« L'arte oltrepassa i limiti nei quali il tempo vorrebbe comprimerla, e indica il contenuto del futuro. » (Vasilij Kandinskij, Punto, linea, superficie)
Vasilij Vasil'evič Kandinskij, in russo: Василий Васильевич Кандинский, noto anche come Vassily Kandinsky (Mosca, 4 dicembre 1866 (16 dicembre del calendario gregoriano) – Neuilly-sur-Seine, 13 dicembre 1944), è stato un pittore russo, creatore della pittura astratta.
Primi anni: lo stile e le ideeFiglio di Lidia Ticheeva (1840-1910) e Vasily Silvestrovich Kandinsky (1832-1926), ricco commerciante di tè, nel 1870 si trasferisce con la sua famiglia a Monaco. L'anno successivo i suoi divorziano e il piccolo Vasilij si trasferisce ad Odessa a casa della zia Elizabeth Ticheeva dove riceve le prime nozioni di disegno, dopo che da bambino, durante un viaggio a Venezia con i genitori, si innamorò delle luci notturne della città. Con lei imparò anche a suonare il violoncello, con la quale suonò nell'orchestra della scuola e proseguì con un maestro di disegno le lezioni di pittura. Dal 1886 al 1889 studia legge a Mosca. Nel 1892 si laurea, e nello stesso anno si decide a sposare la cugina Anja Čimiakin, che aveva conosciuto all'Università di Mosca e con la quale aveva stabilito un rapporto di grande intesa e affinità intellettuale. Nel 1896 rifiuta un posto di docente all'Università di Dorpat in Estonia, per studiare arte presso l'Akademie der Bildenden Künste di Monaco di Baviera dove è allievo di Franz von Stuck. Si stabilisce nel quartiere di Schwabing, in seno a una grande comunità di artisti, rivoluzionari russi, musicisti, scrittori e persone creative in generale.
La città in quel periodo sta abbandonando la moda simbolista per diventare una delle capitali dello Jugendstil. Nel 1901 Kandinskij vi fonda il gruppo Phalanx, e tra il gruppo dei suoi studenti conosce la sua futura compagna di vita Gabriele Münter. Con l'obiettivo principale di introdurre le avanguardie francesi nell'ambiente artistico tradizionalista di Monaco, apre una scuola in cui tiene lezione. I suoi dipinti dei primi anni del secolo sono paesaggi eseguiti alla spatola, all'inizio ombrosi, e poi di una intensità quasi fulva; dipinge anche temi fantastici derivanti dalla tradizione russa o dalle leggende del medioevo tedesco; questo periodo è caratterizzato dalla sperimentazione tecnica, in particolare dell'uso della tempera su carta scura, per dare l'illusione di una superficie illuminata da dietro in trasparenza.
La consistenza tonale del chiaroscuro evidenzia lo schema, cancellando la distinzione tra figure e sfondo e dando come risultato una composizione quasi astratta. Nel 1902 espone per la prima volta con La Secessione di Berlino e realizza le sue prime xilografie. Nel 1903 si trasferisce in Italia a Torino, nel SudAfrica (dove esporrà in seguito alcune sue opere) e in Russia. Nel 1904 espone nel Salone d'Autunno di Parigi. Assieme a Gabriele Münter compra nel 1908 una casetta a Murnau in Alta Baviera. Questa casa, nominata "Russenhaus" ("la casa dei russi"), diventerà luogo di incontro di innumerevoli artisti e musicisti di tutto il mondo. A Murnau Kandinskij crea i primi lavori in cui, utilizzando colori accesi e antinaturalistici, dipinge immagini prive di volume e sperimenta sulle forme e sui colori, dando così il via all'astrazione dal reale.
La prima esposizione del gruppo, denominato NKVM (Neue Künstlervereinigung München, Associazione dei Nuovi Artisti di Monaco), ha luogo nel 1909 nella Galleria Heinrich Thannhauser di Monaco. Fino alla fine del decennio, le pitture di Kandinskij denotano una gran tendenza all'appiattimento per l'intensità equivalente delle aree di colore e la superficie rilucente che distrugge ogni illusione di profondità. La serie di quadri di fantini in competizione comincia nel 1909 e in essa la linea dell'orizzonte si va gradualmente sradicando, come del resto ogni altro riferimento spaziale. Nel 1910 produce il suo primo acquerello astratto, dove nelle macchie più scure predominano due colori, il rosso e l'azzurro, che evidentemente considera relazionati perché si trovano sempre insieme.
«Il rosso è un colore caldo e tende a espandersi; l'azzurro è freddo e tende a contrarsi. Kandinskij non applica la legge dei contrasti simultanei, ma la verifica; si serve di due colori come di due forze controllabili che possono essere sommate o sottratte e, secondo i casi, cioè secondo gli impulsi che riceve, si avvale di entrambi affinché si limitino o si esaltino a vicenda. Ci sono anche segni lineari, filiformi; sono, in un certo modo, indicazioni di movimenti possibili, sono tratti che suggeriscono la direzione ed il ritmo delle macchie che vagano sulla carta. Danno movimento a tutto l'acquerello» (Argan). Nella IV Composizione del 1911, le figure sono talmente semplificate, il colore è talmente arbitrario e lo spazio talmente confuso che è impossibile distinguere l'argomento senza riferirsi ai quadri precedenti della serie.
Lo spettatore è particolarmente disorientato dal modo in cui usa la linea: tanto come elemento indipendente, quanto come limite per il colore. L'artista affronta la pittura astratta attraverso tre gruppi di opere, che anche nelle loro denominazioni indicano il legame dell'arte di Kandinskij con la musica: "impressioni", "improvvisazioni" e "composizioni". Impressioni sono i quadri nei quali resta ancora visibile l'impressione diretta della natura esteriore; improvvisazioni, quelli nati improvvisamente dall'intimo e inconsciamente; composizioni quelli alla cui costruzione partecipa il cosciente, definiti attraverso una serie di studi. Kandinskij dopo questo passaggio, non ritornerà mai più alla pittura figurativa.
Il successoNel 1911 Kandinskij e Franz Marc si ritirano dal NKVM e pongono le basi del Blaue Reiter, pubblicando un almanacco nel 1912. La prima esposizione ha luogo a dicembre, nella galleria Thannhauser di Monaco. Nello stesso anno pubblica Lo Spirituale nell'Arte, famoso e decisivo libro di Kandinsky, che intende lo spirituale dell'arte secondo due linee di forza contrapposte: da un lato la spiritualità della figura, in ultima analisi della carne; dall'altro quella dell'al di là della figura, rispetto a cui questa fa velo. Nel libro teorizza quello che va sperimentando nella sua pittura, cioè il rapporto tra forma e colore, alla base dell'astrazione. Nel 1912 viene pubblicato l'almanacco con le opere di Kandinskij e Marc, ed ha luogo la seconda esposizione del Blaue Reiter nella galleria Hans Goltz.
Nello stesso anno si tiene la prima mostra personale di Kandinskij nella galleria Der Sturm di Berlino. I temi preferiti di Kandinskij in questo periodo sono violenti e apocalittici, e traggono origine dalle immagini religiose popolari di Germania e Russia. Prima del 1912 il suo lavoro è già passato per diverse evoluzioni produttive. Nel 1913 quando dipinge Linee Nere già non si può più parlare di astrazione a partire da un soggetto; il colore e la linea hanno assunto tanta autonoma espressività da non seguire più un modello prestabilito. Opere come questa sono le prime realmente astratte.
Il percorso di Kandinskij verso l'astrazione trova giustificazione teorica in Astrazione e Empatia di Wilhelm Worringer, pubblicato nel 1908. Worringer argomenta che l'usuale gerarchia di valori, basata su leggi rinascimentali, non è valida per considerare l'arte di altre culture; molti artisti creano dalla realtà ma con un impulso astratto, cosicché le ultime tendenze dell'arte si trovano in società meno materialiste. Kandinskij era anche interessato nella Teosofia, intesa come la verità fondamentale che fa da sottofondo alla dottrina ed ai rituali in tutte le religioni del mondo; il credere in una realtà essenziale nascosta dietro le apparenze, fornisce una naturale razionalità all'arte astratta.
In Lo Spirituale nell'Arte, parla di una nuova epoca di grande spiritualità e del contributo che le dà la pittura. La nuova arte deve basarsi sul linguaggio del colore e Kandinskij dà indicazioni sulle proprietà emozionali di ciascun tono e di ciascun colore, a differenza delle precedenti teorie sul colore, egli non si interessa dello spettro, ma solo della risposta dell'anima. Nel 1913 partecipa con una sua opera all'Armory Show di New York e, allo scoppio della prima guerra mondiale, torna in Russia lasciando per sempre la sua compagna Gabriele Münter che rimarrà a Murnau nella loro casa comune fino alla morte, conservando una vastissima raccolta di quadri di Kandinskij, donati successivamente alla città di Monaco di Baviera e conservati nella Lenbachhaus.
Dopo la rivoluzione russaKandinskij rimarrà a Mosca fino al 1921. A partire dalla Rivoluzione di ottobre, Kandinsky svolge un lavoro amministrativo per il Commissariato del Popolo per l'Educazione; tra i progetti di questo organismo c'è la fondazione di vari musei e la riforma del sistema scolastico nei riguardi delle Scuole d'Arte. Nel 1914 viene allestita una mostra personale alla Galleria Thannhauser a Monaco e nel "Kreis fur Kunst" a Colonia. Kandinskij esegue quattro grandi murali per la villa di Edwin A. Campbell a New York. Il 1º agosto scoppia la prima guerra mondiale.
Il 3 agosto si rifugia in Svizzera con Gabriele Münter. Compie lunghi soggiorni a Goldach am Bodensee, dove lavora a Punto, linea, superficie e alla composizione per palcoscenico Sipario viola. Nel novembre intraprende da solo un viaggio verso la Russia, via Zurigo, per un soggiorno a Mosca. Tra il dicembre 1915 e il marzo 1916 sosta a Stoccolma, dove incontra per l'ultima volta Gabriele Munter in occasione di una mostra alla galleria Gummenson. Nel febbraio 1917 sposa Nina Andreevsky, figlia di un generale, con cui intraprende un viaggio di nozze in Finlandia. Nello stesso anno nasce il figlio Volodia, che muore nel 1920.
Nel 1921 si ritira dall'Istituto per la cultura artistica. Viene incaricato di creare la sezione psicofisica della neofondata Accademia delle scienze artistiche, di cui diventa vicedirettore e di cui dirige il laboratorio delle riproduzioni. In dicembre, lascia la Russia assieme alla moglie e si trasferisce a Berlino. Tra il 1922 e il 1933 lavora come insegnante di decorazione murale al Bauhaus, prima a Weimar, e poi, dopo il trasferimento della scuola, a Dessau. Gli anni del Bauhaus sono caratterizzati dall'amicizia con Paul Klee e dalla pubblicazione di un altro saggio fondamentale: Punto e linea sul piano. Con l'instaurazione della dittatura, accusato di bolscevismo, è costretto ad abbandonare il paese e a trasferirsi a Neuilly-sur-Seine, un sobborgo di Parigi.
Nel 1937 a Monaco viene realizzata la celebre mostra sull'Arte Degenerata, con cui Adolf Hitler si propone di condannare le nuove avanguardie artistiche. Nella mostra compaiono circa 50 opere di Kandinskij, poi vendute a basso costo all'asta ad acquirenti stranieri. Nel 1938 partecipa alla mostra Abstracte Kunst nello Stedelijk Museum di Amsterdam. Nello stesso anno pubblica quattro poesie e silografie nella rivista Transition. Il suo saggio L'Art Concert esce sul primo numero del XXe Siècle. Nel 1942 dipinge la sua ultima grande tela, Tensions dèlicates. In seguito, realizza soltanto opere di piccolo formato su cartone catramato. Personale alla Galerie Jeanne Bucher di Parigi. Muore nel 1944 nell'abitazione di Neuilly-sur-Seine dove ha vissuto negli ultimi dieci anni della sua vita.
Lo spirituale nell'arteKandinskij, nelle sue opere, espone le sue teorie sull'uso del colore, intravedendo un nesso strettissimo tra opera d'arte e dimensione spirituale. Il colore può avere due possibili effetti sullo spettatore: un "effetto fisico", superficiale e basato su sensazioni momentanee, determinato dalla registrazione da parte della retina di un colore piuttosto che di un altro; un "effetto psichico" dovuto alla vibrazione spirituale (prodotta dalla forza psichica dell'uomo) attraverso cui il colore raggiunge l'anima. Esso può essere diretto o verificarsi per associazione con gli altri sensi. L'effetto psichico del colore è determinato dalle sue qualità sensibili: il colore ha un odore, un sapore, un suono.
Perciò il rosso, ad esempio, risveglia in noi l'emozione del dolore, non per un'associazione di idee (rosso-sangue-dolore), ma per le sue proprie caratteristiche, per il suo "suono interiore". Kandinskij utilizza una metafora musicale per spiegare quest'effetto: il colore è il tasto, l'occhio è il martelletto, l'anima è un pianoforte con molte corde. Il colore può essere caldo o freddo, chiaro o scuro. Questi quattro "suoni" principali possono essere combinati tra loro: caldo-chiaro, caldo-scuro, freddo-chiaro, freddo-scuro. Il punto di riferimento per i colori caldi è il giallo, quello dei colori freddi è l'azzurro.
Alle polarità caldo-freddo Kandinskij attribuisce un doppio movimento: uno "orizzontale" ed uno "radiante". Il giallo è dotato di un movimento radiante che lo fa avanzare verso lo spettatore rispetto al piano in cui è fisicamente, inoltre è dotato di un movimento eccentrico-centrifugo perché si allarga verso l'esterno, abbaglia, respinge. L'azzurro è dotato di un movimento orizzontale che lo fa indietreggiare dallo spettatore ed è dotato di un movimento concentrico-centripeto perché si avvolge su sé stesso, esso creando un effetto di immersione attira lo spettatore. Kandinskij, sempre in base alla teoria secondo la quale il movimento del colore è una vibrazione che tocca le corde dell'interiorità, descrive i colori in base alle sensazioni e alle emozioni che suscitano nello spettatore, paragonandoli a strumenti musicali.
Egli si occupa dei colori primari (giallo, blu, rosso) e poi di colori secondari (arancione, verde, viola), ciascuno dei quali è frutto della mescolanza tra due primari. Analizzerà anche le proprietà di marrone, grigio, bianco e nero.
- Il giallo è dotato di una follia vitale, prorompente, di un'irrazionalità cieca; viene paragonato al suono di una tromba, di una fanfara. Il giallo indica anche eccitazione quindi può essere accostato spesso al rosso ma si differenzia da quest'ultimo.
- L'azzurro è il blu che tende ai toni più chiari, è indifferente, distante, come un cielo artistico; è paragonabile al suono di un flauto. Inoltre il blu scuro viene paragonato al suono di un organo. Il blu è il colore del cielo, è profondo; quando è intenso suggerisce quiete, quando tende al nero è fortemente drammatico, quando tende ai toni più chiari le sue qualità sono simili a quelle dell'azzurro, se viene mischiato con il giallo lo rende malto, ed è come se la follia del giallo divenisse "ipocondria". In genere è associato al suono del violoncello.
- Il rosso è caldo, vitale, vivace, irrequieto ma diverso dal giallo, perché non ha la sua superficialità. L'energia del rosso è consapevole, può essere canalizzata. Più è chiaro e tendente al giallo, più ha vitalità, energia. Il rosso medio è profondo, il rosso scuro è più meditativo. È paragonato al suono di una tuba.
- L'arancione esprime energia, movimento, e più è vicino alle tonalità del giallo, più è superficiale; è paragonabile al suono di una campana o di un contralto.
- Il verde è assoluta mobilità in una assoluta quiete, fa annoiare, suggerisce opulenza, compiacimento, è una quiete appagata, appena vira verso il giallo acquista energia, giocosità. Con il blu diventa pensieroso, attivo. Ha i toni ampi, caldi, semigravi del violino.
- Il viola, come l'arancione, è instabile ed è molto difficile utilizzarlo nella fascia intermedia tra rosso e blu. È paragonabile al corno inglese, alla zampogna, al fagotto.
- Il marrone si ottiene mischiando il nero con il rosso, ma essendo l'energia di quest'ultimo fortemente sorvegliata, ne consegue che esso risulti ottuso, duro, poco dinamico.
- Il grigio è l'equivalente del verde, ugualmente statico, indica quiete, ma mentre nel verde è presente, seppur paralizzata, l'energia del giallo che lo fa variare verso tonalità più chiare o più fredde facendogli recuperare vibrazione, nel grigio c'è assoluta mancanza di movimento, che esso volga verso il bianco o verso il nero.
- Il bianco è dato dalla somma (convenzionale) di tutti i colori dell'iride, ma è un mondo in cui tutti questi colori sono scomparsi, di fatto è un muro di silenzio assoluto, interiormente lo sentiamo come un non-suono. Tuttavia è un silenzio di nascita, ricco di potenzialità; è la pausa tra una battuta e l'altra di un'esecuzione musicale, che prelude ad altri suoni.
- Il nero è mancanza di luce, è un non-colore, è spento come un rogo arso completamente. È un silenzio di morte; è la pausa finale di un'esecuzione musicale, tuttavia a differenza del bianco (in cui il colore che vi è già contenuto è flebile) fa risaltare qualsiasi colore.
Molto importante è anche l'orientamento delle forme sulla superficie pittorica, ad esempio, il quadrato su un lato è solido, consapevole, statico; su un vertice (losanga) è instabile e gli si assocerà un rosso caldo, non uno freddo e meditativo. La composizione di un quadro non deve rispondere ad esigenze puramente estetiche ed esteriori, piuttosto deve essere coerente al principio della necessità interiore: quella che l'autore chiama onestà. Il bello non è più ciò che risponde a canoni ordinari prestabiliti. Il bello è ciò che risponde ad una necessità interiore, che l'artista sente come tale
"Punto, linea, superficie"Kandinskij in questo saggio si dedica alla parte grafica che può esistere anche senza il colore. Il punto è il primo nucleo del significato di una composizione, nasce quando il pittore tocca la tela; è statico. La linea è la traccia lasciata dal punto in movimento, per questo è dinamica. Può essere orizzontale, verticale, diagonale. Può essere spezzata, curva, mista. I singoli suoni possono essere mescolati tra loro; più la linea è variata, più cambiano le tensioni spirituali che suscita: drammatiche se è spezzata, più liriche se è curva. Anche lo spessore cambia: può essere sottile, marcato, spesso, variabile.
La superficie è il supporto materiale destinato a ricevere il contenuto dell'opera, si tratta solitamente di una tela (ma Kandinskij ha dipinto anche del vasellame e dei piatti). L'opera risulta dunque essere limitata da due linee orizzontali e due verticali, oppure da una linea curva (per la tela a formato ellittico). L'autore può dare accentuazione alle forme girando la tela e sfruttandone i piani diversi, ma non può fare quest'azione a posteriori, come faceva per esempio Jackson Pollock, bensì ci vuole fin alla creazione dell'opera lucidità e consapevolezza artistica.
I lavori teatraliParte non secondaria della ricerca di Kandinskij è costituita dai lavori teatrali, concepiti in un'ottica di relazioni profonde tra le diverse componenti espressive – forma, suono, colore, luce, movimento – in funzione di un nuovo tipo di opera d'arte, a carattere multimediale. I primi suoi studi in tal senso furono i frammenti teatrali Paradiesgarten e Daphnis und Chloe, del 1908-1909. Degli anni immediatamente successivi, 1909-1914, sono invece i testi delle sue "composizioni sceniche": Suono giallo, Suono verde, Bianco e Nero, Viola.
Solo il primo di essi venne pubblicato e nessuno venne realizzato dal suo autore, nonostante i suoi diversi tentativi in tal senso. Si tratta di testi visionari, nei quali i personaggi si muovono in un mondo astratto denso di evocazioni, di immagini, di colori. L'unica opera teatrale che Kandinskij ebbe la possibilità di mettere in scena fu Quadri da un'esposizione, dal poema musicale di Modest Musorgskij, che l'artista presentò nel 1928, al Friedrich Theater di Dessau. L'opera di Musorgskij è strutturata sull'idea della visita ad un'esposizione di acquerelli del pittore Viktor Aleksandrovič Hartmann, suo amico, e si divide in Promenades (i movimenti del visitatore nella galleria) e Quadri (i contenuti delle opere in mostra).
A tale struttura fa riferimento la messinscena di Kandinskij, risolta con una successione di scene costituite di forme colorate geometriche, che traducono i temi musicali in immagini astratte in movimento. Uno spettacolo, dunque, realizzato sostanzialmente con forme, colori e luci, mentre la presenza dei performer è del tutto marginale, essendo costituita da due danzatori, usati in due brevi scene. Alcune delle composizioni sceniche kandinskijane, non realizzate dall'autore, sono state messe in scena da altri, pur in forme che spesso si distaccano dall'originale.
Tra le messinscene di Suono giallo, vi sono quelle realizzate da Jacques Polieri nel 1975 (musica di Alfred Schnittke, coreografia di Maximilien Ducroux); da Ian Strasfogel nel 1982 (scenografie di Robert Israel, luci di Richard Riddel, coreografia di Hellmut Fricke-Gottschield); dalla compagnia Solari-Vanzi nel 1985 (scene di Beatrice Scarpato, luci di Stefano Pirandello) al Fabbricone di Prato; da Fabrizio Crisafulli nel 2002, al teatro romano Amiternum dell'Aquila, con la musica di Giancarlo Schiaffini, la coreografia di Diego Watzke, un'opera video di Marco Amorini.
Di Viola si ricordano la libera messinscena di Giulio Turcato alla Biennale di Venezia del 1984 (musica di Luciano Berio, regia di Vana Caruso, coreografia di Min Tanaka) e quella realizzata (anche in film) da Kirsten Winter nel 1996, per iniziativa del Museo Sprengel e del Verein Kunst und Bühne di Hannover. La messinscena kandinskijana di Quadri di un'Esposizione è stata ricostruita fedelmente nel 1983 dalla Hochschule der Künste di Berlino. Versioni differenti, dedicate all'artista russo, sono state proposte da Fabrizio Crisafulli nel 1994 e nel 2007).
- Chiesa della Natività della Vergine a Mosca (1886) - Parigi, Centro Pompidou;
- Fiume d'autunno (primi del 900) - San Pietroburgo, Museo di Stato Russo;
- Vecchia città II (1902) - Parigi, Musée national d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou;
- Il cavaliere azzurro (1903) - Collezione privata, Zurigo;
- Mulini a vento (1904) - Centre Pompidou, Parigi;
- Improvvisazione 6 (1909) - Lenbachhaus Monaco di Baviera;
- Paesaggio estivo (Case a Murnau) (1909) - Museo di Stato Russo, San Pietroburgo;
- Chiesa rossa (1900-1910) - Museo di Stato Russo, San Pietroburgo;
- Primo acquerello astratto (1910-1913) - Parigi, [Musèe National d'Art Moderne], Centre Georges Pompidou;
- Impressione VII (1910) - Galleria Statale Tret'jakov Mosca;
- Improvvisazione 11 (1910) - Museo di Stato Russo San Pietroburgo;
- Paesaggio romantico (1911) - Lenbachhaus Monaco di Baviera;
- Impressione VI (Domenica) (1911) - Lenbachhaus Monaco di Baviera;
- Improvvisazione 19 (1911) - Lenbachhaus Monaco di Baviera;
- San Giorgio II (1911) - Museo di Stato Russo, San Pietroburgo;
- San Giorgio III (1911) - Lenbachhaus Monaco di Baviera;
- Impressione III (concerto) (1911) - Lenbachhaus Monaco di Baviera;
- Macchia nera I (1912) - Museo di Stato Russo, San Pietroburgo;
- Improvvisazione 26 (rematori) (1912) - Lenbachhaus Monaco di Baviera;
- L'oriente (1913) - Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum;
- Composizione VI (1913) - Museo dell'Ermitage, San Pietroburgo;
- Composizione VII (1913) - Galleria Tret'jakov, Mosca;
- Improvvisazione con forme fredde (1914) - Galleria Tret'jakov, Mosca;
- Macchia rossa I (1914) - ?;
- Mosca I (1916) - Galleria Tret'jakov, Mosca;
- San Giorgio (1914-1917) - Galleria Tret'jakov, Mosca;
- Macchia rossa II (1921) - Lenbachhaus Monaco di Baviera;
- Arco azzurro (1917) - Museo di Stato Russo, San Pietroburgo;
- Due ovali (1919) - Museo di Stato Russo, San Pietroburgo;
- Tratto bianco (1920) - Museum Ludwig, Colonia;
- Composizione VIII (1923) - Guggenheim Museum, New York;
- Giallo, rosso, blu (1925) - Parigi, Musée National d'art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou;
- Alcuni cerchi (1926) - Guggenheim Museum, New York;
- Composizione X (1939) - Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf;
- Blu di cielo (1940) - Parigi, Musèe National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou;
- Slancio moderato (1944) - Parigi, Musèe National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou.
- Nadia Podzemskaia, Colore simbolo immagine: origine della teoria di Kandinsky, Alinea editrice, Firenze, 2000.
- Alexander Kojève, Kandinsky, Quodlibet, Macerata, 2005
Opere in traduzione italiana
- V. Kandinskij - Punto, linea, superficie. Contributo all'analisi degli elementi pittorici (1968)
- V. Kandinskij; M. Franz - Il cavaliere azzurro (1988)
- V. Kandinskij - Il suono giallo e altre composizioni sceniche (2002)
- V. Kandinskij; A. Schönberg - Musica e pittura (2002)
- V. Kandinskij - Lo spirituale nell'arte (2005)
- V. Kandinskij - Sguardi sul passato (2006)
Vasilij Vasil'evič Kandinskij nei musei italiani
- Galleria d'arte moderna e contemporanea di Bergamo
- Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna e contemporanea di Roma
- Galleria internazionale d'arte moderna Ca' Pesaro di Venezia
- Museo del Novecento di Milano
- Pinacoteca comunale “Orneore Metelli” di Terni
- Peggy Guggenheim Collection di Venezia
Der Blaue Reiter (1903)
In 1896 Kandinsky settled in Munich, studying first at Anton Ažbe's private school and then at the Academy of Fine Arts. He returned to Moscow in 1914, after the outbreak of World War I. Kandinsky was unsympathetic to the official theories on art in Communist Moscow, and returned to Germany in 1921. There, he taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture from 1922 until the Nazis closed it in 1933. He then moved to France, where he lived for the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1939 and producing some of his most prominent art. He died at Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1944.
His grandson was musicology professor and writer Aleksey Ivanovich Kandinsky (1918 – 2000), whose career was both focused on and centered in Russia.
Artistic periodsKandinsky's creation of abstract work followed a long period of development and maturation of intense thought based on his artistic experiences. He called this devotion to inner beauty, fervor of spirit, and spiritual desire inner necessity; it was a central aspect of his art.
Youth and inspiration (1866–1896)Kandinsky was born in Moscow, the son of Lidia Ticheeva and Vasily Silvestrovich Kandinsky, a tea merchant. Kandinsky learned from a variety of sources while in Moscow. He studied many fields while in school, including law and economics. Later in life, he would recall being fascinated and stimulated by colour as a child. His fascination with colour symbolism and psychology continued as he grew. In 1889, he was part of an ethnographic research group which travelled to the Vologda region north of Moscow. In Looks on the Past, he relates that the houses and churches were decorated with such shimmering colours that upon entering them, he felt that he was moving into a painting. This experience, and his study of the region's folk art (particularly the use of bright colours on a dark background), was reflected in much of his early work. A few years later he first likened painting to composing music in the manner for which he would become noted, writing, "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". Kandinsky was also the uncle of Russian-French philosopher Alexandre Kojève (1902-1968).
In 1896, at the age of 30, Kandinsky gave up a promising career teaching law and economics to enroll in the Munich Academy where his teachers would eventually include Franz von Stuck. He was not immediately granted admission, and began learning art on his own. That same year, before leaving Moscow, he saw an exhibit of paintings by Monet. He was particularly taken with the impressionistic style of Haystacks; this, to him, had a powerful sense of colour almost independent of the objects themselves. Later, he would write about this experience:
That it was a haystack the catalogue informed me. I could not recognize it. This non-recognition was painful to me. I considered that the painter had no right to paint indistinctly. I dully felt that the object of the painting was missing. And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineradicably on my memory. Painting took on a fairy-tale power and splendour.Kandinsky was similarly influenced during this period by Richard Wagner's Lohengrin which, he felt, pushed the limits of music and melody beyond standard lyricism. He was also spiritually influenced by Madame Blavatsky (1831–1891), the best-known exponent of theosophy. Theosophical theory postulates that creation is a geometrical progression, beginning with a single point. The creative aspect of the form is expressed by a descending series of circles, triangles and squares. Kandinsky's book Concerning the Spiritual In Art (1910) and Point and Line to Plane (1926) echoed this theosophical tenet. Illustrations by John Varley in Thought Forms (1901) influenced him visually.
— Wassily Kandinsky
MetamorphosisArt school, usually considered difficult, was easy for Kandinsky. It was during this time that he began to emerge as an art theorist as well as a painter. The number of his existing paintings increased in the beginning of the 20th century; much remains of the landscapes and towns he painted, using broad swaths of colour and recognizable forms. For the most part, however, Kandinsky's paintings did not feature any human figures; an exception is Sunday, Old Russia (1904), in which Kandinsky recreates a highly colourful (and fanciful) view of peasants and nobles in front of the walls of a town. Riding Couple (1907) depicts a man on horseback, holding a woman with tenderness and care as they ride past a Russian town with luminous walls across a river. The horse is muted while the leaves in the trees, the town, and the reflections in the river glisten with spots of colour and brightness. This work demonstrates the influence of pointillism in the way the depth of field is collapsed into a flat, luminescent surface. Fauvism is also apparent in these early works. Colours are used to express Kandinsky's experience of subject matter, not to describe objective nature.
Perhaps the most important of his paintings from the first decade of the 1900s was The Blue Rider (1903), which shows a small cloaked figure on a speeding horse rushing through a rocky meadow. The rider's cloak is medium blue, which casts a darker-blue shadow. In the foreground are more amorphous blue shadows, the counterparts of the fall trees in the background. The blue rider in the painting is prominent (but not clearly defined), and the horse has an unnatural gait (which Kandinsky must have known). Some art historians believe that a second figure (perhaps a child) is being held by the rider, although this may be another shadow from the solitary rider. This intentional disjunction, allowing viewers to participate in the creation of the artwork, became an increasingly conscious technique used by Kandinsky in subsequent years; it culminated in the abstract works of the 1911–1914 period. In The Blue Rider, Kandinsky shows the rider more as a series of colours than in specific detail. This painting is not exceptional in that regard when compared with contemporary painters, but it shows the direction Kandinsky would take only a few years later.
From 1906 to 1908 Kandinsky spent a great deal of time travelling across Europe (he was an associate of the Blue Rose symbolist group of Moscow), until he settled in the small Bavarian town of Murnau. In 1908 he bought a copy of Thought-Forms by Annie Besant and Charles Webster Leadbeater. In 1909 he joined the Theosophical Society. The Blue Mountain (1908–1909) was painted at this time, demonstrating his trend toward abstraction. A mountain of blue is flanked by two broad trees, one yellow and one red. A procession, with three riders and several others, crosses at the bottom. The faces, clothing, and saddles of the riders are each a single colour, and neither they nor the walking figures display any real detail. The flat planes and the contours also are indicative of Fauvist influence. The broad use of colour in The Blue Mountain illustrates Kandinsky's inclination toward an art in which colour is presented independently of form, and which each colour is given equal attention. The composition is more planar; the painting is divided into four sections: the sky, the red tree, the yellow tree and the blue mountain with the three riders.
Blue Rider Period (1911–1914)Kandinsky's paintings from this period are large, expressive coloured masses evaluated independently from forms and lines; these serve no longer to delimit them, but overlap freely to form paintings of extraordinary force. Music was important to the birth of abstract art, since music is abstract by nature—it does not try to represent the exterior world, but expresses in an immediate way the inner feelings of the soul. Kandinsky sometimes used musical terms to identify his works; he called his most spontaneous paintings "improvisations" and described more elaborate works as "compositions."
In addition to painting, Kandinsky was an art theorist; his influence on the history of Western art stems perhaps more from his theoretical works than from his paintings. He helped found the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (Munich New Artists' Association), becoming its president in 1909. However, the group could not integrate the radical approach of Kandinsky (and others) with conventional artistic concepts and the group dissolved in late 1911. Kandinsky then formed a new group, the Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) with like-minded artists such as August Macke, Franz Marc, Albert Bloch, and Gabriele Münter. The group released an almanac (The Blue Rider Almanac) and held two exhibits. More of each were planned, but the outbreak of World War I in 1914 ended these plans and sent Kandinsky back to Russia via Switzerland and Sweden.
His writing in The Blue Rider Almanac and the treatise "On the Spiritual In Art" (which was released in 1910) were both a defence and promotion of abstract art and an affirmation that all forms of art were equally capable of reaching a level of spirituality. He believed that colour could be used in a painting as something autonomous, apart from the visual description of an object or other form.
These ideas had an almost-immediate international impact, particularly in the English-speaking world. As early as 1912, On the Spiritual In Art was reviewed by Michael Sadleir in the London-based Art News. Interest in Kandinsky grew apace when Sadleir published an English translation of On the Spiritual In Art in 1914. Extracts from the book were published that year in Percy Wyndham Lewis's periodical Blast, and Alfred Orage's weekly cultural newspaper The New Age. Kandinsky had received some notice earlier in Britain, however; in 1910, he participated in the Allied Artists' Exhibition (organised by Frank Rutter) at London's Royal Albert Hall. This resulted in his work being singled out for praise in a review of that show by the artist Spencer Frederick Gore in The Art News.
Sadleir's interest in Kandinsky also led to Kandinsky's first works entering a British art collection; Sadleir's father, Michael Sadler, acquired several woodprints and the abstract painting Fragment for Composition VII in 1913 following a visit by father and son to meet Kandinsky in Munich that year. These works were displayed in Leeds, either in the University or the premises of the Leeds Arts Club, between 1913 and 1923.
Return to Russia (1914–1921)
The sun melts all of Moscow down to a single spot that, like a mad tuba, starts all of the heart and all of the soul vibrating. But no, this uniformity of red is not the most beautiful hour. It is only the final chord of a symphony that takes every colour to the zenith of life that, like the fortissimo of a great orchestra, is both compelled and allowed by Moscow to ring out.From 1918 to 1921, Kandinsky dealt with the cultural politics of Russia and collaborated in art education and museum reform. He painted little during this period, but devoted his time to artistic teaching, with a program based on form and colour analysis; he also helped organize the Institute of Artistic Culture in Moscow. In 1916 he met Nina Andreievskaya (she died in 1980), whom he married the following year. His spiritual, expressionistic view of art was ultimately rejected by the radical members of the Institute as too individualistic and bourgeois. In 1921, Kandinsky was invited to go to Germany to attend the Bauhaus of Weimar by its founder, architect Walter Gropius.
— Wassily Kandinsky
Bauhaus (1922–1933)Kandinsky taught the basic design class for beginners and the course on advanced theory at the Bauhaus; he also conducted painting classes and a workshop in which he augmented his colour theory with new elements of form psychology. The development of his works on forms study, particularly on points and line forms, led to the publication of his second theoretical book (Point and Line to Plane) in 1926. His examinations of the effects of forces on straight lines, leading to the contrasting tones of curved and angled lines, coincided with the research of Gestalt psychologists, whose work was also discussed at the Bauhaus. Geometrical elements took on increasing importance in both his teaching and painting—particularly the circle, half-circle, the angle, straight lines and curves. This period was intensely productive. This freedom is characterised in his works by the treatment of planes rich in colours and gradations—as in Yellow – red – blue (1925), where Kandinsky illustrates his distance from the constructivism and suprematism movements influential at the time.
The two-meter-wide Yellow – red – blue (1925) consists of several main forms: a vertical yellow rectangle, an inclined red cross and a large dark blue circle; a multitude of straight (or sinuous) black lines, circular arcs, monochromatic circles and scattered, coloured checkerboards contribute to its delicate complexity. This simple visual identification of forms and the main coloured masses present on the canvas is only a first approach to the inner reality of the work, whose appreciation necessitates deeper observation—not only of forms and colours involved in the painting but their relationship, their absolute and relative positions on the canvas and their harmony.
Kandinsky was one of Die Blaue Vier (Blue Four), formed in 1923 with Klee, Feininger and von Jawlensky, which lectured and exhibited in the United States in 1924. Due to right-wing hostility, the Bauhaus left Weimar and settled in Dessau in 1925. Following a Nazi smear campaign the Bauhaus left Dessau in 1932 for Berlin, until its dissolution in July 1933. Kandinsky then left Germany, settling in Paris.
Great Synthesis (1934–1944)Living in an apartment in Paris, Kandinsky created his work in a living-room studio. Biomorphic forms with supple, non-geometric outlines appear in his paintings—forms which suggest microscopic organisms but express the artist's inner life. Kandinsky used original colour compositions, evoking Slavic popular art. He also occasionally mixed sand with paint to give a granular, rustic texture to his paintings.
This period corresponds to a synthesis of Kandinsky's previous work in which he used all elements, enriching them. In 1936 and 1939 he painted his two last major compositions, the type of elaborate canvases he had not produced for many years. Composition IX has highly contrasted, powerful diagonals whose central form gives the impression of an embryo in the womb. Small squares of colours and coloured bands stand out against the black background of Composition X as star fragments (or filaments), while enigmatic hieroglyphs with pastel tones cover a large maroon mass which seems to float in the upper-left corner of the canvas. In Kandinsky’s work some characteristics are obvious, while certain touches are more discreet and veiled; they reveal themselves only progressively to those who deepen their connection with his work. He intended his forms (which he subtly harmonized and placed) to resonate with the observer's soul.
Kandinsky's conception of art
The artist as prophetWriting that "music is the ultimate teacher," Kandinsky embarked upon the first seven of his ten Compositions. The first three survive only in black-and-white photographs taken by fellow artist and friend Gabriele Münter. While studies, sketches, and improvisations exist (particularly of Composition II), a Nazi raid on the Bauhaus in the 1930s resulted in the confiscation of Kandinsky's first three Compositions. They were displayed in the State-sponsored exhibit "Degenerate Art", and then destroyed (along with works by Paul Klee, Franz Marc and other modern artists).
Fascinated by Christian eschatology and the perception of a coming New Age, a common theme among Kandinsky's first seven Compositions is the apocalypse (the end of the world as we know it). Writing of the "artist as prophet" in his book, Concerning the Spiritual In Art, Kandinsky created paintings in the years immediately preceding World War I showing a coming cataclysm which would alter individual and social reality. Having a fervent belief in Orthodox Christianity, Kandinsky drew upon the biblical stories of Noah's Ark, Jonah and the whale, Christ's resurrection, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in the book of Revelation, Russian folktales and the common mythological experiences of death and rebirth. Never attempting to picture any one of these stories as a narrative, he used their veiled imagery as symbols of the archetypes of death–rebirth and destruction–creation he felt were imminent in the pre-World War I world.
As he stated in Concerning the Spiritual In Art (see below), Kandinsky felt that an authentic artist creating art from "an internal necessity" inhabits the tip of an upward-moving pyramid. This progressing pyramid is penetrating and proceeding into the future. What was odd or inconceivable yesterday is commonplace today; what is avant garde today (and understood only by the few) is common knowledge tomorrow. The modern artist–prophet stands alone at the apex of the pyramid, making new discoveries and ushering in tomorrow's reality. Kandinsky was aware of recent scientific developments and the advances of modern artists who had contributed to radically new ways of seeing and experiencing the world.
Composition IV and later paintings are primarily concerned with evoking a spiritual resonance in viewer and artist. As in his painting of the apocalypse by water (Composition VI), Kandinsky puts the viewer in the situation of experiencing these epic myths by translating them into contemporary terms (with a sense of desperation, flurry, urgency, and confusion). This spiritual communion of viewer-painting-artist/prophet may be described within the limits of words and images.
Artistic and spiritual theoristAs the Der Blaue Reiter Almanac essays and theorizing with composer Arnold Schoenberg indicate, Kandinsky also expressed the communion between artist and viewer as being available to both the senses and the mind (synesthesia). Hearing tones and chords as he painted, Kandinsky theorized that (for example), yellow is the colour of middle C on a brassy trumpet; black is the colour of closure, and the end of things; and that combinations of colours produce vibrational frequencies, akin to chords played on a piano. Kandinsky also developed a theory of geometric figures and their relationships—claiming, for example, that the circle is the most peaceful shape and represents the human soul. These theories are explained in Point and Line to Plane (see below).
Kandinsky's legendary stage design for a performance of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" illustrates his synaesthetic concept of a universal correspondence of forms, colors and musical sounds. In 1928 in the theater of Dessau Wassily Kandinsky realized the stage production of "Pictures at an Exhibition". In 2015 the original designs of the stage elements were animated with modern video technology and synchronized with the music according to the preparatory notes of Kandinsky and the director's script of Felix Klee.
During the studies Kandinsky made in preparation for Composition IV, he became exhausted while working on a painting and went for a walk. While he was out, Gabriele Münter tidied his studio and inadvertently turned his canvas on its side. Upon returning and seeing the canvas (but not yet recognizing it) Kandinsky fell to his knees and wept, saying it was the most beautiful painting he had ever seen. He had been liberated from attachment to an object. As when he first viewed Monet's Haystacks, the experience would change his life.
In another episode with Münter during the Bavarian abstract expressionist years, Kandinsky was working on his Composition VI. From nearly six months of study and preparation, he had intended the work to evoke a flood, baptism, destruction, and rebirth simultaneously. After outlining the work on a mural-sized wood panel, he became blocked and could not go on. Münter told him that he was trapped in his intellect and not reaching the true subject of the picture. She suggested he simply repeat the word uberflut ("deluge" or "flood") and focus on its sound rather than its meaning. Repeating this word like a mantra, Kandinsky painted and completed the monumental work in a three-day span.
Theoretical writings on artKandinsky's analyses on forms and colours result not from simple, arbitrary idea-associations but from the painter's inner experience. He spent years creating abstract, sensorially rich paintings, working with form and colour, tirelessly observing his own paintings and those of other artists, noting their effects on his sense of colour. This subjective experience is something that anyone can do—not scientific, objective observations but inner, subjective ones, what French philosopher Michel Henry calls "absolute subjectivity" or the "absolute phenomenological life".
Concerning the spiritual in artPublished in 1912, Kandinsky's text, Du Spirituel dans l’art, defines three types of painting; impressions, improvisations and compositions. While impressions are based on an external reality that serves as a starting point, improvisations and compositions depict images emergent from the unconscious, though composition is developed from a more formal point of view. Kandinsky compares the spiritual life of humanity to a pyramid—the artist has a mission to lead others to the pinnacle with his work. The point of the pyramid is those few, great artists. It is a spiritual pyramid, advancing and ascending slowly even if it sometimes appears immobile. During decadent periods, the soul sinks to the bottom of the pyramid; humanity searches only for external success, ignoring spiritual forces.
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, similar to the joyful impression when we eat a delicacy. 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.
"Inner necessity" is, for Kandinsky, the principle of art and the foundation of forms and the harmony of colours. He defines it as the principle of efficient contact of the form with the human soul. Every form is the delimitation of a surface by another one; it possesses an inner content, the effect it produces on one who looks at it attentively. This inner necessity is the right of the artist to unlimited freedom, but this freedom becomes licence if it is not founded on such a necessity. Art is born from the inner necessity of the artist in an enigmatic, mystical way through which it acquires an autonomous life; it becomes an independent subject, animated by a spiritual breath.
The obvious properties we can see when we look at an isolated colour and let it act alone; on one side is the warmth or coldness of the colour tone, and on the other side is the clarity or obscurity of that tone. Warmth is a tendency towards yellow, and coldness a tendency towards blue; yellow and blue form the first great, dynamic contrast. Yellow has an eccentric movement and blue a concentric movement; a yellow surface seems to move closer to us, while a blue surface seems to move away. Yellow is a typically terrestrial colour, whose violence can be painful and aggressive. Blue is a celestial colour, evoking a deep calm. The combination of blue and yellow yields total immobility and calm, which is green.
Clarity is a tendency towards white, and obscurity is a tendency towards black. White and black form the second great contrast, which is static. White is a deep, absolute silence, full of possibility. Black is nothingness without possibility, an eternal silence without hope, and corresponds with death. Any other colour resonates strongly on its neighbors. The mixing of white with black leads to gray, which possesses no active force and whose tonality is near that of green. Gray corresponds to immobility without hope; it tends to despair when it becomes dark, regaining little hope when it lightens.
Red is a warm colour, lively and agitated; it is forceful, a movement in itself. Mixed with black it becomes brown, a hard colour. Mixed with yellow, it gains in warmth and becomes orange, which imparts an irradiating movement on its surroundings.When red is mixed with blue it moves away from man to become purple, which is a cool red. Red and green form the third great contrast, and orange and purple the fourth.
Point and line to planeIn his writings, Kandinsky analyzed the geometrical elements which make up every painting—the point and the line. He called the physical support and the material surface on which the artist draws or paints the basic plane, or BP. He did not analyze them objectively, but from the point of view of their inner effect on the observer.
A point is a small bit of colour put by the artist on the canvas. It is neither a geometric point nor a mathematical abstraction; it is extension, form and colour. This form can be a square, a triangle, a circle, a star or something more complex. The point is the most concise form but, according to its placement on the basic plane, it will take a different tonality. It can be isolated or resonate with other points or lines.
A line is the product of a force which has been applied in a given direction: the force exerted on the pencil or paintbrush by the artist. The produced linear forms may be of several types: a straight line, which results from a unique force applied in a single direction; an angular line, resulting from the alternation of two forces in different directions, or a curved (or wave-like) line, produced by the effect of two forces acting simultaneously. A plane may be obtained by condensation (from a line rotated around one of its ends).
The subjective effect produced by a line depends on its orientation: a horizontal line corresponds with the ground on which man rests and moves; it possesses a dark and cold affective tonality similar to black or blue. A vertical line corresponds with height, and offers no support; it possesses a luminous, warm tonality close to white and yellow. A diagonal possesses a more-or-less warm (or cold) tonality, according to its inclination toward the horizontal or the vertical.
A force which deploys itself, without obstacle, as the one which produces a straight line corresponds with lyricism; several forces which confront (or annoy) each other form a drama. The angle formed by the angular line also has an inner sonority which is warm and close to yellow for an acute angle (a triangle), cold and similar to blue for an obtuse angle (a circle), and similar to red for a right angle (a square).
The basic plane is, in general, rectangular or square. therefore, it is composed of horizontal and vertical lines which delimit it and define it as an autonomous entity which supports the painting, communicating its affective tonality. This tonality is determined by the relative importance of horizontal and vertical lines: the horizontals giving a calm, cold tonality to the basic plane while the verticals impart a calm, warm tonality. The artist intuits the inner effect of the canvas format and dimensions, which he chooses according to the tonality he wants to give to his work. Kandinsky considered the basic plane a living being, which the artist "fertilizes" and feels "breathing".
Each part of the basic plane possesses an affective colouration; this influences the tonality of the pictorial elements which will be drawn on it, and contributes to the richness of the composition resulting from their juxtaposition on the canvas. The above of the basic plane corresponds with looseness and to lightness, while the below evokes condensation and heaviness. The painter's job is to listen and know these effects to produce paintings which are not just the effect of a random process, but the fruit of authentic work and the result of an effort towards inner beauty.
This book contains many photographic examples and drawing from Kandinsky’s works which offer the demonstration of its theoretical observations, and which allow the reader to reproduce in him the inner obviousness provided that he takes the time to look at those pictures with care, that he let them acting on its own sensibility and that he let vibrating the sensible and spiritual strings of his soul.
Art marketIn 2012, Christie's auctioned Kandinsky's Studie für Improvisation 8 (Study for Improvisation 8), a 1909 view of a man wielding a broadsword in a rainbow-hued village, for $23 million. The painting had been on loan to the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland, since 1960 and was sold to a European collector by the Volkart Foundation, the charitable arm of the Swiss commodities trading firm Volkart Brothers. Before this sale, the artist's last record was set in 1990 when Sotheby's sold his Fugue (1914) for $20.9 million.
In popular cultureThe 1990 play Six Degrees of Separation refers to a "double-sided Kandinsky" painting. No such painting is known to exist; in the 1993 film version of the play, the double-sided painting is portrayed as having Kandinsky's 1913 painting Black Lines on one side and his 1926 painting Several Circles on the other side.
In 2014, Google commemorated Kandinsky's 148th birthday by featuring a Google Doodle based on his abstract paintings.
A picture-book biography entitled The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky's Abstract Art was published in 2014. Its illustrations by Mary GrandPre earned it a 2015 Caldecott Honor.
Early-period work, Munich-Schwabing with the Church of St. Ursula (1908)
Quotes of Kandinsky
- In your works, you have realized what I, albeit in uncertain form,
have so greatly longed for in music. The independent progress through
their own destinies, the independent life of the individual voices in
your compositions is exactly what I am trying to find in my paintings.
- Quote from a letter to w:Schönberg, 1911, as quoted in: Gerald Izenberg (2000) Modernism and Masculinity: Mann, Wedekind, Kandinsky Through World War I. p. 207 : Written after the performance of Schönberg's second string quartet and the "Three piano pieces"
- The work comes into the world at an undetermined hour, from a source
still unknown, but it comes inevitably.. .Suffering, searching,
tormented souls, deeply sundered by the conflict between spirit and
matter. Discovery! The part that is living in both animate and inanimate
nature. Solace is the phenomena – the outer, the inner. Anticipation of
joy. The call. To speak of mystery in terms of mystery. Is this not
content? Is this not the conscious and unconsciousness 'goal' of the
compelling urge to create? We feel sorry for those who have the power to
speak for art, and do not. We feel sorry for those whose souls are deaf
to the voice of art.
- In: Catalogue of the 2nd exhibition of the 'Neue Künstlervereinigung', Munich, August 1910
- The impressions we receive, which often appear merely chaotic,
consist of three elements; the impression of the color of the object,
its form, and of its combined color and form, i.e., of the object
itself. At this point the individuality of the artist comes to the front
and disposes, as he wills, these three elements. It is clear,
therefore, that the choice of object (i.e., of one of the elements in
the harmony of form) must be decided only by a corresponding vibration
in the human soul.. (Munich, 1910)
- Kandinsky, quoted in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 450
- [Their] things [works of Die Brücke
artists] must be exhibited. But I think it is incorrect to immortalize
them in the document [Almanac?] of our modern art (and, this is what our
book ought to be) or as a more or less decisive, leading factor. At any
rate I am against large reproductions [for Die Brücke paintings in The Blaue Reiter Almanac].
- In a letter, to Franz Marc, ( 2 Febr 1912), quoted in 'Lankheit 20'; as quoted in Movement, Manifesto, Melee: The Modernist Group, 1910-1914, Milton A. Cohen, Lexington Books, Sep 14, 2004, p. 71
- In this painting ['Moscow'], I was in fact in quest for a certain
hour, which was and which remains always the most beautiful hour of the
day in Moscow. The sun is already low and has reached its highest force,
which it has searched all the day, to which it has aspired all the
day.. .The sun dissolves all Moscow in a spot, which as a frenzied tuba
makes entered into vibration all the inner being, the whole soul..
.Rendering this hour seemed the biggest, the most impossible of the
happiness for an artist. These impressions renewed every sunny day. They
brought me a joy which shattered me until the bottom of the soul, and
which reached until ecstasy.
- In: 'Looks on the past', Wassily Kandinsky, in Der Sturm, Berlin 1913
- Of the 16 years that I have been living in Germany, I have given
myself entirely to the German art world. How am I now suddenly supposed
to feel myself a foreigner? [because of the outbreak of world War 1.
Kandinsky had to leave Germany because of his Russian nationality]
- Quote in a letter to w:Herwarth Walden [of 'w:Der Sturm'], August 2, 1914; as quoted in lrike Becks-Malorny, Wassily Kandinsky, 1866–1944: The Journey to Abstraction [Cologne: Taschen, 1999], p. 115
- I would love to paint a large landscape of Moscow — taking elements from everywhere and combining them into a single picture—weak and strong parts, mixing everything together in the same way as the world is mixed of different elements. It must be like an orchestra..
- Suddenly I felt that my old dream was closer to coming true. You
know that I dreamt of painting a big picture expressing joy, the
happiness of life and the universe. Suddenly I feel the harmony of
colors and forms that come from this world of joy.
- In a letter to Gabriele Münter, June 1916; as quoted in lrike Becks-Malorny, Wassily Kandinsky, 1866–1944: The Journey to Abstraction [Cologne: Taschen, 1999], pp. 115, 118
- I am working again on my painting 'Moscow' ['Moscow I' ('Mockba I'),
1916]. It is slowly taking shape in my imagination. And what was in the
realm of wishing is now assuming real forms. What I have been lacking
with this idea was depth and richness of sound, very earnest, complex,
and easy at the same time.
- in a letter to Gabriele Münter, September 4, 1916; as quoted in Hans K. Rothel and Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, Volume Two, 1916–1944 [Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984], p. 580
"On the Spiritual In Art", 1910Wassily Kandinsky, "On the Spiritual in Art," (1910) treatise presented at the All-Russian Congress of Artists in St. Petersburg, released in 1910.
- If until now colour and form were used as inner agents, it was
mainly done subconsciously. The subordination of composition to
geometrical form is no new idea (cf. the art of the Persians).
Construction on a purely spiritual basis is a slow business, and at
first seemingly blind and unmethodical. The artist must train not only
his eye but also his soul, so that it can weigh colours in its own scale
and thus become a determinant in artistic creation. If we begin at once
to break the bonds that bind us to nature and to devote ourselves
purely to combination of pure colour and indepenpient [?] form, we shall
produce works that are mere geometric decoration, resembling something
like a necktie or a carpet. Beauty of form and colour is no sufficient
aim by itself, despite the assertions of pure aesthetes or even of
naturalists obsessed with the idea of "beauty". It is because our
painting is still at an elementary stage that we are so little able to
be moved by wholly autonomous colour and form composition. The nerve
vibrations are there (as we feel when confronted by applied art), but
they get no farther than the nerves because the corresponding vibrations
of the spirit which they call forth are weak. When we remember however,
that spiritual experience is quickening, that positive science, the
firmest basis of human thought is tottering, that dissolution of matter
is imminent, we have reason to hope that the hour of pure composition is
not far away. The first stage has arrived.
- As quoted in Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Wassily Kandinsky, Munich, 1912; as quoted in Kandinsky, Frank Whitford, Paul Hamlyn Ltd, London 1967, p. 15
- The more freely abstract the form becomes, the purer, and also the
more primitive it sounds. Therefore, in a composition in which corporeal
elements are more or less superfluous, they can be more or less omitted
and replaced by purely abstract forms, or by corporeal forms that have
been completely abstracted.. .Here we are confronted by the question:
Must we not then renounce the object altogether, throw it to the winds
and instead lay bare the purely abstract? This is a question that
naturally arises, the answer to which is at once indicated by an
analysis of the concordance of the two elements of form (the objective
and the abstract). Just as every word spoken (tree, sky, man) awakens an
inner vibration, so too does every pictorially represented object. To
deprive oneself of the possibility of this calling up vibrations would
be to narrow one’s arsenal of expressive means. At least, that is how it
is today. But apart from today’s answer, the above question receives
the eternal answer to every question in art that begins with 'must.'
There is no 'must' in art, which is forever free.
- Translated by Peter Vergo, in: Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, eds. Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo, 2 vols. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., (1982), p. 195; as quoted in: Samet, Jennifer Sachs. Painterly Representation in New York, 1945-1975. Diss. The City University of New York, 2010. p. 25
"Concerning the Spiritual in Art", 1911Kandinsky, Concerning the spiritual in Art, Munich, 1911. Original title: Uber das Geistige in der Kunst. : M.T.H. Sadler translation, originally published in 1914 as The Art of Spiritual Harmony. Also published in 1946 as : Wassily Kandinsky, Hilla Rebay, On the spiritual in art : First complete English translation.... Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
- Part I. About General Aesthetic
- Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the
mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces
an art of its own which can never be repeated. Efforts to revive the
art-principles of the past will at best produce an art that is
still-born. It is impossible for us to live and feel, as did the ancient
Greeks. In the same way those who strive to follow the Greek methods in
sculpture achieve only a similarity of form, the work remaining
soulless for all time. Such imitation is mere aping. Externally the
monkey completely resembles a human being; he will sit holding a book in
front of his nose, and turn over the pages with a thoughtful aspect,
but his actions have for him no real meaning.
- I. Kandinsky's introduction: Lead paragraph
- There is, however, in art another kind of external similarity which
is founded on a fundamental truth. When there is a similarity of inner
tendency in the whole moral and spiritual atmosphere, a similarity of
ideals, at first closely pursued but later lost to sight, a similarity
in the inner feeling of any one period to that of another, the logical
result will be a revival of the external forms which served to express
those inner feelings in an earlier age.
- I. Kandinsky's introduction:
- The life of the spirit may be fairly represented in diagram as a
large acute-angled triangle divided horizontally into unequal parts with
the narrowest segment uppermost. The lower the segment the greater it
is in breadth, depth, and area.
- III. The Movement of the Triangle
- Part II. About painting.
- Generally speaking, colour is a power which directly influences the soul.
Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the
strings.The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another,
to cause vibrations in the soul.
- V. The psychological working of Colour: Quoted in: Hajo Düchting (2000) Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944: A Revolution in Painting. p. 17
- Alternative translation:
Colour is a means of exerting direct influence on the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hands which plays touching one key or another purposively to cause vibrations in the Soul.
- In: Anna Moszynska, Abstract Art, Thames and Hudson, 1990
- The more abstract is form, the more clear and direct is its appeal.
In any composition the material side may be more or less omitted in
proportion as the forms used are more or less material, and for them
substituted pure abstractions, or largely dematerialized objects. The
more an artist uses these abstracted forms, the deeper and more
confidently will he advance into the kingdom of the abstract. And after
him will follow the gazer at his pictures, who also will have gradually
acquired a greater familiarity with the language of that kingdom.
Must we then abandon utterly all material objects and paint solely in abstractions? The problem of harmonizing the appeal of the material and the non-material shows us the answer to this question. As every word spoken rouses an inner vibration, so likewise does every object represented. To deprive oneself of this possibility is to limit one's powers of expression. That is at any rate the case at present. But besides this answer to the question, there is another, and one which art can always employ to any question beginning with "must": There is no "must" in art, because art is free.
- VI. The language of Form and Colour
- It is never literally true that any form is meaningless and "says
nothing." Every form in the world says something. But its message often
fails to reach us, and even if it does, full understanding is often
withheld from us.] and, properly speaking, FORM IS THE OUTWARD
EXPRESSION OF THIS INNER MEANING.
- Part II. About painting : VI. The language of Form and Colour : Footnote
- Similar quote in outer translation:
There is no form, there is nothing in the world which says nothing. Often - it is true - the message does not reach our soul, either because it has no meaning in and for itself, or - as is more likely – because it has not been conveyed to the right place... Every serious work rings inwardly, like the calm and dignified words: ‘Here I am!'
- Partly cited in: Raymond Firth (2011) Symbols: Public and Private, p. 43
- The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret
way. From him it gains life and being. Nor is its existence casual and
inconsequent, but it has a definite and purposeful strength, alike in
its material and spiritual life.
- VIII. Art and Artists
- All means are sacred when they are dictated by inner necessity. All
means are reprehensible when they do not spring from the fountain of
inner necessity... The artist must be blind to 'recognized' and
'unrecognized' form, deaf to the teachings and desires of his time. His
open eyes must be directed to his inner life and his ears must be
constantly attuned to the voice of inner necessity.
- Quoted in: Sunil Goonasekera (1991) George Keyt, Interpretations. p. 146
- Talking about the means in painting
"On the Problem of Form" (1912)Wassily Kandinsky, "Über die Formfrage" in: Der Blaue Reiter, Munich: R. Piper, 1912, pp. 74-100; Translated as On the Problem of Form : English translation is by Kenneth Lindsaych in: Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics. Herschel B. Chipp ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968), pp. 155-158.
- At the appointed time, necessities become ripe. That is the time when the Creative Spirit (which one can also designate as the Abstract Spirit) finds an avenue to the soul, later to other souls, and causes a yearning, an inner urge.
- Since the form is only an expression of the content and the content is different with different artists, it is then clear that there can be many different forms at the same time which are equally good. Necessity creates the form. Fish which live at great depths have no eyes. The elephant has a trunk. The chameleon changes its color, and so forth.
- Autobiography, Wassily Kandinsky, 1918; as quoted in Kandinsky, Frank Whitford, Paul Hamlyn Ltd, London 1967
- The first colours which made a strong impression on me were light
juice green, white, crimson red, black and yellow ochre. These memories
go back to the third year of my life. I saw these colours on various
objects [houses and roofs, in Russia] which are not as clear in my mind
as the colours themselves.
- p. 9
- ..emotion that I experienced on first seeing the fresh paint come
out of the tube.. ..the impression of colours strewn over the palette:
of colours – alive, waiting, as yet unseen and hidden in their little
- p. 9
- I thought that the painter had no right to paint so unclearly..
..(but) the first faint doubt as to the importance of an 'object' as the
necessary element in painting [Kandinsky is remembering his experience
that he saw one of the 'Haystack' paintings of Monet, for the first time in his life, in Moscow (1895)].
- p. 10
- If the artist has outer and inner eyes for nature, nature rewards him by giving him inspiration.
- p. 14
- ..the long Russian word for creation: 'proisvedenie' - so different
from its shorter counterparts in English, French and German - expresses
for me the whole history and process of creation, lengthy, mysterious,
infinitely complex and foreshadowed by divine predestination.
- footnote, p. 15
- The destruction of the atom [the split of it, in modern physics]
seemed to me to be the same as the destruction of the world.. ..science
to me appeared to be dead: its most important basis was only a lunacy, a
mistake perpetrated by learned men.. ..who blindly mistook one object
- p. 16
- [Art is] ..the mysterious expression of the mysterious..
- p. 17
- At that time [around 1904 – 1905] I tried, by means of lines and by
distribution of mottled points of colours [in his tempera painting on
paper: 'Russian Beauty in a Landscape', 1905] to express the musical
spirit of Russia. Other pictures of that period reflected the
contradictions and later the eccentricities of Russia.
- p. 29
- The horse carries the rider with power and speed. But the rider
controls the horse. Talent carries the artist to great heights with
power and speed. But the artist directs his talent. That is the element
of 'consciousness', of 'calculation' in the work – or whatever else one
chooses to call it.
- p. 31
- ..I let myself go.. [in Kandinsky's Murnau-period, painting in open
air; c. 1908 – 1914] I thought little of the houses and trees, but
applied colour stripes and spots to the canvas with the knife [as he
learned then Gabriele Münter,
they frequently painted together in open air] and made them sing out as
strongly as I could. Within me sounded the memory of early evening in
Moscow, before my eyes was the strong, colour-saturated scale of the
Munich light and atmosphere, which thundered deeply in the shadows.
- p. 31
- In many ways art is similar to religion. Its development consists
not in new discoveries which invalidate the old truths (as is obviously
the case in science). Its development consists in sudden illuminations,
similar to lightning, in explosions, which burst in the sky like
fireworks.. ..this illumination shows with blinding light new
perspectives, new truths, which are basically nothing but the organic
development, the further organic growth of the earlier wisdom.. .Was the
New Testament possible without the Old? Could our time, that of the
threshold of the 'third' revelation, be thinkable without the second?
- p. 33
- Painting is a thundering conflict of different worlds, which in and
out of the battle with one another are intended to create the new world,
which is called the world of art. Each work arises technically in a way
similar to that in which the cosmos arose – through catastrophes, which
from the chaotic roaring of the instruments finally create a symphony,
the music of the spheres. The creation of the work is the creation of
- p. 34
"Point and line to plane" 1926Kandinsky, Point and line to plane, Munich, 1926
- Every phenomenon can be experienced in two ways. These two ways are not arbitrary, but are bound up with the phenomenon – developing out of its nature and characteristics : Externally – or – inwardly.
- The geometric point is an invisible thing. Therefore, it must be defined as an incorporeal thing. Considered in terms of substance, it equals zero... Thus we look upon the geometric point as the ultimate and most singular union of silence and speech. The geometric point has, therefore, been given its material form, in the first instance, in writing. It belongs to language and signifies silence.
- The geometric line is an invisible thing. It is the track made by the moving point; that is, its product. It is created by movement – specifically through the destruction of the intense self-contained repose of the point. Here, the leap out of the static to the dynamic occurs. […] The forces coming from without which transform the point into a line, can be very diverse. The variation in lines depends upon the number of these forces and upon their combinations.
- You mention the circle and I agree with your definition.. ..why does
the circle fascinates me? It is (1) the most modern form, but asserts
itself unconditionally, (2) a precise but inexhaustible variable, (3)
simultaneously stable and unstable, (4) simultaneously loud and soft,
(5) a single tension that caries countless tensions within it. The
circle is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the
concentric and the eccentric in a single form, and in balance. Of the
three primary forms (triangle, square, circle), it points most clearly
to the fourth dimension. (around 1926)
- In a letter to w:Will Grohmann; as quoted in Kandinsky, Frank Whitford, Paul Hamlyn Ltd, London 1967, p. 36
- We [ Franz Marc & Kandinsky] thought up the name [ Der Blaue Reiter
(Blue Rider)] while sitting at a cafe table.. .Both of us were fond of
blue things, [Franz] Marc of blue horses, and I of blue riders. So the
title suggested itself.
- as quoted in Wassily Kandinsky: Life and Work, w:Will Grohmann. H. N. Abrams, 1958 p. 78
- Content is nothing but the sum of organized tensions. From this
point of view one can discover the basic identity of the rules of
composition in all arts – always accepting that the arts can only
represent their object materially by means of organised reactions..
..already today one can safely assume that the roots of laws of
composition are the same for art as they are for nature.
- In: 'Analysis of the Primary Elements of Painting', W. Kandinsky, 1928
- Approaching it in one way, I see no essential difference between a
line one calls 'abstract' and a 'fish'. But rather an essential
likeness. This isolated line and the isolated fish alike are living
beings with forces peculiar to them, though latent. They are forces of
expression for these beings and of expression on human beings, because
each has an impressive 'look' which manifests itself by its expression.
But the voice of these latent forces is faint and limited. It is the
environment of the line and the fish that brings about a miracle: the
latent forces awaken, the expression becomes radiant.. .The environment
is the composition. The composition is the organized sum of the interior
functions (expressions) of every part of the work. (Paris, March 1935)
- In: Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 451
- An empty canvas is a living wonder -- far lovelier than certain pictures.
- Quoted in: Myfanwy Evans (1937) The Painter's Object. p. 53
- Each spiritual age expresses its special character in a form which
corresponds exactly to its character. Each age in this way characterizes
its true 'physiognomy', full of expression and strength. Thus in all
spiritual areas 'yesterday' is transformed into 'today'. But apart from
this, art possesses a further quality which it alone possesses: that
quality which enables one to divine the 'tomorrow' today – a strength
which is both creative and prophetic.
- quote of Kandinsky’s last theoretical statement (Paris, 1942); in Kandinsky, Frank Whitford, Paul Hamlyn Ltd, London 1967, p. 38
- Paris [1933 - 1944] with its wonderful (intense soft) light had
relaxed my palette — there were other colors, other entirely new forms,
and some that I had used years earlier. Naturally I did all this
- In a letter to Alfred Barr, Jr. (July 16, 1944 - the year that Kandinsky died); as quoted in Vivian Endicott Barnett, et al., Kandinsky, exh. cat. [New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2009], p. 70
Quotes about Kandinsky
- Kandinsky understood 'Form' as a form, like an object in the
real world; and an object, he said, was a narrative—and so, of course,
he disapproved of it. He wanted his 'music without words'. He wanted to
be 'simple as a child.' He intended, with his 'inner-self,' to rid
himself of 'philosophical barricades' (he sat down and wrote something
about all this). But in turn his own writing has become a philosophical
barricade, even if it is a barricade full of holes. It offers a kind of
Middle-European idea of Buddhism or, anyhow, something too theosophic
- Willem de Kooning (1951), in his speech 'What Abstract Art means to me' on the symposium 'What is Abstract At' - at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
- It was this apparent paradox, by which the so-called Abstract Expressionists.. ..are really far more sympathetic to wards Mondrian than towards Kandinsky.
The Mondrian thing seems paradoxical only in relation to the Mondrian
that people interpreted in the [nineteen-]thirties as a rather cold and
static artist. Maybe it is only more recently that we have realised
about the blinking that takes place at the intersection of the lines, of
shuttling back and forth and so on, that Mondrian becomes in some ways a
more dynamic artist than Kandinsky.
- w:David Sylvester (March 1960), in his interview with Robert Motherwell, edited for broadcasting by the BBC first published in 'Metro', 1962; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 81
- ..[by making his work 'Onement', in 1948]..from then on I had to
give up any relation to nature.. .That doesn't mean that I think my
things are mathematical or removed from life. By 'nature' I mean
something very specific. I think that some abstractions - for example Kandinsky's
- are really nature paintings. The triangles and the spheres or circles
could be bottles. They could be trees, or buildings. I think that in
'Euclydean Abyss' and 'Onement' I removed myself from nature. But I did
not remove myself from life.
- Barnett Newman in an interview, April 1965, edited for broadcasting by the BBC first published in 'The Listener', Aug. 1972; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 37
- Total abstraction was something intellectual to me. I didn’t feel it.. ..I would go to the old Guggenheim [museum] to look at Kandinsky. I liked the early abstractions [from his Murneau period] but the later ones I didn’t like at all.
- quote of Helen Frankenthaler (1965) in an 'Interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Henry Geldzahler; Artforum' 4. no. 2, October 1965, p. 36
Odessa Port, 1898
Rotterdam sun, 1906
Switzerland. The Merzbacher collection
Murnau, Dorfstrasse (Street in Murnau, A Village Street), 1908
Murnau, train & castle, 1909
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou
The Cow, 1910
The Rider, 1911
Landscape With Two Poplars 1912
Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love II), 1912, oil on canvas, 47 3/8 x 55 1/4 in. (120.3 x 140.3 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show.
Squares with Concentric Circles, 1913
Composition 6, 1913
Composition VII—according to Kandinsky, the most complex piece he ever painted (1913)
Moscow, Russia. The State Tretyakov Gallery
Points, 1920, 110.3 × 91.8 cm, Ohara Museum of Art
Circles in a Circle, 1923
Dusseldorf. Germany. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
On White II, 1923
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Several Circles, 1926
Merry Structure 1926
Soft Hard, 1927
Upward 1929Venice. Italy. Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Brown with supplement, 1935
Composition IX, 1936
Composition X, 1939