Wassily Kandinsky, A Life Around Color

Kandinsky was a Russian artist who strove from the beginning of his career to build an art form based on color and pure form. After abandoning the social sciences, Kandinsky revolutionized the art world forever.
Wassily Kandinsky, a life around color

Wassily Kandinsky was the first artist to base painting on purely pictorial means of expression. Here he abandoned the use of “objects” in his paintings, anticipating abstraction.

Kandinsky was a multifaceted artist: he was not only a painter but also an engraver and writer. Worldwide, this Russian artist is considered one of the creators of pure abstraction in modern painting.

After some successful avant-garde exhibitions, he founded a group of some influence in Munich: Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider, 1911-14) and began to paint in an absolutely abstract way. His forms came from his first works, fluid and organic, and then evolved into geometric and, finally, pictorial works.


Kandinsky in Russia, his homeland

Wassily Kandinsky was born in Moscow, Russia on December 4, 1866, into a wealthy and multicultural family. His mother was a Muscovite, one of his great-grandmothers had been a Mongolian princess, and his father was born in Kyakhta, a Siberian city near the Chinese border. Thus, the child grew up with a cultural heritage that was partly European and partly Asian.

His family was kind and passionate about travel. While still a child, he came into contact with Venice, Rome, Florence, the Caucasus and the Crimean Peninsula. The mother had a strong musical bent, and the father worked as a tea merchant. His parents divorced when Kandinsky was just five years old.

The child moved to Odessa (Ukraine) to live with an aunt. There he learned to play the piano and the cello in elementary school. In addition, he studied drawing with a private tutor. Since childhood, he embarked on an intimate relationship with art. The works of his childhood reveal rather specific color combinations, wrapped in his premise: “each color lives a mysterious life of its own”.

The young Kandinsky

In 1886 he began studying law and economics at the Moscow University. When contemplating the vibrant architecture of the city and its collection of symbols, the young man always had unusual sensations towards color.

In 1889, the university sent him on an ethnographic mission to the province of Vologda, in the northern forests. From this trip, Kandisky would return with an often insane and unrealistic interest in Russian folk painting. This interest would not have abandoned the young man. In the same year, he discovered Rembrandts at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and continued his visual training with a trip to Paris.

In his own words, at this stage, he felt he had lost much of his initial enthusiasm for the social sciences. Yet, he would continue with his academic career, until he obtained the doctoral degree, in 1893.

Initially, he resisted his penchant for art, thinking that art was “a luxury forbidden to a Russian”. Finally, after a period of teaching at the university, he accepted a position as director of the photo session at a Moscow printing house.

A turning point in Wassily Kandinsky’s career

In 1892, Kandinsky married his cousin, Anna Chimyakina. Shortly thereafter, he accentuated a job offer at the Moscow School of Law and continued with his passion for art as a sideline.

However, two events, in 1896, marked a sharp change in his career. The first took place following an exhibition by French Impressionists in Moscow the previous year: it was his first experience of non-representative art. The second was listening to Wagner’s Lohengrin at the Bolshoi Theater. Thus, Kandinsky’s life and career would take a new direction, from which there would be no return.

The beginnings of Kandinsky’s artistic career

That 1896, as his 30th birthday approached, Kandinsky decided to give up his career as a lawyer and move to Munich. The language was not a problem for him, as he had learned German from his maternal grandmother when he was a child.

In Munich, he decided to devote himself full time to the study of art. He enrolled at the Academy of Art in Munich, although he acquired much of his artistic knowledge as a self-taught.

Kandinsky declared that Claude Monet’s work was a major influence for him. In those Monet paintings, the theme played a secondary role compared to color.

It was as if reality and fiction were intertwined. Here is the secret of Kandinsky’s early works, which were based on folk art and which preserved this aspect even as his works became more complex.

Between 1902 and 1907, the artist often moved. He visited a number of countries, including France, the Netherlands, Tunisia, Italy and Russia, before settling permanently in Marnau. In his travels, he painted a series of alpine landscapes, between 1908 and 1910. To this period belongs his famous work The Blue Mountain, which explicitly described a panoramic view of nature, through colors.

Unlike other artists of the time, the use of color on canvas was extremely different. His color palette was used for the purpose of expressing emotions, rather than offering a description of nature or theme. 

Paint yourself with kandinsky.

Monaco and the Blue Rider group

In 1909 he founded the Munich Association of New Artists, of which he later became president. However, his radical thoughts did not quite match those of some conventional artists and led to the disbandment of the group in 1911.

The end of the Association of New Artists of Monaco led to the formation of a new group: that of the Blue Rider; this time, with like-minded artists. The group organized two exhibitions and even published an annual calendar. However, with the outbreak of World War I, Kandinsky returned to Russia.

1910 was a defining year for Kandinsky and for the art world. That year Wassily Kandinsky would revolutionize the art landscape with the production of his first abstract watercolor.

At that time he published the treatise The Spiritual in Art in the Blue Rider Calendar, as well as promoting abstract art and the autonomous use of colors. Up to that time, color had been at the service of painting in an exclusively utilitarian way, that is to say that it served as a complement to the representation of an object, a landscape, etc. Kandinsky initiated the total autonomy of color, freeing it from this utilitarian purpose.

Wassily Kandinsky and his return to Russia

With the end of the Russian Revolution, the artist assumed an important role in the Commissariat (government office) of Popular Culture and the Moscow Academy. Upon returning to Russia, he was absorbed by the country’s cultural policy and contributed to the artistic formation and reform of museums, from 1918 to 1921. 

He organized twenty-two museums and became director of the Museum of Pictorial Culture. In 1920 he was appointed professor of the Moscow University.

Dedicating himself less to the canvas, he devoted much of his time to spreading his artistic knowledge. For his lessons, the artist followed a program based on the analysis of shape and color.

In 1921, Kandinsky founded the Academy of Arts and Sciences and became vice president. At the end of that year, the Soviet attitude towards art changed. His ideas and his expressionist vision of art were rejected by the radical members of the institution. Kandinsky was judged by his peers as “too original” and, therefore, decided to leave Russia.

Reception in Germany, Weimar period

In 1921 the architect Walter Gropius, founder of the Weimar Bauhaus invited Wassily Kandinsky to Germany and he accepted the invitation,

The following year he found himself teaching painting for beginners and gifted professionals. Kandinsky devoted himself to teaching his theory of color with new elements of the psychology of form.

In 1926 he published his second theory book Point, Line and Surface , which detailed his development of study models. The work focused on geometric shapes: triangle, circle, semicircle, straight line, curves and surfaces.

As he experimented with the use of color, his works would experience new changes over time. The works of this era stand out for their individual geometric elements, which laid the foundation for cool colors. In 1933, when the Bauhaus was closed by the Nazis, the artist moved to France.

Painting by wassily kandinsky.

His stay in the city of light

In Paris he stayed in a small apartment while developing his creative activity. Most of his works from this era feature original color compositions, occasionally mixing sand with paint to give a rustic grainy texture. The paintings of his Parisian phase are endowed with splendid color, rich inventiveness and a charming streak.

In July 1937, accompanied by other artists of the moment, he presented his work at the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich. Although the exhibition was very popular, 57 of the exhibits were confiscated by the Nazis.

The end of Wassily Kandinsky

The master of color and abstraction died of a cerebrovascular disease in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, on December 13, 1944. His memory, however, lives on in his work and paintings, which will always be immortal. .

Kandinsky is still highly admired for his paintings and for being the creator of abstract art. He created a language of abstract forms, with which he replaced the forms of nature.

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