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.
- Painting was, above all, deeply spiritual for Kandinsky. He sought to convey profound spirituality and the depth of human emotion through a universal visual language of abstract forms and colors that transcended cultural and physical boundaries.
- Kandinsky viewed non-objective, abstract art as the ideal visual mode to express the "inner necessity" of the artist and to convey universal human emotions and ideas. He viewed himself as a prophet whose mission was to share this ideal with the world for the betterment of society.
- Kandinsky viewed music as the most transcendent form of non-objective art - musicians could evoke images in listeners' minds merely with sounds. He strove to produce similarly object-free, spiritually rich paintings that alluded to sounds and emotions through a unity of sensation.
Biography of Wassily Kandinsky
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
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.
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.
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.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Wassily Kandinsky
- 100k viewsKandinsky in 6 Minutes: A Brief Look at His Life & How Impressionism & the Bauhaus Art Movement Influenced His ArtOur PickAlso, see how his works became more abstract during his lifetime
- 9k viewsThe Blue Rider Group in 5 Minutes: How Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc Paved the Way for Modern ArtOur Pick
- 45k viewsKandinsky and the Russian HouseOur PickDocumentary on Kandinsky and the Russian avant-garde. Part II of this video is also available on YouTube
- KandinskyBy Vivian Endicott Barnett, Christian Derouet, Tracey Bashkoff
- KandinskyOur PickBy Ulrike Becks-Malorny
- Wassily Kandinsky: 1866-1944 a Revolution in PaintingBy Hajo Duchting
- Kandinskyin Munich, 1896-1914 (1982)By Peg Weiss
- Kandinsky: Russian and Bauhaus Years, 1915-1933 (1983)By Clark V. Poling
- Kandinsky in Paris, 1934-1944 (1985)By Christian Derouet
- Watercolors by KandinskyBy Vivian Endicott Barnett
- Concerning The Spiritual In ArtBy Wassily Kandinsky
- Point and Line to PlaneBy Wassily Kandinsky
- Kandinsky: Complete Writings on ArtOur PickEdited By Kenneth C. Lindsay, Peter Vergo
- The Blaue Reiter AlmanacBy Klaus Lankheit, Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc
- Return of a GiantBy Karen Wilkin / The Wall Street Journal / September 21, 2009
- The Angel in the ArchitectureOur PickBy Roberta Smith / The New York Times / September 17, 2009
- Sound and VisionOur PickBy Gerard McBurney / The Guardian / June 23, 2006
- Mysteries and MushBy Adrian Searle / The Guardian / June 20, 2006
- The Man Who Heard His Paintbox HissBy Ossian Ward / The Telegraph / June 10, 2006