KANDINSKY Wassily
( 1866-1944) Born in Moscow, died in Neuilly-surSeine. His father was Siberian, born near the Chinese border. He began his studies in Odessa and then studied law and economics at Moscow University and immediately after graduation began lecturing in law there. In 1889 he was a member of a mission charged with studying legal customs of the peasant communities in a northern province. The decorative richness of the interiors of the village houses was a revelation to him. In 1896 he abandoned his law career to devote himself entirely to painting. In Munich he worked with Azbe, in whose studio he met Jawlensky, and then at the Academy with Franz Stuck. In 1898 he discovered Claude Monet, whose picture The Haystacks was being exhibited in Munich. He opened his own school of painting and drawing in 1902 and presided over the Phalanx group. After various journeys, to Kairouan in Tunisia in 1903, Holland in 1904, and Italy in 1905, Kandinsky settled in Sèvres, near Paris, in 1906, and spent a year there. He had exhibited at the Salon d'Automne since 1904. His Impressionist period, characterized by long strokes of colour laid on with a palette knife, and a concern for construction, was succeeded by a lively kind of Fauvism, which was better adapted to dream landscapes or imaginative themes than to realistic description. On his return to Munich at the end of 1907, after stays in Berlin and Dresden, where he exhibited at the Brücke, Kandinsky founded the New Association of Munich Artists in 1909.
In 1910 he painted his first entirely nonrepresentational works and wrote his treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which was published in 1912. He met Franz Mare, August Macke and Paul Klee. With Mare, he was responsible for the publication of the Blaue Reiter year book, which gave its name to the movement whose two exhibitions, in December 1911 and 1912, are landmarks in modern German painting. The appearance in 1910 of Kandinsky's first non-figurative work, Abstract Water Colour, was the result of a long evolution whose stages he traced in his book Glimpses of the Part. 'I felt more and more strongly', he wrote, 'that it is the inner desire of the subject which determines its form . . . The separation between the domain of art and the domain of Nature grew wider for me, until I could consider them as absolutely distinct, one from the other.' And he concludes: 'I knew then that objects harmed my painting'. In the two so-called 'dramatic' periods, between 1910 and 1920, Kandinsky painted pictures characterized by their disordered, violent lines, and very vivid colours. But this chaos gave way to order in response to an inner necessity; it was not a matter of the liberation of automatism but of a concerted attempt to express cosmic forces which transcend the powers of the individual.
Kandinsky had his first retrospective exhibition in Berlin at the Der Sturm Gallery in 1912 (an album was published in 1913), and he retired to Switzerland at the outbreak of war. On his return to Moscow after the Revolution he occupied several important official posts at the Commissariat for Popular Culture and at the Academy of Fine Arts. He organized twenty-two museums and directed the Museum of Pictorial Culture. In 1921 he founded the Academy of Arts and Sciences and was elected its vice-president. In December 1921 he returned to Germany and, in 1922, became a teacher at the Bauhaus  in Weimar. He met Klee, Jawlensky and Feininger again, and with them formed the Four Blues group. The Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925. Kandinsky did important work there in decoration, teaching and publications. He had his first one-man show in France in 1929 at the Zak Gallery. He made a journey to the Near East in 1931. In 1933 the Bauhaus, which had moved to Berlin, was closed by the Nazis. Kandinsky's canvases were confiscated and sold as examples of degenerate art. He then came to Paris, where he lived until his death, in 1944.
From 1920 to 1924 the so-called 'architectural' period maintained the dynamism of the 'dramatic' periods, but more precise forms began to emerge: dots, bundles of straight or broken lines, segments of circles, rectangles and lenticular forms. Circular, concentric or overlapping outlines characterize the so-called 'circular' period ( 19251928), the other elements being more particularly used in the following period, called 'romantic or concrete'. The plastic signs to which the painter clung were employed for their own sake, quite apart from any reference to the material world. When Uccello put a diagonal in his picture, it had to be a lance. Kandinsky confined himself to the line itself, to its orientation and its relationship to the other elements of the composition.
In this way he effected a liberation of form within a picture, which recalls what the Fauves did for colour when they freed it from any localization implied by the object represented. Kandinsky abandoned all reference to the real world and did not even make allusions of the kind found in Paul Klee's work. He deliberately tried to create purely unreal figures, detached from all representation. No doubt it was difficult for him to cut himself off from all memories, impressions or obsessions. However, he did attain that state in his last years; he seemed to move in an unknown world to which he had gained entrance by a combination of poetic intuition and a spirit of scientific deduction. That was the result of long research. In fact, when he began his abstract adventure in 1910 it was with a very romantic and lyrical enthusiasm. This Russian, halfAsiatic by ancestry, impregnated with Oriental arts and Slavic mysticism, had a supremely spiritual ambition. If he laboured to study scientifically the mechanics of painting and to rediscover quasi-mathematical laws for the use and meaning of colours, it was because, like Seurat, he counted on finding in this way meanings which had been unknown till then. The stricter his technique became the more his imagination freed itself. It was as a conscious act that he invented forms which had no precedent. These elements group and arrange themselves according to a rather mysterious and yet convincing order, one in which the artist had no need of dimension to attain the monumental.
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