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Wassily Kandinsky and his paintings

Wassily Kandinsky Portrait Wassily Kandinsky Played a key part in the movement which, about 1910,liberated painting from representational service. He was not only a pioneer, whose followers today are legion; of all the forms of abstract painting there is scarcely one that he himself did not initiate and experiment with. If hhis influence has been decisive and far-reaching, the reason is evident: the lucidity of his approach was matched by an unswerving moral rectitude and commanding leadership. Progressing from lyrical outbursts of color to a flawless architectural organization and a rigorous testing of invented forms, his work steadily and harmoniously gathered strength and spiritual power until it rose at last to a great cosmic synthesis.

There was nothing dogmatic in his teaching. Kandinsky was fully aware of the wide range of possibilities, wider than ever before, that are open to the modern artist. He singled out the most promising lines of future development and sought to convince others by example alone. An incomparable technician, he put all his skill to the service of intuition and intelligence. He never felt himself bound by a rigid discipline, but aimed at extending the field of art to include all orders of knowledge. He cherished the idea of creating a universally valid synthesis of painting and music, of science and philosophy.

Born in Moscow in 1866, Kandinsky combined in himself Eastern and Western strains. His father's family came from Siberia and one of his ancestors was an Asiatic princess. As a child he was dazzled by the colors of nature. He studied music, law, economics and ethnography, and only after a thorough grounding in each of these disciplines did he decide to become a painter.

In 1896, at the age of 30, Kandinsky enrolled in art school in Munich. He was not immediately granted admission, and began learning art on his own. That same year, before leaving Moscow, he saw an exhibit of paintings by Claude Monet. He was particularly taken with the impressionistic style of Haystacks; this, to him, had a powerful sense of colour almost independent of the objects themselves. Later, he would write about this experience:

That it was a haystack the catalogue informed me. I could not recognize it. This non-recognition was painful to me. I considered that the painter had no right to paint indistinctly. I dully felt that the object of the painting was missing. And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineradicably on my memory. Painting took on a fairy-tale power and splendour.

After two years in Munich art school, he traveled widely, making long stays in Holland, France, Tunisia and Italy. During these prentice years his experiments in Impressionism and post-Impressionism only served to intensify his abiding memories of the romantic, mythical Russia of his youth, and his art took on the character of a mystical quest, a longed-for return to a lost ideal. He made his home at Murnau, south of Munich, and gradually moved on from highly colored interpretations of actual landscapes to powerful visions of a world dreamed of or imagined, in which impinging lines of force and surging patches of color reinvest the creative gesture with all its primal violence and energy. This was the beginning of Kandinsky's great dramatic period, and the birth of abstract art. From the fullness of his inner life the painter created lines, planes and forms that for the first time can be called autonomous. His paintings were dematerialized, released from the thrall of appearances, the better to serve the spiritual values that inspired them. At the same time, while painting these epoch-making watercolors and oils, he wrote (1910) and published (1912) the historic treatise embodying the results of his reflections and experiments: Concerning the Spiritual in Art.

This development, which had already taken place in music, was soon extended to all forms of artistic creation - literature, the theater, decoration. It became almost a way of life, finding expression in the exhibitions and publications in Munich of the "Blue Rider" (1911 - 1912). Kandinsky, the moving spirit, was seconded by the painter Franz Marc and the composers Arnold Schonberg, Anton von Webern, Thomas von Hartmann and Alban Berg.

Kandinsky's return to Russia, when war broke out in 1914, made no break in the evolution of his art, which gained in breadth and serenity. His faith in the possibilities of a new humanism led him to take an active part in the reorganization of Russian museums and art schools after the Revolution. But it was only later, after he had returned to Germany and joined the teaching staff of the Bauhaus (1923), that his efforts in the direction bore fruit. Now, too, began his close friendship with Paul Klee, who was also a professor at the Bauhaus.

Here he made a fresh start, working on a more scientific basis. Composing in an essentially dynamic key expressive of movement, growth and flux, he worked out a precise, minutely calculated idiom of his own, a formulation of points and lines, combining and contending with each other to create curves, circles and significant geometric figures. These elements, with which he also built up a large body of graphic work, are at the same time an instrument of research and a means of expression, and over them he floated a wide range of cool and tantalizing colors. These mental constructions, with their precise symbolism and architectural amplitude, are a projection of those psychic and spiritual realities which the artist had first sensed intuitively, in terms of dramatic inspiration.

In 1933, the Nazis having come to power in Germany and closed down the Bauhaus, Kandinsky took refuge in France where he spent the last eleven years of his life, hard at work on the final, transcendental synthesis of his ideas and discoveries, sustained now as always by close contact with the vital, unseen forces of the world. These he recorded with a sureness of hand and a new-found intensity of color that convey the serenely matured power of an artist of inflexible purpose and singleness of mind. War and hardships notwithstanding, his work developed with unslackening vigor, to the very end and affirmation of faith in the future of the human spirit.

In 1937, Nazi officials purged German museums of works the Party considered to be degenerate. In March of 1939 over one thousand paintings and almost four thousand watercolors and drawings of modern artists, including Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, and Franz Marc, were burned in the courtyard of a fire station in Berlin.

For some years after the war little interest was shown in his art, but today, decades after his death, as Franz Marc had predicted in 1913, his pictures are "emerging from the silent shadows of time with the blaze of comets."

I applied streaks and blobs of color onto the canvas with a palette knife and I made them sing with all the intensity I could...”
-Wassily Kandinsky