Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky was an influential Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with painting the first purely abstract works. Kandinsky's creation of 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.

Kandinsky was born in Moscow, he learned from a variety of sources while in Moscow. Later in life, he would recall being fascinated and stimulated by colour as a child and continue as he grew up. In 1889, he travelled to the Vologda region to study folk art, particularly the use of bright colours on a dark background, which reflected in much of his early work. In 1896, at the age of 30, Kandinsky gave up a promising career teaching law and economics to enroll in art school in Munich. That same year, before leaving Moscow, he saw an exhibit of paintings by Monet. He was particularly taken with the impressionistic the sense of colour almost independent of the objects themselves.

Kandinsky was similarly influenced by several artist: Richard Wagner who pushed the limits of music and melody beyond standard lyricism, H. P. Blavatsky, for theosophical theory which postulates that creation is a geometrical progression and John Varley in Thought Forms influenced him visually. His book Concerning the Spiritual In Art (1910) and Point and Line to Plane (1926) echoed those influences. It was during Art school that Kandinsky 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 landscapes and towns. For the most part, however, Kandinsky's paintings did not feature any human figures. Influence of pointillism and fauvism are evident.

From 1906 to 1908 Kandinsky spent a great deal of time travelling across Europe, until he settled in the small Bavarian town of Murnau. The Blue Mountain (1908–1909) was painted at this time, demonstrating his trend toward abstraction. 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, it does not try to represent the exterior world, but expresses in an immediate way the inner feelings of the soul. 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 (Munich 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) with like-minded artists such as August Macke and Franz Marc. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 ended these plans and sent Kandinsky back to Russia.

From 1918 to 1921, Kandinsky dealt with the cultural politics of Russia and collaborated in art education and museum reform. He painted little during this period, but 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. 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 of Weimar by its founder, architect Walter Gropius.

Kandinsky taught the basic design class for beginners and the course on advanced theory at the Bauhaus; 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 and suprematism 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. Due to right-wing hostility, the Bauhaus left Weimar and settled in Dessau in 1925. Following a Nazi smear campaign the Bauhaus left Dessau in 1932 for Berlin, until its dissolution in July 1933. Kandinsky then left Germany, settling in Paris where he lived for the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1939 and producing some of his most prominent art. He died at Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1944.

Living in a small apartment in Paris, Kandinsky created his work in a living-room studio. Biomorphic forms with supple, non-geometric outlines appear in his paintings—forms which suggest microscopic organisms but express the artist's inner life. 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, the type of elaborate canvases he had not produced for many years. 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 Gabriele Münter. While studies, sketches, and improvisations exist (particularly of Composition II), a Nazi raid on the Bauhaus in the 1930s resulted in the confiscation of Kandinsky's first three Compositions. They were displayed in the State-sponsored exhibit "Degenerate Art", and then destroyed (along with works by Paul Klee, Franz Marc and other modern artists).

Kandinsky created paintings in the years immediately preceding World War I showing a coming cataclysm which would alter individual and social reality. Kandinsky drew stories of Noah's Ark, Jonah and the whale, Christ's resurrection, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in the book of 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. 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. 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, 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 color.

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