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modernism, spring2002
Wassily Kandinsky


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Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)


Wassily Kandinsky was born on Dec. 4, 1866, to a wealthy aristocratic family.

Growing up, the bright, glowing red of Moscow sunsets left him strong impressions, which later connects the scene to the musical piece Lohengrin by Wagner.  Music undoubtedly haunted Kandinsky throughout his artistic life.  His color theory is analogous to that of sounds, and he considers music as innate to human nature.  Without an effort, music as art establishes herself upon expressions of the sound and doesnt require the reproduction process of natural phenomenon. 


Also being Russian Orthodoxies, the religious art and icons later affected him in terms of its chaotic sensuality of spiritual.  In those belief, mental and emotional are inseparable and coexist within complex languages of color and shapes. During his most successful years as an artist, he explores religious themes, specific saints, and events.



Unlike majority of artists now and then, Kandinsky was not practicing his art until later in his life, though as a child he picked up cello and piano, and started painting on his own. 

1885 Moscow exhibition of French impressionists was the final turning point for Kandinsky, who at the time was a scholar at Moscow University. 

He was deeply moved by Monets Haystack paintings, realizing that freedom artists posses to separate himself from nature.  Soon after, Kandinsky decided to move to Munich to seriously study painting, abandoning his career as a scholar behind.



  Upon arriving in Munich, he joined the art nouveau movement, Jugendstil, with other young artists, but  

later, formed his own group of experimental art Phalanx and also taught painting there. His earliest paintings were

devoted to depicting landscapes.  In The Blue Rider

(1903), a small figure of the horse rider seems almost

lost in the vast autumn meadow shaped by curved line at

the top.  The sharp contrast of yellow and blue is played

on the canvas,which later the artist described as colors 

with opposite functions and feelings.  Blue on the rider,

therefore, gives us an impression that he is moving away

from us, cold and sole, when warm yellow and orange trees

seem to spread over the canvas as if to dominate all.


From 1903 to 1908, he traveled around Europe, and especially visits to Tunisia, Italy, and Holland left strong impacts on him as an artist.  He resided himself in France between 1906-1907, and immersed himself with passionate colors of Fauves.  He painted landscapes of Mornau around this time in an attempt to free his painting from resemblance to nature forms.  The Blue Mountain (1909) shows this transition time from his earlier paintings to abstraction very well.  The dislocation of objects is obvious, although trees and horses, mountains are still recognizable.  Mountains seem to rise up like volcano, yet has a cool color while trees has burning red and yellow of the sunsets.  Concrete shape and colors have been influenced by Fauves and brushwork by CÚzanne, but here, the artist clearly starts to show his individuality in using canvas as a free space to explore his own inner feelings associated with color and form.

It was also around this time he formed DER BLAUE REITER with Franz Marc in seek of good art from all places and times.  For them, is was not style or movement that value artists; the attitude of expressing inner selves, in connection with dematerialization of objects, was the main interest.



By 1910, his paintings cast no natural realistic representation, and his keen interest in psychology of colors starts to appear visibly in his work.  He defines the first physical impression upon encounters with art is a starting point, but the impression only lasts for a short duration of time.  Eyes might be pleased, but the experience is superficial.  Then the next phase is its psychic effect.  Viewers receive spiritual vibration caused by color , forms and then both (the object itself) of paintings.


First Abstract Water Color in 1910 established Kandinsky with his theory and practice in art as an artist of one of the kind.  He broke down the last fragment to representation, and his endless imagination and inner self were expressed freely.  He left the phase of what he called Impression where the artist painted the direct impression of outer world onto the canvas, and moved to the Improvisation.  In this kind of paintings, expressions are mostly unconscious and spontaneous.  The painter looked into the inner character and moved away from material nature. 

Improvisation 30 (1913) still shows some objects but this duality of representation and abstract is laid effectively to present unstable and insecurity of wartime.  The cannon on the right is melancholic brown and smoke from their moves away from us.  Burning sky in the background might be that of blood or anger, which strangely sides beside dark purple.  The composition of forms and lines in this painting is often observed in other works; one stream from top to bottom and forms are placed obliquely toward the center.  What this does, to me personally, is by showing the way he frames the feelings, the viewer become the spectators. 



Kandinsky completed Compostion4, the earliest among the surviving Composition work, in 1911, a year he produced many of his masterpieces.  He repeated sketches and even woodcuts production for this piece. Composition work was explained as an expression of inner character formed over long period of time.  This mature feelings are, therefore, exclusively conscious and painted purposely, however no control appears onto completed work.  Even the artist possibly cannot deny the connection to Blue Mountain and some other sketches of horses exist within the paintings, what is most fascinating is the composition centered on the eye level if it hangs in a gallery or museum.  From there, as if the flower blossoms, the lines stretch towards the sky and dissolve.  Pastel and vivid colors exist together within the same form are also worth mentioning, and there, waves of emotions are projected to the canvas as well towards the viewers.  Also various uses of different whites in this work are interesting rendered with other colors. He defines white as a color of silence just like a pose in music.  However, unlike black, the silence is not the dead one but conations endless possibility and hope from there, which is suggestive to what his inner feeling was towards unstable world he lived in with wars and revolutions in his mother land. 


He briefly went back to Russia, but cultural repressions made him leave the land not so long after.  He joined Bauhaus and started teaching alongside Klee, and from then on, his work moved toward geometric representation.

Triangles represents the life of the spirit, he says and together with exploring the stability/instability of circles, he starts experimenting geometric forms and its compositions.  Composition 8(1923) is painted on the vast canvas and projects aalmost noble, peaceful atmosphere.  It is rather strange it resembles my sketches from dream, which was supposed to be more on the line of Surrealist style.  It is now completely free from the concern with two-dimensionality of space, and yet the painting presents Kandinskys interest in architectural forms at Bauhaus.  In Several Circles(1926), he paints only circles overlapping each other, with different sizes and colors and textures against black background.  Here, supposedly what represents death-black-is confidently presented magically as a color of life and eternal space such as sea or universe.  Unlike triangle with acute angles, circles seem to float around the space freely, but also give us fixed gaze.  Also interesting is the fact that from then on, there seems to appear more space in the lower part compared to his earlier work.


Later in life, Kandinsky showed fascination for African or tribal art, but for this project, Id like to finish the comments on his work by talking about Thirteen Rectangles (1930).

The piece is painted in oil on cardboard.  The main rectangles,

sometimes just barely attached, other times overlapped with each other, are mainly painted in primary colors except for some marginal colors like pink and brown.  The placement of each form is exceptionally elegant against greenish brown background, and even though all are laid on the flat surface, theres a special feeling or concept to the spaces where this piece floats. 


Without a doubt, Wassily Kandinsky is an artist who affected me the most throughout my getting familiar with Modern art.


He believed that music is the only non-material of art, and throughout his life as an artist, he kept seeking for the rhythm of notes of color in paintings.  Through setting color and forms in motion, his abstract work has expressed his feelings, inner klang.




Works Cited:
Concerning The Spiritual in Art: Wassily Kandinsky
Abstract Art: Anna Moszynska
Kandinsky:Thomas M. Messer
Klee/Kandinsky:Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Masters of Art Series