Wassily Kandinsky Reference

Wassily Kandinsky

(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Both for the quality and influence of his works and for the influence of his theoretical and pedagogical writings, Kandinsky was the most significant figure in the development of nonrepresentational abstract art in the first half of the twentieth century. He was the pioneer among those artists whose aim was not to reproduce the expressive qualities of objects and events in nature but to exploit the intrinsic expressive attributes of artistic materials, particularly pigments, without reference to natural appearances.

Early Life

In 1871, Wassily Kandinsky’s family moved from Moscow to Odessa in the Crimea for the sake of the father’s health; Kandinsky spent his childhood there. His father, born in eastern Siberia, was a successful tea merchant and always encouraged his son’s artistic gifts, sending him, at age seven, to a special drawing teacher. His father generously supported him for many years. Kandinsky’s mother, Lydia Tikheeva, came from Moscow but was half Baltic. One of his great-grandmothers is said to have been a Mongolian princess, and people who knew Kandinsky noticed a certain Asiatic cast to his features.

The young Kandinsky drew, wrote poems, and played the piano and cello. In 1886, he went to the University of Moscow, where he studied law and political economy, and in 1893 he was appointed as a lecturer there in the faculty of law. Yet it was not until 1895, when he visited an exhibition of the French Impressionists in Moscow, that a painting by Claude Monet had a lasting effect on him and revealed to him his true vocation. In Monet’s paintings, the subject matter played a secondary role to color, and reality and fairy tale were intertwined. These qualities were also essential to Kandinsky’s early work, which was based on folk art. Even his later works were influenced by folk art, although on a more intellectualized level.

Kandinsky decided to abandon his legal career in 1897 and went to Munich to devote himself entirely to painting. He studied with Anton Azbé, and he later studied under Franz von Stuck, a teacher at the Munich Academy and a founding member of the Munich Sezession. At this time, the prevailing avant-garde in Munich was Art Nouveau or, as it was called, Jugendstil, and Kandinsky familiarized himself with this style. Kandinsky’s early Impressionist-inspired paintings as well as those of his Jugendstil period are strong in color; color continued to dominate his landscapes of Murnau. In 1901, Kandinsky became one of the founders of the avant-garde exhibiting association Phalanx. His first marriage, to his cousin, Ania Chimiakin, ended in divorce in 1911; in 1912, he took up with Gabriele Munter, who had been his pupil before becoming his companion during his Munich years, until he broke with her in 1916.

After traveling throughout Holland, Tunisia, and Italy, he settled for a year (beginning in June, 1906) at Sèvres, near Paris. In 1909, after returning to Munich, he helped to found, together with Alexei Kubin, the Neue Künstlervereingung (the new artist union). From his meeting with Franz Marc in 1911, the Blaue Reiter (blue rider) movement was born; the two exhibitions of this expressionist group proved to be major events in the development of modern German painting.

Life’s Work

After 1909 emerged Kandinsky’s series of “Improvisations” and “Compositions,” which were alternately figurative and nonfigurative, the latter possessing a remarkable degree of invention. The year 1910, however, was crucial for Kandinsky as well as for world art. It was in 1910 that, with a thoroughly abstract watercolor, Kandinsky emerged as an initiator of nonrealistic art. About that time he also wrote Über das Geistige in der Kunst, insbesondere in der Malerei (1912; Concerning the Spiritual in Art, and Painting in Particular, 1912), a prophetic treatise on the artist’s inner life. Soon the naturalistic elements disappeared from Kandinsky’s work and were replaced by turbulent lines and vehement colors clashing together in a passionate, romantic disorder. Abandoning himself to lyricism, he subsequently produced some of the most masterly and original compositions in the history of abstract art.

World War I coincided with a break in the development of Kandinsky’s art; the painter of Black Arc (1912) and the great Fugue (1914) accepted the discipline of the objective, rational, and severe style that became the trademark of the Bauhaus. The romantic...

(The entire section is 1871 words.)