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Home / ARTISTS
Wassily Kandinsky
Russia
1866-1944

Wassily Kandinsky

Modern
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Wassily Kandinsky (December 16, 1866 - December 13, 1944) was a Russian-born French painter and art theorist. Along with Piet Mondrian and Malevich, Kandinsky is considered a pioneer of abstract art, and among them, Kandinsky is undoubtedly the best known. He co-founded a short-lived but influential art group, Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). Kandinsky's paintings have sold for nearly $15 million, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is one of the largest collectors of Kandinsky's work.


Wassily Kandinsky was a significant figure of modern art and the founder of modern abstract art in theory and practice. His writings Über das Geistige in der Kunst (Concerning the Spiritual in Art) in 1911, On the Problem of Form in 1912, and Point and Line to Plane in 1923 are all classic works of abstract art and are the apocalypse of modern abstract art.


Early Life (before 1914)

Born in 1866 in Moscow to an intellectual family, Kandinsky received an excellent education in a good family environment. During his high school years, he not only excelled in his grades but was also an excellent amateur cellist and painter. He studied law and economics at Moscow University and maintained his interest in painting. In 1889, he went to Vologda to research Ethnohistory and folklore, interacted extensively with Russian folk painting and decorative arts, and was impressed by their exaggerated, non-realistic expression and intense colors. He graduated from the university in 1893 with a doctorate and taught at the university. At the age of thirty, he left his position as a law professor in order to study painting. He came to Munich, where he was immediately seized by the atmosphere of the Art Nouveau movement that pervaded the city. In 1900, he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and became a professional painter. In 1903, he embarked on a four-year trip to Europe and North Africa to study the development of modern art movements in various countries, thus gaining a comprehensive understanding of European culture. In 1908, Kandinsky settled in Munich and began his professional career.


In 1909, Kandinsky helped to found the German expressionist society Neue Künstlervereinigung München (Munich New Artists' Association) and served as its first president. The following year, he completed his first important theoretical work on abstract art, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, and created his first abstract work, Improvisation. During this period, Kandinsky's paintings of non-objective objects without actual subjects were sprouting. 


In 1911, Kandinsky and Macke withdrew from the Munich New Artists' Association, formed the Blue Rider, and published their own publication, The Blue Rider Almanac. In the book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, published in 1912, Kandinsky organized some thoughts circling in his head while studying in Russia. He was a serious student who spent much of his time on the relationship between art and music. It was in Monet's paintings that he first perceived the problem of the dematerialization of objects, and it continued to fascinate him. Through exhibitions in Munich and successive travels, he learned more about the revolutionary discoveries of Neo-Impressionism, Symbolism, Fauvism, and Cubism. Advances in the physical sciences shattered his beliefs about the world of real objects. At the same time, he gained confidence that art must be concerned with the spiritual rather than the material aspects. Although Kandinsky had a strong interest in science and law, he was drawn to enlightenment, séances and the esoteric. There was always that kernel of mystery in his kingdom of thought, which he sometimes attributed to something Russian. Thus, this mysticism, this sense of inner creative power, was a spiritual product rather than a product of external scenery or manual skill. It enabled one to arrive at art that was completely devoid of subject matter unless that subject was formed solely by color, line, and the relationship between them. Kandinsky wrote: "The harmony of color and form must be based, in a strict sense, solely on the principle of touching the human soul."


Kandinsky's early paintings, which passed through various stages, including Impressionism and Art Nouveau decoration, are all characterized by a feeling for color, and many are characterized by the fairy tale nature of the narrative. These fairy tales were nostalgic for the Russian folk tales and myths that interested him in his early years. What followed Impressionism was to engage with the patterns and colors of Neo-Impressionism and later dabble in the more free-spirited Fauvism. The Blue Mountain is a romantic pointillist work. He organized the dots of color into several large, flat-painted mountain and tree outlines. The knights are clearly outlined and formalized to form a pattern of movement. The technical characteristics could be traced back to the higher color space and to Seurat's pointillism, and its decorative formula suggests something of the Art Nouveau movement. From this painting to Composition II is only a small step. In Composition II, the rider and other figures have been transformed into dots of color or line patterns. The space of the painting is arranged in quivering, rapid-motion blocks of color, and the story is submerged in this abstract pattern. At this point, Kandinsky, who was already absorbing the meaning of Fauvist color organization, began to express his intentions by using the method of adding titles derived from music, such as "composition", "improvisation", "lyricism" and so on. In around 1910, he painted a rough, turbulent watercolor interspersed with color and line shapes. From this painting on, all the depictive and associative elements of his work seem to be missing, probably the first example of the abstract expressionist form. Whether this painting was the first fully abstract painting painted by Kandinsky seems to be a question that will never be answered. However, there is no doubt that it was he who gave the genre its original impetus. Using a similar nature to music, he discovered the subject of abstract expressionism, the subject of the artist's intention to indicate a spiritual reaction or determination through line and color, space and movement, without reference to anything in visible nature. 


Kandinsky continued in this direction after his first foray into abstraction, but in his 1912 work With the Black Bow, the specific subject matter and visual associations fade away. The violent clash of momentum and tension showed in this painting is a clash of colors and shapes against each other, as if it were some kind of Star Wars-like clash of lines and tension. From this point on, the artist created a series of masterpieces of abstract expressionist painting. After 1913, the repression of the First World War led Kandinsky to return occasionally to the reintroduction of objective objects, as in Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), only such objects became increasingly rare. In fact, such cannons, with their abstract pictorial elements to represent the feeling of explosive destruction, were no longer practically necessary. His large seasonal series of 1914 include Autumn Landscape and Winter Landscape. The colors in Autumn Landscape are more intense and appropriate. Winter Landscape is more vivid in terms of the accelerated movement of small fragments of color and the swirling, interlacing, splash-like lines. Kandinsky suggested certain characteristics of the seasons through the power of expression, even the depiction of abstraction.


In 1914, the war forced Kandinsky to return to Russia, and soon after, another long and prolific career began. A review of the work of some of the other members of the Blue Rider in 1914 shows that it was not a common stylistic principle that brought the people involved together but rather a loose group of young artists motivated by a passion for new explorations and by a unified opposition to the goal, that formed the group. Beyond the camaraderie between individuals, their roots and maturity of mind, as well as Kandinsky's personality, gave the group cohesion and direction. The Blue Rider Almanac, an almanac edited by Kandinsky and Macke, was published in 1912 and served as a forum for this school of thought. Discussing in detail the exploits of Picasso and Matisse in Paris, the yearbook chronicled the goals and conflicts of the new German art community. In the creation of a new culture and in a new attitude toward painting, its importance lies in the influence of various primitive and naive arts.


Mid-life (1914-1921)

Kandinsky spread Russian explorations in abstraction and composition to the West. Forced to leave Germany due to the outbreak of war, Kandinsky returned to Russia in 1914. After the Russian Revolution, he was appointed professor at the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts in 1918 and helped to establish the Russian Museum in 1919. In 1920, he was appointed professor at Moscow University, and a government-sponsored solo exhibition of his work was held. By the following year, the good climate for exploring modern art had changed, and Kandinsky had attempted to systematically study the language of modern plastic art through the collaborative participation of plastic artists, literary scholars and musicians, with a view to establishing a common and complete set of theoretical principles that could be adapted to the various artistic creations. However, his theoretical explorations were met with resistance from the "realist artists" in the Constructivist camp. At the beginning of 1921, artists who held the view that "realism art is better" finally prevailed, and they formed a new creative association and signed a manifesto on November 24, 1921, formally rejecting "abstract creation".


In this situation, Kandinsky had to return to Europe to continue his own research and creation of abstract art in a country far from Russia. At the end of 1921, Kandinsky returned to Germany and was soon appointed as a professor and later vice-president of the newly founded Bauhaus of Weimar. 


As late as 1920, Kandinsky continued to paint in a free abstract style, which he had pioneered around 1910. In 1921, he continued with geometric patterns and entered another major phase of his life. Undoubtedly, Kandinsky was influenced by the geometric abstraction and compositions of Malevich and Rodchenko. Despite changing from free form to colored shapes bordered by regular, rigid lines, Kandinsky's paintings maintain a dramatic sense of rhythm and the continuing, conflicting activity of abstract forms. 


White Line is a transitional work with major blocks of color that are treated in a loose manner. However, these blocks are emphasized by a very strong pattern of straight lines and regular curved edges of color, giving the work a sense of lightness controlled by geometry. The circle is a central motif that had delighted Kandinsky since the mid-1920s, and it was probably a theme that could be used to express the interaction of cosmic space and galaxies and had an enduring appeal.


Later Life (after 1921)

In the previous years, under the influence of Russian Supremacist and Constructivism, Kandinsky's painting gradually shifted from free abstraction to a form of abstraction. This change could be seen in three paintings from 1919, 1920, and 1923. Elements in In Grey are almost entirely free and non-geometric. White Line shows some regular shapes, straight lines, and some curved shapes with well-defined edges. In Curves and Sharp Angles, all shapes are replaced by regular, hard contours.


This is not to say that Kandinsky abandoned the Expressionist foundations of his earlier style after 1921. His teleological ideas remained. Even during the most rigid period of geometric form, his paintings were structurally dynamic, with triangles, circles and lines, as well as unstable diagonals, flashing into each other in an erratic manner. He continued the use of motley blocks of color that contrast with the geometric lines. Occasionally the mood of his painting becomes calmer. In Several Circles, transparent circular blocks of color in black space drift serenely past each other.


During this period, Kandinsky emphasized his passion for abstract expression. He still believed that his paintings were romantic. He wrote: "The purpose and content of art is romanticism, and if we understand this concept in isolation and on its own, we are mistaken. ...... My work has always used circles extensively, and the romanticism that is to emerge here is a piece of ice, and in the ice burns a fire. "


Kandinsky was the most influential member of the Bauhaus Academy, not only because he was a great artist, a pioneer of modern abstraction, and a talented teacher who brought first-hand knowledge of the Russian abstract art revolution, but also because he was able to express his visual and theoretical concepts systematically, clearly and precisely. In 1926, he published his book Point and Line to Plane, a course on composition. With this book, Kandinsky wanted to give an absolute definition of the elements of a work of art and the relationship between them. The basis of his stripped-down, romantic art is evident here. 


Kandinsky's relationship with the Bauhaus Academy came to an end in 1933. He produced many paintings that are full of thematic implications and conflicts between forms but never left the means of abstraction. In the years leading up to the end of the Bauhaus Academy, Kandinsky's paintings reemerged with a lyrical and colorful aspect, replacing the architectural treatment.


In late 1933, Kandinsky settled in Paris, where he remained until his death. For him, this last period was colorful, both in terms of the number of works and in terms of the development of ideas and forms. In short, he continued to pursue freer, more biomorphic forms and colors, and occasionally created biomorphic textures, but ones that were more brilliant and varied than those of his previous abstract expressionist works. The shapes were still sharply defined, but they seemed to emerge from the fantasy of the microcosm. In Composition IX, he used two identical triangles, one forward and one backward, to truncate the two ends of the picture, establishing a mathematical pattern of color. The parallelogram between the two triangles was then divided into four smaller parallelograms of the same size. Against this strictly limited but colorful background, he scattered small shapes of various colors that dance like madness: circles, checkerboard squares, narrow rectangles, and amoeba-like patterns. The arrangement of small, free-form shapes on top of large geometric patterns was a technique that interested him throughout the years. Sometimes the background is several large alternating vertical rectangles, sometimes a black and white checkerboard grid, but this contrast between freedom and constraint is derived from his lifelong preoccupation with the relationship between intuitive expression and intentional abstract form.


Personal abstract fantasy was Kandinsky’s main point of departure in those later years. Sometimes he took small, free shapes and scattered them arbitrarily over a uniform background of color. At other times, however, he returned to an arrangement of as few elements as possible, as if to purify his technique. Kandinsky's last paintings show that one of the most brilliant and influential talents in modern art had matured.


He died suddenly in 1944 on the banks of the Seine, France.


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