloured checkerboards contribute to its delicate complexity. This simple visual identification of forms and the main coloured masses present on the canvas is only a first approach to the inner reality of the work, whose appreciation necessitates deeper observation—not only of forms and colours involved in the painting but their relationship, their absolute and relative positions on the canvas and their harmony.

Kandinsky was one of Die Blaue Vier (Blue Four), formed in 1923 with Klee
Paul Klee
Paul Klee was born in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland, and is considered both a German and a Swiss painter. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. He was, as well, a student of orientalism...

, Feininger
Lyonel Feininger
Lyonel Charles Feininger was a German-American painter, and a leading exponent of Expressionism. He also worked as a caricaturist and comic strip artist.-Life and work:...

 and von Jawlensky
Alexej von Jawlensky
Alexej Georgewitsch von Jawlensky was a Russian expressionist painter active in Germany. He was a key member of the New Munich Artist's Association , Der Blaue Reiter group and later the Die Blaue Vier .-Life and work:Alexej von Jawlensky was born in Torzhok, a town in Tver...

, which lectured and exhibited in the United States in 1924. Due to right-wing hostility, the Bauhaus left Weimar and settled in Dessau
Dessau
Dessau is a town in Germany on the junction of the rivers Mulde and Elbe, in the Bundesland of Saxony-Anhalt. Since 1 July 2007, it is part of the merged town Dessau-Roßlau. Population of Dessau proper: 77,973 .-Geography:...

 in 1925. Following a Nazi smear campaign the Bauhaus left Dessau in 1932 for Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

, until its dissolution in July 1933. Kandinsky then left Germany, settling in Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

.

The great synthesis (1934–1944)



Kandinsky was isolated in Paris, since abstract painting—particularly geometric abstract painting—was not valued; the artistic fashions were primarily impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s...

 and cubism
Cubism
Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture...

. Living in a small apartment, he created his work in a living-room studio. Biomorphic
Biomorphism
Biomorphism is an art movement that began in the 20th century. It patterns artistic design elements on naturally occurring patterns or shapes reminiscent of nature. Taken to its extreme it attempts to force naturally occurring shapes onto functional devices, often with mixed results.-History:The...

 forms with supple, non-geometric outlines appear in his paintings—forms which suggest microscopic organisms but express the artist's inner life. Kandinsky used original colour compositions, evoking Slavic popular art. He also occasionally mixed sand with paint to give a granular texture to his paintings.

This period corresponds to a synthesis of Kandinsky's previous work in which he used all elements, enriching them. In 1936 and 1939 he painted his two last major compositions: elaborate canvases he had not produced for many years. Composition IX has highly-contrasted, powerful diagonals whose central form gives the impression of an embryo in the womb. Small squares of colours and coloured bands stand out against the black background of Composition X as star fragments (or filaments), while enigmatic hieroglyphs with pastel tones cover a large maroon mass which seems to float in the upper-left corner of the canvas. In Kandinsky’s work some characteristics are obvious, while certain touches are more discrete and veiled; they reveal themselves only progressively to those who deepen their connection with his work. He intended his forms (which he subtly harmonized and placed) to resonate with the observer's soul.

The artist as prophet


Writing that "music is the ultimate teacher", Kandinsky embarked upon the first seven of his ten Compositions. The first three survive only in black-and-white photographs taken by fellow artist and friend Gabriele Münter
Gabriele Münter
Gabriele Münter was a German expressionist painter who was at the forefront of the Munich avant-garde in the early 20th century. Artists and writers associated with German Expressionism shared a rebellious attitude toward the materialism and mores of German imperial and bourgeois society...

. While studies, sketches, and improvisations exist (particularly of Composition II), a Nazi raid on the Bauhaus
Bauhaus
', commonly known simply as Bauhaus, was a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught. It operated from 1919 to 1933. At that time the German term stood for "School of Building".The Bauhaus school was founded by...

 in the 1930s resulted in the confiscation of Kandinsky's first three Compositions. They were displayed in the State-sponsored exhibit "Degenerate Art
Degenerate art
Degenerate art is the English translation of the German entartete Kunst, a term adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany to describe virtually all modern art. Such art was banned on the grounds that it was un-German or Jewish Bolshevist in nature, and those identified as degenerate artists were...

", and then destroyed (along with works by Paul Klee
Paul Klee
Paul Klee was born in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland, and is considered both a German and a Swiss painter. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. He was, as well, a student of orientalism...

, Franz Marc
Franz Marc
Franz Marc was a German painter and printmaker, one of the key figures of the German Expressionist movement...

 and other modern artists).

Influenced by theosophy
Theosophy
Theosophy, in its modern presentation, is a spiritual philosophy developed since the late 19th century. Its major themes were originally described mainly by Helena Blavatsky , co-founder of the Theosophical Society...

 and the perception of a coming New Age, a common theme among Kandinsky's first seven Compositions is the apocalypse
Apocalypse
An Apocalypse is a disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception, i.e. the veil to be lifted. The Apocalypse of John is the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament...

 (the end of the world as we know it). Writing of the "artist as prophet" in his book, Concerning the Spiritual In Art, Kandinsky created paintings in the years immediately preceding World War I showing a coming cataclysm which would alter individual and social reality. Raised an Orthodox Christian
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

, Kandinsky drew upon the Jewish and Christian stories of Noah's Ark
Noah's Ark
Noah's Ark is a vessel appearing in the Book of Genesis and the Quran . These narratives describe the construction of the ark by Noah at God's command to save himself, his family, and the world's animals from the worldwide deluge of the Great Flood.In the narrative of the ark, God sees the...

, Jonah
Jonah
Jonah is the name given in the Hebrew Bible to a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel in about the 8th century BC, the eponymous central character in the Book of Jonah, famous for being swallowed by a fish or a whale, depending on translation...

 and the whale, Christ's resurrection
Resurrection
Resurrection refers to the literal coming back to life of the biologically dead. It is used both with respect to particular individuals or the belief in a General Resurrection of the dead at the end of the world. The General Resurrection is featured prominently in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim...

, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are described in the last book of the New Testament of the Bible, called the Book of Revelation of Jesus Christ to Saint John the Evangelist at 6:1-8. The chapter tells of a "'book'/'scroll' in God's right hand that is sealed with seven seals"...

 in the book of Revelation
Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament. The title came into usage from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: apokalupsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation"...

, Russian folktales and the common mythological experiences of death and rebirth. Never attempting to picture any one of these stories as a narrative, he used their veiled imagery as symbols of the archetypes of death–rebirth and destruction–creation he felt were imminent in the pre-World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 world.

As he stated in Concerning the Spiritual In Art (see below), Kandinsky felt that an authentic artist creating art from "an internal necessity" inhabits the tip of an upward-moving pyramid. This progressing pyramid is penetrating and proceeding into the future. What was odd or inconceivable yesterday is commonplace today; what is avant garde today (and understood only by the few) is common knowledge tomorrow. The modern artist–prophet stands alone at the apex of the pyramid, making new discoveries and ushering in tomorrow's reality. Kandinsky was aware of recent scientific developments and the advances of modern artists who had contributed to radically-new ways of seeing and experiencing the world.

Composition IV and later paintings are primarily concerned with evoking a spiritual resonance in viewer and artist. As in his painting of the apocalypse by water (Composition VI), Kandinsky puts the viewer in the situation of experiencing these epic myths by translating them into contemporary terms (with a sense of desperation, flurry, urgency, and confusion). This spiritual communion of viewer-painting-artist/prophet may be described within the limits of words and images.

Artistic and spiritual theoretician



As the Der Blaue Reiter
Der Blaue Reiter
Der Blaue Reiter was a group of artists from the Neue Künstlervereinigung München in Munich, Germany. The group was founded by a number of Russian emigrants, including Wassily Kandinsky, Alexej von Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin, and native German artists, such as Franz Marc, August Macke and...

 Almanac
essays and theorizing with composer Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg was an Austrian composer, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School...

 indicate, Kandinsky also expressed the communion between artist and viewer as being available to both the senses and the mind (synesthesia
Synesthesia
Synesthesia , from the ancient Greek , "together," and , "sensation," is a neurologically based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway...

). Hearing tones and chords as he painted, Kandinsky theorized that (for example), yellow is the colour of middle C
C (musical note)
C or Do is the first note of the fixed-Do solfège scale. Its enharmonic is B.-Middle C:Middle C is designated C4 in scientific pitch notation because of the note's position as the fourth C key on a standard 88-key piano keyboard...

 on a brassy trumpet; black is the colour of closure, and the end of things; and that combinations of colours produce vibrational frequencies, akin to chords played on a piano. Kandinsky also developed a theory of geometric figures and their relationships—claiming, for example, that the circle is the most peaceful shape and represents the human soul. These theories are explained in Point and Line to Plane (see below).

During the studies Kandinsky made in preparation for Composition IV, he became exhausted while working on a painting and went for a walk. While he was out, Gabriele Münter tidied his studio and inadvertently turned his canvas on its side. Upon returning and seeing the canvas (but not yet recognizing it) Kandinsky fell to his knees and wept, saying it was the most beautiful painting he had ever seen. He had been liberated from attachment to an object. As when he first viewed Monet's Haystacks
Haystacks (Monet)
Haystacks is a title of a series of impressionist paintings by Claude Monet. The primary subjects of all of the paintings in the series are stacks of hay in the field after the harvest season...

, the experience would change his life.

In another episode with Münter during the Bavarian abstract expressionist years, Kandinsky was working on his Composition VI. From nearly six months of study and preparation, he had intended the work to evoke a flood, baptism, destruction, and rebirth simultaneously. After outlining the work on a mural-sized wood panel, he became blocked and could not go on. Münter told him that he was trapped in his intellect and not reaching the true subject of the picture. She suggested he simply repeat the word uberflut ("deluge" or "flood") and focus on its sound rather than its meaning. Repeating this word like a mantra, Kandinsky painted and completed the monumental work in a three-day span.

Theoretical writings on art


Kandinsky's analyses on forms and colours result not from simple, arbitrary idea-associations but from the painter's inner experience. He spent years creating abstract
Abstract art
Abstract art uses a visual language of form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Western art had been, from the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the logic of perspective and an...

, sensorially-rich paintings, working with form and colour, tirelessly observing his own paintings and those of other artists, noting their effects on his sense of colour. This subjective experience is something that anyone can do—not scientific, objective observations but inner, subjective ones, what French philosopher Michel Henry
Michel Henry
Michel Henry was a French philosopher and novelist. He wrote five novels and numerous philosophical works. He also lectured at universities in France, Belgium, the United States of America, and Japan.- Biography :...

 calls "absolute subjectivity" or the "absolute phenomenological life
Phenomenological life
Phenomenological life is life considered from a philosophical and rigorously phenomenological point of view.- Phenomenological definition of life :...

".

Concerning the Spiritual in Art


Published in 1911, Kandinsky's book compares the spiritual life of humanity to a pyramid
Pyramid
A pyramid is a structure whose outer surfaces are triangular and converge at a single point. The base of a pyramid can be trilateral, quadrilateral, or any polygon shape, meaning that a pyramid has at least three triangular surfaces...

; the artist has a mission to lead others to the pinnacle with his work. The point of the pyramid is those few, great artists. It is a spiritual pyramid, advancing and ascending slowly even if it sometimes appears immobile. During decadent periods, the soul sinks to the bottom of the pyramid; humanity searches only for external success, ignoring spiritual forces.

Colours on the painter's palette evoke a double effect: a purely-physical effect on the eye which is charmed by the beauty of colours, similar to the joyful impression when we eat a delicacy. This effect can be much deeper, however, causing a vibration of the soul or an "inner resonance"—a spiritual effect in which the colour touches the soul itself.

"Inner necessity" is, for Kandinsky, the principle of art and the foundation of forms and the harmony of colours. He defines it as the principle of efficient contact of the form with the human soul. Every form
Shape
The shape of an object located in some space is a geometrical description of the part of that space occupied by the object, as determined by its external boundary – abstracting from location and orientation in space, size, and other properties such as colour, content, and material...

 is the delimitation of a surface by another one; it possesses an inner content, the effect it produces on one who looks at it attentively. This inner necessity is the right of the artist to unlimited freedom, but this freedom becomes licence if it is not founded on necessity. Art is born from the inner necessity of the artist in an enigmatic, mystical way through which it acquires an autonomous life; it becomes an independent subject, animated by a spiritual breath.

The obvious properties we can see when we look at an isolated colour and let it act alone; on one side is the warmth or coldness of the colour tone, and on the other side is the clarity or obscurity of that tone. Warmth is a tendency towards yellow, and coldness a tendency towards blue; yellow and blue form the first great, dynamic contrast. Yellow has an eccentric movement and blue a concentric movement; a yellow surface seems to move closer to us, while a blue surface seems to move away. Yellow is a typically terrestrial colour, whose violence can be painful and aggressive. Blue is a celestial colour, evoking a deep calm. The combination of blue and yellow yields total immobility and calm, which is green.

Clarity is a tendency towards white, and obscurity is a tendency towards black. White and black form the second great contrast, which is static. White is a deep, absolute silence, full of possibility. Black is nothingness without possibility, an eternal silence without hope, and corresponds with death. Any other colour resonates strongly on its neighbors. The mixing of white with black leads to gray, which possesses no active force and whose tonality is near that of green. Gray corresponds to immobility without hope; it tends to despair when it becomes dark, regaining little hope when it lightens.

Red is a warm colour, lively and agitated; it is forceful, a movement in itself. Mixed with black it becomes brown, a hard colour. Mixed with yellow, it gains in warmth and becomes orange, which imparts an irradiating movement on its surroundings. When red is mixed with blue it moves away from man to become purple, which is a cool red. Red and green form the third great contrast, and orange and purple the fourth.

Point and Line To Plane


In his writings, Kandinsky analyzed the geometrical elements which make up every painting—the point and the line. He called the physical support and the material surface on which the artist draws or paints the basic plane, or BP. He did not analyze them objectively, but from the point of view of their inner effect on the observer.

A point is a small bit of colour put by the artist on the canvas. It is neither a geometric point nor a mathematical abstraction; it is extension, form and colour. This form can be a square, a triangle, a circle, a star or something more complex. The point is the most concise form but, according to its placement on the basic plane, it will take a different tonality. It can be isolated or resonate with other points or lines.

A line is the product of a force which has been applied in a given direction: the force exerteded on the pencil or paintbrush by the artist. The produced linear forms may be of several types: a straight line, which results from a unique force applied in a single direction; an angular line, resulting from the alternation of two forces in different directions, or a curved (or wave-like) line, produced by the effect of two forces acting simultaneously. A plane may be obtained by condensation (from a line rotated around one of its ends).

The subjective effect produced by a line depends on its orientation: a horizontal line corresponds with the ground on which man rests and moves; it possesses a dark and cold affective tonality similar to black or blue. A vertical line corresponds with height, and offers no support; it possesses a luminous, warm tonality close to white and yellow. A diagonal possesses a more-or-less warm (or cold) tonality, according to its inclination toward the horizontal or the vertical.

A force which deploys itself, without obstacle, as the one which produces a straight line corresponds with lyricism; several forces which confront (or annoy) each other form a drama. The angle formed by the angular line also has an inner sonority which is warm and close to yellow for an acute angle (a triangle), cold and similar to blue for an obtuse angle (a circle), and similar to red for a right angle (a square).

The basic plane is, in general, rectangular or square. therefore, it is composed of horizontal and vertical lines which delimit it and define it as an autonomous entity which supports the painting, communicating its affective tonality. This tonality is determined by the relative importance of horizontal and vertical lines: the horizontals giving a calm, cold tonality to the basic plane while the verticals impart a calm, warm tonality. The artist intuits the inner effect of the canvas format and dimensions, which he chooses according to the tonality he wants to give to his work. Kandinsky considered the basic plane a living being, which the artist "fertilizes" and feels "breathing".

Each part of the basic plane possesses an affective colouration; this influences the tonality of the pictorial elements which will be drawn on it, and contributes to the richness of the composition resulting from their juxtaposition on the canvas. The above of the basic plane corresponds with looseness and to lightness, while the below evokes condensation and heaviness. The painter's job is to listen and know these effects to produce paintings which are not just the effect of a random process, but the fruit of authentic work and the result of an effort towards inner beauty.

Quotations

  • "The 'Pioneer' [Kandinsky] did not just produce a body of work whose sensuous magnificence and rich inventiveness eclipse even the most remarkable of his contemporaries. He also provided an explicit theory of abstract painting, exposing its principles with the utmost precision and clarity. So, the painted work is accompanied with a group of texts that at the same time clarify his work and make Kandinsky one of the main theorists of art. Facing the hieroglyphs of the last canvases of the Parisian period (which are said to be the most difficult), they provide the Rosetta stone on which the meaning of these mysterious figures is inscribed".
  • "Kandinsky was fascinated by the expressive power of linear forms. Lyricism is the pathos of a force whose triumphant effort enters into action and encounters no obstacle. Because the straight line results from the initiative of a single, unopposed force, its domain is that of the lyric. When two forces are present and thus enter in conflict, as this is the case with the curve or the zigzag line, we are in domain of drama".
  • "Kandinsky calls abstract the content that painting must express, that’s to say this invisible life that we are. In such a way that the Kandinskian equation, to which we have alluded to, can be written in reality as follows : Interior = interiority = invisible = life = pathos = abstract".
  • "Like the final climax of a giant orchestra, Moscow resounds victoriously".

See also

  • Goethe's Theory of Colours
  • History of painting
    History of painting
    The history of painting reaches back in time to artifacts from pre-historic humans, and spans all cultures. It represents a continuous, though periodically disrupted tradition from Antiquity. Across cultures, and spanning continents and millennia, the history of painting is an ongoing river of...

  • Kandinsky Prize
    Kandinsky Prize
    The Kandinsky Prize, named after Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky is a newly created award, sponsored by the Deutsche Bank AG and the Art Chronika Culture Foundation. It was organized in hopes of developing Russian contemporary art, and to reinforce Russian art’s status within the world...

  • Russian avant-garde
    Russian avant-garde
    The Russian avant-garde is an umbrella term used to define the large, influential wave of modern art that flourished in Russia approximately 1890 to 1930 - although some place its beginning as early as 1850 and its end as late as 1960...

  • Wassily Chair
    Wassily Chair
    The Wassily Chair, also known as the Model B3 chair, was designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925-1926 while he was the head of the cabinet-making workshop at the Bauhaus, in Dessau, Germany. Despite popular belief, the chair was not designed for the non-objective painter Wassily Kandinsky, who was...

  • Western painting
    Western painting
    The history of Western painting represents a continuous, though disrupted, tradition from antiquity. Until the mid-19th century it was primarily concerned with representational and Classical modes of production, after which time more modern, abstract and conceptual forms gained favor.Developments...


External links

  • Wassily Kandinsky papers, 1911-1940 The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, California. Russian-born artist considered to be one of the creators of abstract painting. Papers document Kandinsky's teachings at the Bauhaus, his writings, his involvement with the Russian Academy of Artistic Sciences (RAKhN) in Moscow, and his professional contacts with art dealers, artists, collectors, and publishers.

Writing by Kandinsky
Paintings by Kandinsky