Wassily Kandinsky

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Wassily Kandinsky (*4 December 1866 in Moscow; †13 December 1944 in Neuilly-sur-Seine) was a Russian-German painter, co-founder of the artists’ association “Der Blaue Reiter” and teacher at the Bauhaus. He is considered the inventor of abstraction.


Artistic career

Wassily Kandinsky’s oeuvre includes works in oil, watercolours, prints and woodcuts. In addition, he wrote writings on art theory, especially on form, colour and abstraction. Kandinsky had a pronounced interest in synaesthesia and was most likely a synaesthete himself. This neurological phenomenon, in which sensory impressions are merged or interchanged, affected persons, for example, primarily smell, taste or hear colours instead of seeing them, is reflected in Kandinsky’s theoretical works as well as in his artworks.


Expressionism

Kandinsky moved to Munich in 1896 after completing his studies in law, national economics and statistics in Moscow and studied art there, including in Franz von Stuck’s painting class. However, the academic style of art did not satisfy him, so he tried to find his style in private studies. These early works by Kandinsky already show tendencies towards Expressionism in their strong colours. This intensified when he met the artist Gabriele Münter in 1903 and moved into a house with her in Murnau am Staffelsee. Kandinsky, who had already specialised particularly in landscape painting, was so inspired by the Bavarian mountain landscape that he used increasingly expressive colours in his paintings. Both the colours and the forms were very different from the model and merged. In this way, Kandinsky moved away from the millennia-long function of the picture as an image and towards abstraction. In 1911, together with Franz Marc, he founded the artists’ association Der Blaue Reiter, which was joined by August Macke and Heinrich Campendonk, among others. Inspired by the Expressionist style of his fellow artists, Kandinsky experimented increasingly with abstraction.


Abstraction

After the outbreak of the First World War, Kandinsky had to leave Germany as a Russian and thus an enemy of the war. He returned to Moscow, where he continued to pursue his large-scale abstract works. He named his abstract paintings, prints and watercolours “Impression”, “Improvisation” and “Composition”, terms borrowed from music theory. After the October Revolution in 1917, the supply situation for Kandinsky and his family in Moscow became visibly worse, so he returned to Germany in 1921. There, Walter Gropius offered him a chair at the State Bauhaus, which he held from 1922 until the forced closure of the Bauhaus by the National Socialists in 1933. The ideas of the Bauhaus also felt in Kandinsky’s abstractions created during this period. Whereas the abstractions had previously testified to an impulsive dissolution of the boundaries of forms and colours, the lines and geometric constructions in his artworks now increased.


Art theory

Kandinsky came into contact with Rudolph Steiner’s theo- and anthroposophical teachings in 1907 and was also concerned with music theory throughout his life. He was particularly enthusiastic about the twelve-tone theory of the composer Arnold Schönberg, which inspired him to create some abstract paintings. He was convinced that all the arts are interrelated and in constant exchange. Furthermore, he held these thoughts in the theoretical writings “On the Spiritual in Art. Particularly in Painting”, and “Point and Line to Surface. Contribution to the Analysis of the Elements of Painting”. The latter publication forms, as it were, a kind of grammar of abstraction.

After the Nazis closed the Bauhaus in 1933, Kandinsky emigrated with his wife to a suburb of Paris. He died there in 1944.

CV

1885/1893 – Studied law, national economics and statistics in Moscow.

1892 – Marriage with Anja Fedorowna Shemyakina.

1896 – Move to Munich.

1897 – Studied art in Munich.

1900 – Painting class with Franz von Stuck.

1901/1904 – Member of the Phalanx Exhibition Association.

1903 – Beginning of relationship with Gabriele Münter; exhibitions at the Salon d’Automne in Paris and at the Berlin Secession.

1908 – First stay in Murnau am Staffelsee with Gabriele Münter.

1909 – Foundation of the New Munich Artists’ Association.

1911 – Acquaintance with Franz Marc; founding of the artists’ association Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider).

1913 – Participation in the Armory Show in New York.

1914 – Separation from Gabriele Münter and return to Moscow.

1917 – Marriage to Nina Nikolaevna Andreyevskaya.

1919 – Director of the State Museum of Painting Culture in Moscow.

1921 – Move to Berlin.

1922/1933 – Teacher at the State Bauhaus in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin.

1924 – Founding of the exhibition group The Blue Four (Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger and Jawlensky).

1928 – Receives German citizenship.

1933 – Persecution-related move to Neuilly-sur-Seine.

1937 – Retrospective at the Kunsthalle Bern.

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