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Wassily Kandinsky

Russian Painter

Wassily Kandinsky Photo
Born: December 4, 1866
Moscow, Russia
Died: December 13, 1944
Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
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Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colors, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential.
Wassily Kandinsky Signature

Summary of Wassily Kandinsky

One of the pioneers of abstract modern art, Wassily Kandinsky exploited the evocative interrelation between color and form to create an aesthetic experience that engaged the sight, sound, and emotions of the public. He believed that total abstraction offered the possibility for profound, transcendental expression and that copying from nature only interfered with this process. Highly inspired to create art that communicated a universal sense of spirituality, he innovated a pictorial language that only loosely related to the outside world, but expressed volumes about the artist's inner experience. His visual vocabulary developed through three phases, shifting from his early, representational canvases and their divine symbolism to his rapturous and operatic compositions, to his late, geometric and biomorphic flat planes of color. Kandinsky's art and ideas inspired many generations of artists, from his students at the Bauhaus to the Abstract Expressionists after World War II.

Key Ideas

Biography of Wassily Kandinsky

Detail of Serbian stamp commemorating 150 years since Wassily Kandinsky's birth

Modernist abstraction could not have asked for a more charismatic and visionary theorist than Kandinsky - the highest ideals he pursued through his many travels and friendships.

Important Art by Wassily Kandinsky

Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) (1903)

Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) (1903)

This breakthrough work is a deceptively simple image - a lone rider racing across a landscape - yet it represented a decisive moment in Kandinsky's developing style. In this painting, he demonstrated a clear stylistic link to the work of the Impressionists, like Claude Monet, particularly evident in the contrasts of light and dark on the sun-dappled hillside. The ambiguity of the form of the figure on horseback rendered in a variety of colors that almost blend together foreshadow his interest in abstraction. The theme of the horse and rider reappeared in many of his later works. For Kandinsky this motif signified his resistance against conventional aesthetic values as well as the possibilities for a purer, more spiritual life through art.

Der Blaue Berg (The Blue Mountain) (1908-09)

Der Blaue Berg (The Blue Mountain) (1908-09)

In this work, the influence of the Fauves on Kandinsky's color palette is apparent as he distorted colors and moved away from the natural world. He presented a bright blue mountain, framed by a red and yellow tree on either side. In the foreground, riders on horseback charge through the scene. At this stage in Kandinsky's career, Saint John's Book of Revelation became a major literary source for his art, and the riders signify the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The horsemen, although an indicator of the mass destruction of the apocalypse, also represent the potential for redemption afterward.

Kandinsky's vibrant palette and expressive brushwork provide the viewer with a sense of hope rather than despair. Further, the brilliant colors and dark outlines recall his love of the Russian folk art. These influences would remain part of Kandinsky's style throughout the rest of his career, with bright colors dominating his representational and non-objective canvases. From this figurative and highly symbolic work, Kandinsky progressed further towards pure abstraction. The forms are already schematized from their observable appearance in the surrounding world in this canvas, and his abstraction only progressed as Kandinsky refined his theories about art.

Composition IV (1911)

Composition IV (1911)

Hidden within the bright swaths of color and the clear black lines of Composition IV, Kandinsky portrayed several Cossacks with lances, as well as boats, reclining figures, and a castle on a hilltop. As with many paintings from this period, he represented the apocalyptic battle that would lead to eternal peace. The notion of battle is conveyed by the Cossacks, while the calm of the flowing forms and reclining figures on the right alludes to the peace and redemption to follow. In order to facilitate his development of a non-objective style of painting, as described in his text Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912), Kandinsky reduced objects to pictographic symbols. Through his elimination of most references to the outside world, Kandinsky expressed his vision in a more universal manner, distilling the spiritual essence of the subject through these forms into a visual vocabulary. Many of these symbolic figures were repeated and refined in later works, becoming further and further abstracted as Kandinsky developed his mature, purely abstract style.

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Content compiled and written by Eve Griffin

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Wassily Kandinsky Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Eve Griffin
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Feb 2013. Updated and modified regularly
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