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
Britannica Entry on Wassily Kandinsky (Encyclopedia Britannica)
Biography on Wassily Kandinsky (Biography)
Vasily Kandinsky: His Life, Philosophy, and Art (ThoughtCo.)
Guggenheim Page on Vasily Kandinsky (Guggenheim)
Wassily Kandinsky: The Road to Abstraction (Christie's)
Wassily Kandinsky 1866–1944 (Tate Modern)
Sounds Like Kandinsky (Google Arts & Culture)
9 Things You Didn’t Know About The Artist Wassily Kandinsky (HuffPost)
MoMa page on Wassily Kandinsky (MoMA)
Discover the Famous Works of Wassily Kandinsky, the Artist Who Painted Music (MyModernMet)
Experience Wassily Kandinsky’s Art Through Simulated Synesthesia (Hyperallergic)