Love Story in Paintings: Wassily Kandinsky and Nina Andreevskaya
As remembered by Nina Kandinskaya,
in the winter of 1915,
she and her friends tried to guess their destined betrothed. The girls went to the street and asked the name of the first man they met; Nina "got" the name Wassily. "The holiday was spoiled. The name did not suit me in any way,
I dreamed of Georgiy,
it was the most fashionable male name," she recalled. However,
very little time would pass,
and a simple phone call would play a decisive role in the life of Wassily Kandinsky
and his future wife,
young Nina Andreevskaya. They spent 28 years in love and harmony,
and without a single letter! Why? It’s simple — they never parted for a single day.
With the outbreak of World War I,
Wassily Kandinsky was forced to leave Germany,
so he returned to his native Moscow. The difficult relationship with Gabriele Münter
, their cosy home in Murnau,
the time of The Blue Rider — all that was left behind. For some time,
Kandinsky and Münter maintained a live correspondence: he wrote about his desire to live in Moscow,
cited the need to devote this time to work. Münter,
remembered Kandinsky’s promise to marry her and did everything to see her loved man once again. In December 1916,
she organized an exhibition in Stockholm,
which featured the works of Kandinsky and her own works,
and they met,
but not for long. Gabriele could not understand what kept Wassily in Moscow. Letters came less and less often… While in the meantime,
Kandinsky’s heart was no longer free,
but he did not say a word about it.
Nina Andreevskaya and Wassily Kandinsky first met in the autumn of 1916. The artist was about to be 50 years old, and Nina was 17, maybe 18 or even 20… Time itself did not exist for Andreevskaya: "When I was twenty, I wanted to remain twenty forever. Since then, I have never celebrated my birthday."
Nina Kandinsky. 1924 photo
They met by phone: Nina called Kandinsky at the request of her friends, they talked, and in the end the artist asked her to meet. In her book Kandinsky and I, Nina wrote: "One day, at the end of May 1916, my friend invited me to dinner at her home… among the guests, my attention was attracted by a gentleman who had just arrived from abroad and was passing through Moscow. He needed to deliver a message to Kandinsky, which concerned — if I remember correctly — one of the planned Kandinsky’s exhibitions… And I knew Kandinsky’s nephew, Anatoly Sheiman, the son of his first wife’s sister. I mentioned to the gentleman about the opportunity to get the message through… The mission entrusted to me filled me with extraordinary excitement, in which curiosity and anticipation muddled together. The next day I phoned Kandinsky’s nephew and got his uncle’s number. Then I called Kandinsky.
Kandinsky answered himself. Since he had never heard my name until now, he first asked where I got his number from. When I informed him that I knew his nephew, his initial restraint was replaced by a favourable disposition. Only then was I able to deliver the message to him. To my surprise, when I was about to hang up after a few kind words, Kandinsky said in a low voice: "I want to get to know you personally".
However, Nina had to go on vacation, so they agreed that she would call as soon as she returned to Moscow. For a young girl, the attention of the famous artist was flattering. But Kandinsky could not calm down in any way; impressed by the sounds of the stranger’s voice, he immediately began to draw. This is how his watercolour work To the Unknown Voice was born. Those who are familiar to the work of this artist remember that Kandinsky was synaesthetic and had the ability to "see" sounds, clothe them in shapes and colours.
Their first meeting took place in the museum (now the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts). Always fit and vigorous, sociable, intelligent, Kandinsky did not look like a fifty-year-old man at all, and indeed he was not in his essence. "I was immediately mesmerized by his kind, beautiful blue eyes. In all his appearance, Kandinsky resembled a nobleman…"
Nina, the general’s daughter, who has completed two university courses, in history and philosophy, was intelligent and clever.
This is how Wassily Kandinsky portrayed Nina Kandinsky in 1917.
Their love affair was short, and despite their large difference in age, the resistance of the bride’s mother, the revolutionary tremor in the air, Nina Andreevskaya and Wassily Kandinsky became husband and wife on 11 February 1917.
Nina’s white wedding dress was fashioned according to Kandinsky’s . Some said that Nina jumped into marriage with a celebrity headfirst, others condemned Kandinsky, saying that there’s no fool like an old fool. And the newlyweds were happy, they were in love, and the world played with bright colours for them. They spent their honeymoon in Finland, admired the beauty of local waterfalls. "We were like on a desert island, we didn’t read the newspapers and didn’t know anything about what was happening in Russia," Nina recalled. Two weeks later, they arrived in Helsinki, and only here the news of the revolution reached them.
Wassily Kandinsky with his son Lodya 1920. The Source
They decided to go to Moscow, where Kandinsky had a tenement house in Dolgiy Pereulok (the current address is Burdenko Street, 8/1). After the revolution, the house was expropriated, but the family was successful to occupy one of the apartments. At the end of 1917, the Kandinsky had a son, Vsevolod; his father almost idolized the son. Nina took part in her husband’s work, had tried her hand at underglass painting. Based on Kandinsky’s drawings, she created A Stroll and Sleeping Woman glasses, as well as the Scene with Phaeton. She is also the author of several applique works. One of them titled Bouquet has a touching inscription on its reverse side: "To my beloved Vasik from Nina, always yours. Congratulations on 15th of July, 1918".
Nina Kandinsky. A Stroll. Based on a drawing by Wassily Kandinsky. 1917
Nina Kandinsky. Sleeping Woman. Based on a drawing by Wassily Kandinsky. 1918
Glass, oil, foil.
Nina Kandinsky. Three Idols. Paper, oil
Nina Kandinsky. On the dog. Paper, foil, tempera
Works by Nina Kandinsky from the collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. The Source
Life after the revolution was difficult, Kandinsky’s "professorial" ration was ridiculously meagre. Nina went to the flea market, changed her dresses for food. The water froze from the cold, the only stove was heated in the apartment, around which all life was concentrated. Lunacharsky offered to enter the Art College of the Fine Arts Department of the People’s Commissariat for Education; and the offer came in handy indeed. Kandinsky organized the Institute of Artistic Culture, in 1919 he became the chairman of the All-Russian Purchasing Commission. He taught the Contemporary Art course at Moscow University, and soon the artist was elected vice-president of the Russian Academy of Art Sciences.
Wassily Kandinsky. Two Ladies. Akhtyrka. 1917
watercolour. 27×19,6. Private collection,
Moscow. The Source
In this picture,
Kandinsky portrayed his wife Nina and her sister Tatyana
In the spring of 1920, grief came to the Kandinsky family: their only son, Lodya, died of gastroenteritis. The parents were deeply worried about the loss, and since then, they have never talked about children. After recovering from the loss, Kandinsky returned to work, but it did not give him the same satisfaction. Young artists stepped on his heels, his paintings were criticized… This could not last long, and at the end of 1921, he took several canvases and left for Berlin, away from Moscow’s hunger and cold, from the grave at the Novodevichy cemetery… They never returned to Russia.
Wassily Kandinsky. Madonna and Christ. 1917
Glass, oil. Azerbaijan National Art Museum, Baku
They say that Nina Kandinskaya once had a curious dream: in it, she was playing chess with her husband, and instead of chess pieces there were large diamonds on the board with droplets of blood sparkling on them … After this dream, Nina allegedly persuaded her husband to leave Russia. And later, she became a big lover of expensive jewellery, including diamonds. The jewels ruined her. But first things first.
After dull and hungry Moscow, cosy, lighted, elegant Berlin streets and shops drove them crazy. Kandinsky tried to forget the past, he avoided communication with Russian emigrant artists. He and Nina walked a lot and went to the cinema every day, which they both loved very much. And in the spring of 1922, the famous architect Walter Gropius invited Wassily Kandinsky to teach at the Higher School of Construction and Artistic Design, Bauhaus. The proposal was accepted, and the Kandinsky went to the town of Weimar.
Kandinsky plunged into teaching,
and it brought him great pleasure. But Nina didn’t like being there,
in Weimar she felt "like on an island". Life was modest,
and the only entertainment was a few parties with dances,
while Kandinsky was completely indifferent to them. But even these seemingly innocent entertainments caused a lot of rumours in the provincial town. Local residents were not friendly to the school staff and their young students,
and even — just imagine! — they scared their children,
saying "All bad children go to the Bauhaus!" In Weimar,
in this rather limited social circle,
the Kandinskys became very friendly with the Paul Klee
often visited them,
when the school moved to Dessau in 1924,
they became housemates.
Wassily and Nina Kandinsky. 1926
The Bauhaus took root in Dessau. City officials have funded a new school building designed by Gropius. Nearby, in a small pine grove, houses were built for teachers; they say that Nina Kandinsky was busy with the place for their construction. Each house was designed for two families, and, of course, the Kandinskys chose their friends, the Klee family, as their neighbours. The Kandinskys worked a lot in the garden near the house, planted roses, walked around the neighbourhood.
In a letter to his friend Will Grohmann, Kandinsky wrote: "It's so wonderful here: we live in nature far from the city, we hear roosters, birds, dogs, we inhale the smell of hay, linden trees, and forests. In a few days here we have completely changed."
Opening of the new Bauhaus. From left to right: Wassily and Nina Kandinsky,
Walter Gropius. Photo Walter Obschonka. 1926. The Source
In 1926, the Bauhaus solemnly celebrated the 60th birthday of Wassily Kandinsky. A large exhibition, receptions, attention of the press — it was not the capital, but still a constant change of impressions. The young and beautiful Nina Kandinsky was, of course, in the spotlight. Almost 300 watercolours, about 250 oil paintings, the famous Point and Line to Plane, plays for abstract theatre — the period of work at the Bauhaus was incredibly fruitful for Kandinsky. He became famous, they wrote about him, he was published, they talked about him, museums bought his paintings. Antwerp and Berlin, Paris and Auckland hosted exhibitions of his work.
In 1927, the Kandinskys acquired the German citizenship. On this occasion, a costume ball was arranged. As Nina recalled, "…it was our initiation into the the German citizenship". The joy of the newfound freedom only lasted for 5 years, until Hitler came to power. The works by Kandinsky, like many of his friends, were recognized by the new government as "degenerate art". The Nazis closed the Bauhaus. After much deliberation, the Kandinskys decided to leave for Paris, "the city of artists". Nina obtained her permission to move, prepared paintings and furniture for transportation, and then took up the issues of obtaining French citizenship.
Wassily and Nina Kandinsky in the garden of Dessau. 1932. The Source
After the move, Kandinsky did not work for some time — he could not. He hardly sold his paintings both in Paris and in Germany. They had to make do with less. Then the Second World War began. On 10 June 1940, German troops entered Paris. The Kandinskys left for the Cauterets resort town, but soon they had to return to the capital, as the German authorities threatened to confiscate their property left in the rented apartment. Actually, nothing has changed in their life, the daily routine remained the same. Kandinsky walked, then worked, and slept from 14 to 15 o’clock — for this time, Nina attached a sign on the door so that no one would bother her husband. And in the evening, he worked again until the light finally went out.
He spent the wartime in daily work, leisurely evening walks with Nina. Of course, life was difficult in occupied Paris. In the summer of 1944, Kandinsky began to feel bad.
In August, Paris was liberated from the Nazis. However, Kandinsky did not live to see the day of victory over Germany. The artist died of a stroke on 13 December 1944. Later, Nina Nikolaevna wrote: "When Kandinsky died, I thought: ‘This is the end of everything'… Not a single man could withstand comparison with Kandinsky in my eyes. Therefore, I concentrated all my energy on work for the benefit of his legacy, and this gave me new strength, and my life obtained a new wonderful meaning."
Nina Kandinsky at the exhibition of her husband’s works. Munich. 1976. The Source
Nina Kandinskaya became the only legal heir to her husband. She did not move,
she stayed in Paris,
in their apartment. Of course,
art critics and dealers came to her,
hoped for a bargain,
but often they were left with nothing. After the war,
price of Kandinsky’s paintings rose again,
and Nina Nikolaevna was free to sell them,
setting a fair price,
as well as donate the works to museums,
which she sometimes did. She could establish the Kandinsky Prize,
organize exhibitions of his paintings,
and also could start and win a lawsuit on the right to reproduce Kandinsky’s paintings in the book,
in her opinion,
too much attention was paid to the artist’s relationship with Gabriele Münter.
She still loved luxurious jewellery,
attended social events and exhibitions. And she perfectly understood the value of the artist’s legacy and treated it very carefully and responsibly. Nina Kandinsky came to Moscow several times — to visit her relatives,
to look at her husband’s paintings. In 1973,
her book of memoirs, Kandinsky and I
, was published.
In the early 1970s, Nina Kandinsky acquired a chalet in the Swiss Alps, which she called Esmeralda. It was the place where she was found dead on 2 September 1980. Her death was recognized as violent, and, obviously, it was about her famous jewellery, which was missed during the subsequent domiciliary visit. All of Kandinsky’s paintings remained in their places. There were many suspicions and versions — from the Russian connection to the participation of Paul Klee’s son Felix in the tragedy, who had visited Nina Kandinsky shortly before the fateful day… But this tragic secret was never revealed. And the grave of Nina Kandinsky has no date of birth, she took this secret with her.