Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky

Russian figurative artist, theorist, and abstract painter. Wassily Kandinsky was one of the first to have established the connection between evocative form and color to make new aesthetics that appealed to the senses of his audience. He was an exponent of abstract art, in which he believed this genre was supposed to affect transcendental experience. While the approach would still be the same as traditional, naturalist art, imitating nature was only part of the process and it should be completed with the artist’s introspections.

In other words, Wassily Kandinsky is considered as the father of abstraction. He was particularly a synesthete who aimed at evoking sight, sound and other emotions through visual representations. His paintings are lyrical, intricate and captivating. One could tell that his works are the culmination of all of his artistic and scholarly penchants such as being a cellist, an innovator, a professor, and an oil painter. A quintessential artist in his own right.

As a synesthete, Kandinsky introduced an artistic phenomenon called synesthesia. It is where all senses function simultaneously, “hear and see”, in a rather emotional state at a sight of an art work. His pioneering goals also led him to establish Der Blaue Reiter, an art movement which style and principle was inspired by German Expressionism. This made him one of the highly coveted artists of his generation, producing a large collection of paintings for various exhibitions and patrons.

Among Kandinsky’s important works included Black Frame (1922), Several Circles (1926), Landscape with Two Poplars (1912), Points, (1920), a series of Compositions, and the Garden of love II (1912).

Early Life

Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky was born in December 16, 1866 in Moscow, Russia. His family owned a tea business, coming from the middle-class bracket. As a child he spent most of his days in Odessa and grew up fascinated by light and color and music. He eventually developed a deep interest in correlating painting and musical compositions. He even wrote, “Color is 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 introspect, the artist looked at art as a spiritual practice. He would pen a book in 1910 which titled On the Spiritual in Art, while at the same time, his interest in psychology of color and symbolism grew. Back in 1889, Kandinsky became a member of a research group specializing in ethnography. The group traveled across the north of Moscow, including Vologda. Things that struck him amazingly were the spending colors of the churches there, feeling that the entire interior was moving and transformed into an art work.

Moscow’s folk culture influenced him to portray it in some of his early works. This was also when he began developing his own unique style, in which he would paint in the manner that he was also arranging a musical composition. However, it was not until 1896 when the artist decided to enroll at an art school. During that time, he was already teaching at a college as a law and economics professor.

His father initially wanted him to take up law and economics at the University of Moscow. He followed his father’s wish and passed the exam after six years of schooling. He was then invited to assume a professorship at the University in Tartu, Russia. He remained to be a very spiritual person, thus, throughout the 1890’s he would write his Concerning the Spiritual Art.

Training in Art

During an Impressionist Exhibition in 1895, he encountered the works of Renoir and Manet. He found Haystacks by Monet as the most striking and an effective source of inspiration. However, biographers say that Kandinsky did not like the painting’s out-of-focus aspect at first because he failed to recognize the actual painting after seeing it on a catalog before. He even went as far as saying that the artist might as well not paint in such a manner because he was upset over the fact that it was unrecognizable and the haystack is hardly visible in the painting.

With much contemplation, Kandinsky finally decided to undergo formal art training and quit the academe completely. He went to Munich in 1896 to study at the premier Azbe Art School, owned by Anton Azbe. He studied with would-be notable painters Marianne von Werefkin and Alexie von Jawlensky, although Kandinsky himself found the school’s drawing course tedious.
In 1900 he transferred to the Munich Academy and was taken under the tutelage of Franz von Stuck. However, the said master did not like the student’s extravagant liking in colors. During this time, his merchant father would send him a monthly allowance since he committed himself to art studies full-time. One year later he co-founded Phalanx, a group of art organizers. The first exhibition the group ever held was the works by Art Nouveau painters.

In 1902, Kandinsky went back to professorship but taught art this time. He was employed by the school run by Phalanx and Gabriele Munter became one of his students. Munter would fill a significant part in Kandinsky’s life as he joined him on a journey across Europe. The two went to Venice, Moscow, Dresden, Odessa and Tunis from 1903 to 1905. They had then decided to settle in Paris, where the Russian-native would experiment with different techniques he used for painting the views of Moscow imprinted on his mind.

In one of his 1905 paintings, he portrayed the view of the Schwabing suburb in Munich with intense light and color. His depiction of the light in Schwabing reminded him so much of Moscow. This is one of the reasons why he had always been aimed at capturing the overwhelming power of nature, which wisdom he must have learned from Russian folk art. His other notable works during this period include the Blue Rider (1903), Old Town II (1903), and Panic (1907). His style was described somewhere between medieval art and Russian influences.

Pre-World War I

From 1911-1914, Kandinsky had been quickly becoming popular for the publication of On the Spiritual in Art and the foundation of The Blue Rider. Both of these milestones were his attempt in defending abstract art and ideology that all art forms were capable of engaging a person into transcendence. To achieve this experience, the painter must know how to use color and light apart from drawing the attributes of the subject itself.

With that, the painter-writer made an immediate impact on the industry internationally. Art critic Michael Sadler wrote a review about the On the Spiritual in Art via Art News, which introduced the book to the British audience. Other journalists even cited the book in culture newspapers like The New Age. As a result, Kandinsky’s works were featured in a British art collection. And at some point, Sadler’s father requested the artist to produce woodcuts and paintings for him.

Following that commission, Kandinsky created Fragment for Composition VII in 1913. This would become a series of compositions, some of which were displayed in a gallery in Leeds like an Arts Club there. After the World War I, the painter returned to Moscow, Russia where he actively joined a group of collaborators who wanted to change the art education system. He also began teaching art lessons with focus on color and art analysis.

In 1917 Kandinsky married Nina Andreievskaya. Although his marriage life might have given him inspiring experiences, the radical Russian groups rejected his bourgeois individualism. In 1921 he accepted a professorship at the Bauhaus of Weimer in Germany.
In Bauhaus Design School, he taught basic art lessons for freshmen students. He also taught advanced art theory while holding workshops and painting sessions with colleagues and students, though which he learned more about color theory and form psychology. This new development would be seen in his works during this period, as the lines and contours of the form became more geometrical (e.g. addition of half-circle, full circle, curves, angular perspective and lines).

For example, in Yellow-red-blue of 1925 he had drawn several forms, ranging from an inclined cross, vertical lines, rectangles, black lines, arcs, among many other combination of shapes. Apparently, the work was abstract that requires deeper inspection because in each shape and angle it is correlated with one another.

In 1923, he co-founded Die Blaue Vier with von Jawlensky, Paul Klee, and Feininger. However due to the hostility of the government supporters against the leftists in Weimer, the Bauhaus transferred its base in Dessau by 1925. In 1932 the art group was forced to transfer to Berlin yet again to escape the aftermath of the Nazi campaign in Dessau. However, one year later, the design school shut down which left Kandinsky no choice but settle in Paris, France.

Later Years

Around July of 1933, Wassily Kandinsky moved to Neuilly-sur-Seine in Paris, France. There he would spend the remaining years of his life together with his spouse. During this period, his style became more symbolic in principle and practice, whereas the shapes became much smaller and the canvass partition are divided into parts so he could create an ideogram. Fine examples of this style include Sweet Nothings and Thirty, both were executed in 1937.

Younger painters like Alberto Magnelli and Joan Miro have come to admire Kandinsky’s abstract art yet controversial. But the controversy did no harm in his reputation because it had been as solid as rock at the time. In fact, Solomon Guggenheim expressed his keen interest in meeting the artist and he would become one of his supporters. Within the last decade of his life, he painted Composition IX in 1936 and Composition X in 1939, serving as his last two major art works. Wassily Kandinsky died on December 13, 1944 at the age of 77.

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