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Kandinsky (1866-1944)

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I was impressed with the article Mutual art published on Wassily Kandinsky. Not necessary to read a book or catalogue . Just this perfect introduction to Kandinsky and his works:

The Russian lawyer-turned-painter sought to simplify art through a deconstructive approach to painting and by visualizing his inner workings.  

Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VIII, oil on canvas, 140 x 201 cm, 1923 © Courtesy of Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York 

In times of emotional despair, pain, and struggle, such as the one we are currently experiencing, examining Kandinsky’s paintings might be a means to decode and fully comprehend reality and restore disenchanted feelings. Wassily Kandinsky’s art exhibits the full spectrum of all of life’s sentimental matters, spanning from music to drama and emotion. Throughout his life, the Russian artist sought ways to render his artworks accessible to the masses — mostly by simplifying the hitherto implied visual allegories and iconographies. Compellingly, a slow detachment from figurative subject matter in favor of a move toward full abstraction enhanced the visual simplification. Conjuring up abstraction was a forming journey for Kandinsky, and it might somehow parallel our own journey to reconnect to inner truths. To dig deep into our emotional affairs often requires facing periods of disenchantment and disbelief, as exemplified by the current situation playing out on a global scale. When solving matters from within, however, the exterior world might become less harsh, and new possibilities and perspectives open up. 

Born in Russia in 1866, Kandinsky was a late-blooming artist. His father envisioned for him to become a lawyer, so he studied law at Moscow University, graduating with honors. At the age of twenty-seven he set out on his professional path by becoming an Associate Professor first and was later appointed Professor of the Department of Law. Yet, right after being appointed Professor of the Department, he decided to leave his successful career indefinitely to follow his artistic vocation and devote his time only to painting. He also did so because felt the need to reconnect with pure art as he was disappointed with Russia’s increasing control over artistic production. The painter left Russia and moved first to Munich, then Berlin, and lastly to Paris. In Munich he founded the artistic movement Der Blaue Reiter together with other artists, such as Paul Klee, Natalia Goncharova, and Franz Marc. The movement started as an abstract counterpart to the Die Brücke’s figurative style and was one of the two pioneering movements of German Expressionism. The group had no official manifesto and set its principles in Kandinsky’s treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art, published in 1910. This long reflective essay lays the ground for the artist’s lifelong extensive research focused on how art impacts the soul, the spiritual, and emotional intelligence.

Wassily Kandinsky, Rapallo: Grauer Tag (Rapallo: Grauer Day), oil on canvas, 24 x 32.7 cm, 1905 © Courtesy of Sotheby’s 

To Kandinsky, the purpose behind this was to breach through the perceivable reality and investigate the ultimate “inner” reality. An inner reality would be understandable to many as devoid of iconography and references one ought to decipher. The demanding and lengthy process required that the painter experiment both with figurative and non-figurative elements. His Grauer Tag, for example, shows Kandinsky’s acknowledgment of Impressionism. He was never an Impressionist, yet he was well aware of their art. The artwork portrays Rapallo’s harbor, a small coastline town in Liguria, and the canvas is part of a series of eighteen. The brushstrokes are dense and highly pigmented, and the theme is figurative. There is an impression of emotion and an imbued sense of melancholy.

Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation auf Mahogoni, oil on mahogany panel, 63.5 x 100.2 cm, 1910 © Courtesy of Sotheby’s 

Over time, Kandinsky left impressions behind and focused on abstract figures. Colors started representing the predominant subject matter of the canvas, as in Improvisation auf Mahogoni. The desire to outpour personal narratives is evident, yet there is still a balance between form and color. Compared to Grauer Tag, the canvas is defined by an increasing shift towards abstraction and is witnessing Kandinsky’s move toward a completely new visual idiom.

Kandinsky then began to work on Composition, a series of ten canvases, the first three of which were destroyed during World War II. He considered these works his highest artistic achievement. The works depict a bolder emphasis on the geometric shapes and embrace the linear style and pragmatism influenced by the Bauhaus movement that the artist joined in 1921. Kandinsky painted several Compositions relating to the experience of hearing music. For the artist, music and color were two components of art closely intertwined with one another, serving as the basis of the emotional response to art, often joined together in the form of synesthesia, the activation of one sense as the result of experiencing another. Both produce a harmony that influences the soul. The idea of music appears all over Kandinsky’s oeuvre, as he believed that shades resonating with each other produce visual “chords.”

Wassily Kandinsky, Composition IX, oil on canvas, 113.5 x 195 cm, 1936 © Courtesy of Centre Pompidou,Paris 

Blurring the barriers between music and visual art had become a widespread fascination during the nineteenth and twentieth century. Artists pursued a new synthetic experience in which words, drama, images, and sounds would merge — a new form of ecstasy that would shake the world from its actual status. Poems and paintings became music and vice versa. In 1903, when still in Moscow, the artist published 122 primitive-looking woodcuts titled Verses Without Words, reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words, a series of short lyrical piano melodies.

Wassily Kandinsky, Le Rond Rouge, oil on canvas, 89 x 116 cm, 1939 © Courtesy of Sotheby’s 

Le Rond Rouge belongs to the latest phase of Kandinsky’s abstraction. The canvas stages an intrinsic look at the body as an abstract deconstruction of the same. The red circle represents the heart beating life into the body. The motives are organic and display an accurate understanding of science, something Kandinsky was very interested in. Le Rond Rouge exemplifies the full realization of his quest toward pure abstraction.

Kandinsky got to this point as he realized that scientific studies were often lacking answers to his questions. The way we should approach his art is as a way to reconnect to the deepest inner emotions we sense, even if unpleasant. To dig deep and observe or listen – as Kandinsky used to – to the rhythm that beats on within us, might be the key to unlock situations and receive answers we had long longed to know. So, to follow Kandinsky’s lead, we must learn to dematerialize reality and to read between the lines, so we can cope with the themes of existence during difficult and unforeseen times.

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