Kandinsky was one of the most original and influential artists of the twentieth-century. His “inner necessity” to express his emotional perceptions led to the development of an abstract style of painting that was based on the non-representational properties of colour and form. Colour could have shape, colour could be a sound, colour could have feeling. Kandinsky’s compositions were the culmination of his efforts to create “pure painting” that would provide the same emotional power as a musical composition.
Born in Moscow, Kandinsky spent his early childhood in Odessa. His parents played the piano and the zither and Kandinsky could play the piano and cello at an a very early age. The influence of music in his paintings cannot be overstated, and can be seen in names he used for some of his paintings such as Improvisations, Impressions, and Compositions.
In 1886, he enrolled at the University of Moscow, chose to study law and economics, and after passing his examinations, lectured at the Moscow Faculty of Law. He enjoyed success as a teacher and also wrote extensively on spirituality, a subject that remained of great interest to him and ultimately exerted a substantial influence in his work.
In 1895 he attended a French Impressionist exhibition where he saw Monet’s Haystacks at Giverny. He is quoted as saying, “It was from the catalogue I learned this was a haystack. I was upset I had not recognised it. I also thought the painter had no right to paint in such an imprecise fashion. Dimly, I was aware too that the object did not appear in the picture…”
Soon after, at the age of thirty, Kandinsky left Moscow and went to Munich to study life-drawing, sketching and anatomy, regarded then as the basis of a good artistic education.
Ironically, Kandinsky’s work moved towards a greater abstraction than that which he had seen pioneered by Monet. It was not long before he began exploring his own ideas of painting.
“I applied streaks and blobs of colours onto the canvas with a palette knife and I made them sing with all the intensity I could…”
In 1912 he wrote the book, ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’ in which he examined the psychological effects of colour and made comparisons between painting and music.
He is considered to be one of the founders of abstract art, and was an active participant in several of the most influential and controversial art movements of the 20th century. The most notable being the Blue Rider which he founded with Franz Marc and the Bauhaus where he worked with Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger and Schonberg.
In 1933, when the Nazis began their purge of what they would eventually call ‘Degenerate Art’,he left Germany and settled near Paris, in Neuilly. The paintings from these later years were also the subject of controversy, as many believed they lacked the spirituality of his earlier work. Though out of favour with many of the patriarchs of Paris’s artistic community, younger artists admired Kandinsky. His studio was visited regularly by Miro, Arp, and others who would form the basis of the Surrealist movement. Kandinsky continued painting until his death in June, 1944, and left an unparalleled collection of abstract art, but unfortunately he died in obscurity.