Who was Wassily Kandinsky?

Wassily Kandinsky was revolutionary at the beginning of the 20th century. But not everyone was enthusiastic about the new art movement at the time.

With his first abstract painting in 1911 Kandinsky caused a sensation in the public. For some he was a revolutionary of art history, for others a mental patient. Looking back, the Russian painter, graphic artist and art theorist, who was born in Moscow on 4 December 1866, is regarded as the founder of Abstract Expressionism, which influenced many of his contemporaries. Check out www.Kunstdrucken.com/to see the most important pieces of Kandinsky.

In 1910 the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky painted his “First Abstract Watercolour”. The following year he presented his works in an exhibition of the “Neue Künstlervereinigung München”. It was a scandal. “Either the majority of the members of this association are terminally mentally ill, or we are dealing with a group of unscrupulous impostors who are well aware of the weakness of our contemporaries for sensations and try to exploit this great demand,” commented the newspaper. For the avant-garde in Europe, Kandinsky’s abstract art was revolutionary. His artwork can be seen in many museums worldwide.

They were eventful times. Industrial progress drove people to move higher, further and faster. Science brought new insights almost daily. Freud published his theories on the human psyche. Amundson reached the South Pole and Siemens produced a fast telegraph that could send 1000 characters per minute.

What seemed impossible yesterday was obsolete today. The image of reality was shaken by modern science. For artists like Kandinsky, the representation of reality was no longer decisive. The Russian artist wanted to recognize the only truth within the human being, and this interior, the emotional world, was to be reflected on the canvas in abstract colors and forms.

The art historian Wilhelm Worringer had already written an essay on “abstraction and empathy” in 1907. The essay states: “The tendency towards abstraction is the result of a deep human insecurity in the face of the world”.

Kandinsky’s artistic beginnings in Munich

Wassily Kandinsky was born on 4 December 1866 in Moscow. After studying law he turned to art and moved to Munich in 1896. There he first studied at a private art school, later at the Munich Art Academy. At the same time he himself founded an artists’ association called “Phalanx”, which ran its own painting school and which the artist Gabriele Münter also attended.

Gabriele Münter (centre) in Kandinsky’s painting class

Although the abstract expressionist was still married at that time, the two became a couple. The artist spent a lot of time on Münter’s estate in Murnau, Bavaria. The pictures of houses and forests that were created there are still influenced by the folk art of his Russian homeland, but already shine in bright colors.

Kandinsky’s theory of abstract painting

Kandinsky was said to have come to abstract painting because he saw a picture in his studio at dusk. It lay on his side and Kandinsky only recognized forms and colors that inspired him. He came to the conclusion that the figurative of his painting was actually only a pity. Of course, Kandinsky also knew the color and light plays of the Impressionists and the unusual forms of the Cubists.

Wassily Kandinsky also dealt theoretically with abstract art. His groundbreaking book “Über das Geistige in der Kunst” was published in 1911. Among other things, he deals with the purpose of art and how colours and forms affect the soul. Since abstract painting is liberated from the representational, he wrote, colours and forms could unfold their own essence and express spiritual feelings.

Kandinsys “Composition V” was too abstract for the Munich exhibition organizers

While some praised Kandinsky’s works and theories as revolutionary, conservative art connoisseurs found it difficult. Even the “Neue Künstlervereinigung München” was critical of Kandinsky. On December 2, 1911, the jury rejected his large “Composition V” for an exhibition. In protest, Kandinsky, his friend Franz Marc and Gabriele Münter resigned from the association and founded the artist group “Der Blaue Reiter”, which August Macke also joined. In 1912 Kandinsky and Franz Marc wrote the almanac “Der Blaue Reiter” (The Blue Rider), in which the two argued for equal rights for the arts and sought a new language of colour and form.

The war years separate the artist friends

When the First World War broke out, Kandinsky returned to Moscow. Germany had declared war on Russia. Gabriele Münter moved to Stockholm, which also marked the end of her relationship. The contact, however, remained. Gabriele Münter, for example, saved many of his works from the National Socialists and donated her Kandinsky paintings to the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich in 1957.

In Moscow Kandinsky continued his academic career as a professor. In 1917 he married Nina Adrejewsky, 27 years younger, who later took care of his estate. However, the new Soviet Union considerably restricted Kandinsky’s artistic freedom – and so he followed the call of Walter Gropius, who brought him to the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1922, as did his former neighbor and long-time friend Paul Klee.

The geometric Bauhaus years

The architect Walter Gropius wanted to promote equal rights in the arts at his art school in Weimar, founded in 1919. Artists and craftsmen were to work and teach together. Until the National Socialists finally closed the Bauhaus, Kandinsky taught in various free painting classes. After his Expressionist creative phase, he turned to geometric forms at the Bauhaus, for he was still searching for laws for abstract art.

In 1926 the Bauhaus book “Punkt und Linie zu Fläche” was published, in which Kandinsky tried to design a grammar of forms. Point and line are not only elements of painting, but also of music. “Most musical instruments are linear in character. The pitch of the different instruments corresponds to the width of the line: a very thin one is produced by the violin, flute, piccolo. He also sees musical notation as a combination of dots and lines. In such a simple way complicated sounds would be conveyed. He wants to transfer this simplicity to art. “Here, too, there is only one way – analytical division into basic elements to finally arrive at one’s own graphic expression. These basic elements are geometric circles, squares and triangles, which also characterise Kandinsky’s works in his Bauhaus period.

The Lenbachhaus in Munich owns some of Kandinsky’s works from the collection of Gabriele Münter.

Mies van der Rohe, the last director of the Bauhaus, received a decision from the Nazis in 1933: “Kandinsky must be dismissed without notice because his attitude of mind makes him dangerous for us. Kandinsky then emigrated to Paris, where his friend Marcel Duchamp had provided him with an apartment in the suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. He lived there until his death on December 13, 1944.

While the Nazis confiscated 57 of his works as “degenerate”, art lovers from all over the world flocked to Switzerland in 1937 to admire the paintings of the great founder of abstract painting in an exhibition. The Expressionist was 78 years old and died only a few months after the liberation of Paris. In his writings he had always described abstract painting as the most difficult art: “It presupposes that one can draw, that one is highly sensitive to composition and colour, and that one is a true poet – that is the decisive factor.


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