Wassily Kandinsky, born Vasily Vasilyevich Kandinsky, was a Russian painter, art theorist, and educator. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of modern abstract painting.
Early Life in Russia
Wassily Kandinsky was born in December 1866 to Lidia Ticheeva, a Muscovite descended from Mongolian royalty, and Vasily Silvestrovich Kandinsky, a tea merchant who grew up in a Siberian town near the Chinese border.
Kandinsky spent his childhood years in Odessa, where he attended the Grekov Odessa Art School. He then enrolled at the University of Moscow to study law and economics. After graduating, he taught law and economics at the University of Dorpat. It was during his time at university that his childhood love for art was reignited.
During his stay in Moscow, he had two experiences that would greatly influence his artistic style. An exhibition of paintings by Monet inspired Kandinsky’s use of colours. Meanwhile, an operatic performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin sparked a synesthetic experience: the notes he heard became visible colours.
Beginnings in Germany
In 1896, Kandinsky moved to Germany to study art. He was not granted immediate admission at the Munich Academy, so he decided to study at the Munich art school with Anton Azbe, a Slovenian Realist. After a few years, he was accepted into Munich Academy where he studied with Franz von Struck. He graduated in 1900.
Soon after graduating, Kandinsky and a few of his colleagues formed an artists’ group known as the Phalanx in reaction to what he considered a very restrictive Munich art scene.
In 1903, Kandinsky painted his first milestone artwork: The Blue Rider. It was an impressionistic scene of a man in a blue cape riding a white horse.
As the first ten years of the 20th century wore on, Kandinsky’s art style reflected the influences of other schools of art. Some of these were pointillism, expressionism, and Fauvism. As the years wore on, his figures became less distinct and increasingly planar. Kandinsky’s pieces in the latter part of the first decade were more interplays of colours than conventional forms.
In 1909, Kandinsky founded another group, the Neue Kunstlervereinigung Munchen or the New Artists’ Association of Munich. Much like the first group, it was a collection of avant-garde artists whose radical approach to art very far removed from the mainstream. This group, however, did not last long and was dissolved in late 1911.
The Blue Rider Period
By 1911, Kandinsky’s abstract style has begun to bloom, showing less and less traditional boundaries such as form and line. Instead, the artist used the juxtaposition of colour to express or convey emotion.
It was also during this era that Kandinsky started to write about art theory and released his first treatise about the subject called On the Spiritual in Art. These writings had a huge impact on the artistic world and earned Kandinsky much acclaim.
It was also around this time that he formed yet another group with more likeminded artists, including August Macke, Albert Bloch and Gabriele Munter. The group was called Der Blaue Reiter or the Blue Rider. They released The Blue Rider Almanac and had a couple of exhibitions. However, the coming of the First World War in 1914 cut short all their plans. Kandinsky left Germany and went back to Russia to wait out the war.
Achievements in Russia
When Kandinsky got back to Moscow, he busied himself by joining the Academy of Fine Arts of the city. He also founded The Institute of Artistic Culture and became director of the Moscow Museum of Pictorial Culture. It was also during the war that he met Nina Andreevskaya, whom he married in 1917. In 1921, he established the Russian Academy of Artistic Sciences.
During this period, his style became closer to complete abstraction. Some of his paintings at this time, such as the Red Spot and the White Line, no longer had any recognisable objects. His art style, however, was not received well in Moscow and rejected as being too bourgeois and individualistic.
Achievements in Germany
In 1921, Kandinsky was invited to go back to Germany to attend the Bauhaus School by Walter Gropius, the school’s founder. He accepted and started teaching at the Bauhaus school in Weimar, Germany. There he taught both the basic design class as well as a course on advanced theory. He also conducted painting workshops with the students. It was through these workshops that he further developed his colour theories. While teaching in Bauhaus, he published his second treatise on art called Point and Line to Plane. It was released in 1926.
During the late 1920s to the early 1930s, the Nazi party in Germany was coming into power and was opposed to the teaching being taught at the Bauhaus. The school moved a couple of times before it was completely shut down. When the school closed, Kandinsky left Germany and settled in France.
Final Years in France
When Kandinsky moved to France, he lived in an apartment in Paris which also doubled as his studio. There he started to introduce all that he had learned at the Bauhaus into his art. He started adding geometric figures and a compositional balance to his paintings.
Kandinsky will live out the remainder of his years in France. There, he integrated all the various art styles that he had employed into a fresh, unified vision of what art should be. His last two pieces, Composition IX and Composition X, were created in 1936 and 1939. These are regarded as the culmination of Kandinsky’s art and his very best work.
Wassily Kandinsky passed away on the 13th of December, 1944. He was 77 years old.
Art Style and Philosophy
Painting was very spiritual to Kandinsky. It was his way to communicate universal human emotions and thoughts to other people. He often utilised abstract forms and colours to convey his message, bypassing all cultural and physical boundaries.
Music played a large part in Kandinsky’s art. He strove to emulate it in a medium that is visual rather than aural. His paintings often portray the emotions and sensations that he had while listening to certain sounds, making it a multisensory experience.
Modern abstract art will not be the same without the works of Wassily Kandinsky. His art, lectures and books inspired generations of artists after him, and continue to do so to this day. His art not only fetches high prices during auctions but is also often mentioned in popular culture. His paintings are still being exhibited and still being admired in museums such as the Guggenheim.