Artist Research: Notes on Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944)

Kandinsky was born in Moscow, brought up by aunt after parents divorce. Influenced by folk art tradition of northern Russia. Studied at the Munich Academy of Art at the same time as Paul Klee.

Formed Phalanx association for artists, with other artists in 1901. They held twelve exhibitions over the years, until 1904.

Numerous exhibitions and travel to other countries, meetings with other artists. Moved to Weimar in 1922 and started work at the Bauhaus. His work was exhibited by the Nazis labelled ‘degenerate art’. Lived in France towards the end of his life, and continued to exhibit work until the year of his death in 1944.

An important era in his experimentation with abstraction seems to be:-

‘Der Blaue Reiter’ Period 1911-1914

This loose grouping of artists was formed in 1911 in Munich. They were interested in abstracted forms and prismatic colours. The simple, flat designs found in woodcuts made by these artists helped steer Kandinsky toward abstraction in his painting.

First group exhibition at the Moderne Galerie Thannhauser 18 Dec 1911. Kandinsky had work from three of his categories included: Impression-Moscow, Improvisation 22 and Composition V. Other artists in the group included (Marc, Macke, Műnter, Schönberg, Rousseau, Burliuk brothers, Campendonk, Delaunay, von Kaher, Epstein, etc) Blaue Reiter almanac published by Kandinsky and Marc.

Purpose to show, “… in the variety of the forms here represented, how the inner wish of the artist takes shape in manifold forms.” Many forms of artistic expression included, which proved baffling to critics.

Religion and the occult underpinned his artwork. Tried to make the spiritual visible in abstract forms and colours. Connection between sensory input and deep, mystical effect upon the viewer.

He made particular mention of the influence on him of Schönberg’s music, and the work of Matisse and Picasso. Forerunners of his work: Rossetti, Böcklin, Segantini, Cézanne. His aim of spiritual renewal would be a conglomeration of all the arts, but until then, individual elements represented. eg, Kandinsky examined the psychological effects of colour. His theory seems to be that a tension between warm and cold colours, dark and light contrasts and form would be harmonized into a picture “by the force of the inner need.” Colour having a distinct psychic vibration that affects the soul. Complex spiritual meanings, a wiping away of what had gone before, for a new awakening of consciousness was depicted in abstract ways.

Although I would not put it quite in those terms, I certainly feel that colour and pattern have an effect on our bodies – walking in a green forest, or viewing the blue of the sea or sky. There seems to me to be some connection at an innate level within us that reacts to these stimuli, perhaps for evolutionary/survival reasons that are hard-wired in our DNA. For example, the sight of the sea might signal a food source, the cover of a forest – safety. Or there may be more personal associations – a starry sky associated with a romantic evening; or the sea reminding you of adventure and danger.

Kandinsky did see a potential problem with abstract painting, stating that it might become purely decorative pattern-making, which had no link to nature. He tried to avoid this in his own work by using forms that reminded the viewer of actual objects: a mixture of graphic elements (lines), movement and carefully considered colour choices.

The earliest work shown here at left, still has recognisable features: horse, buildings and landscape elements. After Kandinsky moved further into abstraction, shapes and colours are the dominant features of the works, although the viewer can still impose their own readings of the shapes, for example, the circles (to me) look like planets in the ‘Several Circles’ painting.


On Drawing: “A perfect drawing is one where nothing can be changed without destroying the essential inner life, quite irrespective of whether the drawing contradicts our conception of anatomy, botany, or sciences” Wassily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art quoted in *

I think he means that the drawing is a complete entity in itself, when the artist feels it is finished, and it does not have to represent anything in the ‘real’ world.

“Each period of a civilisation creates an art that is specific in it and which we will never see reborn. To try to revive the principles of art of past centuries can lead only to the production of stillborn works.” Wassily Kandinsky quoted on #

Well, I sort of agree with this, although I am finding it very useful to study the work of other artists, including Kandinsky, for inspiration in my own work and to try to understand concepts, such as abstraction.

Thinking about his work with respect to my own work, and what I could learn from him, taking actual forms and making abstract versions of them is something I am interested in experimenting with, particularly landscapes and plant forms. He seems to have thrived on collaboration and networking with fellow artists, which is something I need to work on, being a naturally shy and solitary soul, however, I am determined to join a local quilting group in September, and I have my second study visit lined up for August.

Having admired the work of textile artist, Sue Dove, I can see her inspiration in Kandinsky’s art works such as ‘Picture with Archer’ shown above, which has lines of colour making up the shapes similar to her embroidery stitches, outlined with bold black. I have noticed in my own textile work that I often use prismatic colour, simple forms and black outlining.



Dűchting, H (2000) Kandinsky Taschen, Germany

* Kovats, T (ed) (2005) The Drawing Book Black Dog Publishing, London



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