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Wassily Kandinsky: About

Wassily Kandinsky


Who was Wassily Kandinsky?

One evening in 1908 a Russian émigré painter of Expressionist landscapes had an epiphany. Returning to his rooms in Murnau in Germany on the edge of the Bavarian Alps, he saw an unknown but ‘indescribably beautiful picture, pervaded by an inner glow.’ Although he could discern nothing of its subject matter, ‘only forms and colours’, he was struck by how it still enthralled him spiritually. A moment later he understood he had merely glimpsed one of his own landscape canvases from an unfamiliar angle, but the vision would cause Wassily Kandinsky to begin purging representation from his work in his pursuit of that near-spiritual revelation of an art based exclusively on colour and form. Kandinsky was to become the foremost pioneer of abstraction, freeing art from its age-old reference to the objective world. His groundbreaking method would define the course of 20th-century art, influencing everything from Abstract Expressionism to Conceptualism and Pop.

Born in Moscow, the young Kandinsky studied law before leaving for Munich, aged 30, to train as an artist. Munich in the late 19th century was still in the throes of Jugendstil, the German Art Nouveau, and Kandinsky’s aesthetic was to remain imbued with the Jugendstil’s emphasis on the mystical. In 1909 he produced his first near-abstracted Improvisation which he described as ‘a largely unconscious, spontaneous expression of inner character, the non-material nature’. By then he was a leading figure of the Munich avant-garde and, together with German painter Franz Marc, he would found the hugely influential Expressionist ‘Blue Rider’ movement in 1911, named for his painting, Der Blaue Reiter (1903).

The outbreak of the First World War forced Kandinsky to return to Russia where he associated with Russian Constructivists like Alexander Rodchenko. By 1921, having first served, then rejected the new Bolshevik regime, he had returned to Germany and was teaching at the Bauhaus where, with works such as On White II (1923) and Development in Brown (1933) he continued his exploration of the transcendental nature of geometric abstraction.

In 1933, under pressure from the new Nazi regime, the Bauhaus closed. Kandinsky moved to Paris and in 1939 assumed French citizenship, continuing to experiment with biomorphic forms until his death in 1944. Continue reading from Christie's

From our Collection

Link to Wassily Kandinksy by Hajo Dutching in the catalog
Link to The Bauhaus group: six masters of modernism by Nicholas Fox Weber in the catalog
Link to Concerning the Spiritual in Art and Painting in Particular by Wassily Kandinsky in the catalog
Link to Kandinsky by Jelena Hahi-Koch in the catalog
Link to Abstract Art: A Global History by Pepe Karmel in the catalog
Link to Vasily Kandinsky: a colorful life by Vivian Barnett in the catalog
Link to The power of color: five centuries of European painting by Marcia B. Hall in the catalog
Link to Watercolors by Kandinsky at the Guggenheim Museum by Wassily Kandinsky in the catalog
Link to Kandinsky Watercolours by Vivian Barnett in the catalog
Link to The Blue Rider in the Lenbachhaus, Munich by Armin Zweite in the catalog
Link to Kandinsky: watercolours and other works on paper by Frank Whitford in the catalog
Link to Masters of Colour: Derain to Kandinsky by Royal Academy of Arts in the catalog
Link to Revolution (2016) Movie on Hoopla

Link to Revolutionary Biographies resource guide series