Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky – Modern Master of The 20th Century

Renowned Painter, Printmaker, Watercolorist, Theoretician and Bauhaus Teacher

Featured Artists Article by Renée Phillips

Wassily Kandinsky was a modern master who is credited with painting the first purely abstract works.  His life encompassed a brilliant career as a renowned painter, printmaker, watercolorist, theoretician, and Bauhaus teacher.

Born in Moscow, Russia, Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky, in 1866, he lived for 78 years. His monumental accomplishments span almost all the major artistic movements of the first half of the twentieth century.

On his way to developing his own signature style he embraced all artistic styles — from Art Nouveau’s sinuous, organic forms, to Fauvism and Blaue Reiter’s shocking colors, to Surrealism’s mysteries, and the Bauhaus period’s focus on Constructivism, and more.

Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation III, 1909. Oil on canvas. 37 x 51-3/16 in. Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris. Gift of Mrs. Nina Kandinsky in 1976. AM 1976-850. © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/ Adam Rzepka / Dist.RMN-GP. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

He Gave Up Teaching Law to Pursue Art

Kandinsky created art during a time of experimentation and innovation amidst the upheavals of a society entering the modern world.

Like so many young budding artists, Kandinsky had been fascinated and stimulated by color as a child. However, mostly due to the urging of his parents, he studied law and economics.

When he was 30 years old he was appointed Professor to the Department of Law, at Derpt University in Tartu. However, he gave up this promising career teaching in order to follow his love for painting. He enrolled in art school in Munich. He was not  accepted immediately, so he began learning art on his own. Indeed, he was determined to follow his dream.

It is widely known that Kandinsky’s decision to pursue his artistic passion was greatly influenced when viewing an exhibition of the French impressionists. After seeing the powerful sense of color in Monet’s “Haystacks”, there was no turning back.

Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 28 (second version) (Improvisation 28 [zweite Fassung]), 1912. Oil on canvas, 111.4 x 162.1 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift 37.239. © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Deeply Spiritual Abstraction

Kandinsky is most known for his spiritual abstraction and led other abstract painters who believed that art should provide a religious message. As opposed to traditional realism that focused on physical matter and materialism, abstract artists focused foremost on the spirit.

His seminal treatise Über das Geistige in der Kunst (On the Spiritual in Art), published in Munich in December 1911, lays out his program for developing an art independent from observations of the external world. This material, in addition to his artwork advanced abstract art to a style free from nature. The development of a new subject matter based solely on the artist’s “inner necessity” would occupy him for the rest of his life.

Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky, Black Grid (Schwarzer Raster), 1922. Oil on canvas, 37-13/16 × 41-3/4 in. Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris. Bequest of Mrs. Nina Kandinsky in 1981. AM 81-65-44. © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/ Service de la documentation photographique du MNAM / Dist.RMN-GP © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The Influence of Music in His Art

Kandinsky  often wrote about the many correlations between painting and composing music. He viewed music as the most transcendent form of non-objective art. He emphasized how musicians could evoke images, colors and forms in listeners’ minds merely with sounds. He continued to produce object-free paintings that suggested sounds and emotions through a unity of sensation.

One of his famous quotations is: “Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

The Kandinsky Gallery, Guggenheim Museum. Photo: David Heald

Kandinsky Gallery at The Guggenheim Museum

Perhaps more than any other twentieth-century painter, Kandinsky has been linked to the history of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.  A collection of his art is currently on view in the Kandinsky Gallery. This presentation of seven select canvases from the Guggenheim collection traces Kandinsky’s aesthetic evolution: his early beginnings in Munich at the start of the century, the return to his native Moscow with the outbreak of World War I, his interwar years in Germany as a teacher at the Bauhaus, and his final chapter in Paris.

Read more about Wassilly Kandinsky at http://www.wassilykandinsky.net/


One thought on “Wassily Kandinsky – Modern Master of The 20th Century”

  1. The freedom that Kandinsky achieved in his art served as a major source of inspiration for me in my early years of exploration as an artist. I believe that his writings were equally influential in assisting me with formulating a way to convey, in language, the spiritual impulses that were behind my attempts to record and communicate the inner visions I experienced as a child.

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