Wassily Kandinsky (1886-1944), known for his work as an art theorist and painter, is among the pioneers of the Abstract movement

Moscow-born Kandinsky recalls spending his childhood fascinated with colour which, intertwined with symbolism and psychology, determined his artistic development. He writes, “Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

He was not immediately drawn to the world of painting. It was at the age of 30 that he gave up a career teaching law and economics, to commence his studies at Munich’s Academy of Fine Arts. Initially, he was influenced by Russian folk art, but Monet’s impressionism gradually permeated his use of light and shade. Pointillism is also apparent in his early work. For instance, Riding Couple (1907) depicts a man and woman riding towards a town of shimmering colours, with bright spots of light reflecting on the river and the leaves of trees. Kandinsky’s most notable work of that decade, however, is arguably The Blue Rider (1903) — a cloaked man on a horse racing along a sunny meadow. The painting shows its subject, the rider, as a collection of colours as opposed to a clearly defined figure.

The Blue Rider represented a significant stage in Kandinsky’s artistic development, and the beginning of his Blue Rider period (1911-1914). During these years, he broke away from all pre-existing movements and turned towards abstract art. Best known by their vast, overarching lines and blocks of colour, these paintings aim to capture a variety of emotions and inner feelings, instead of a representation of the exterior world. In his treatise, ‘On the spiritual art’, Kandinsky expressed the notion that colour in paintings can be used autonomously, unlimited by the boundaries of shapes and objects.

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Kandinsky returned to Moscow. But, being uninspired in the communist school of art, he soon settled in Germany again. He began teaching design, painting and colour theory at the Bauhaus (school of art and architecture), the latter of which he complemented with Form Psychology. Geometrical elements started to gain space in his works, such as Yellow-Red-Blue (1925) — in which, the complexity of circles, squares and rectangles are meant to evoke mixed emotions in the viewer.

When the Bauhaus was closed down by the Nazis in 1933, Kandinsky moved to France, where he spent the rest of his life. During his final period, known as the Great Synthesis, he combined and synthesised all elements previously employed in his work. This led to painstakingly detailed and extremely elaborate works of art, such as the last two of his ten Compositions. Asserting that “music is the ultimate teacher”, he compared the monumentality of this series to that of classical music.

Once displayed at the ‘degenerate art’ exhibition by the Nazis, Kandinsky is now considered one of the most influential artists at the turn of the 20th century, whose works paved the way to a new era in art history. According to him,”Colours on the painter’s palette evoke a double effect: a purely physical effect on the eye which is charmed by the beauty of colours (…) This effect can be much deeper, however, causing a vibration of the soul or an ‘inner resonance’— a spiritual effect in which the colour touches the soul itself.” More than a century later, these vibrations can still be felt.

 — Julia Ronyai, Correspondent (Art)

Image courtesy: Public domain, wikimedia commons