Russia • 1866−1944

Biography and information

Wassily Kandinsky (16 December (O.S. 4 December) 1866, Moscow, Russia – 13 December 1944, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France)  was a Russian painter who was generally credited as the pioneer of abstract art. Kandinsky got his elementary art education when he was a child, but soon after that he made a decision to be a lawyer. The final choice to become a painter was being made after his visiting the exhibition where he saw Claude Monet’s paintings. He settled in Munich where he studied painting and then taught it as well. He became one of the founders of the well-known group of artists called “The Blue Rider”.

Features of the artist Wassily Kandinsky: starting off with figurative art, the painter slowly was getting close to abstract art through impressionism. He painted his first abstract watercolor in 1911. Kandinsky developed his own theory about the emotions which every single color could express, as well as the theory about color contrasts.

Famous paintings by the artist Wassily Kandinsky: “Composition V”, “Composition VIII”, “The Blue Rider”, “Capricious”, “Sky blue”.

The roots of the Kandinsky clan

It is quite possible to make a film of any genre about the life and work of Wassily Kandinsky. Since his life had all the signs of a detective story, a mystical thriller, melodrama and even comedy. If you don’t know that everything mentioned is about one person, you might think that several characters are being described in the biography at once: a researcher, a young lawyer, an associate professor, an aspiring artist, a discoverer in art, an official in revolutionary Russia, a teacher at the Bauhaus school and a French pensioner.

The surname of Kandinsky came from the name of the Konda river in the Tobolsk province, where his great-grandfather lived, who was a very charismatic person: he robbed caravans on the Great Silk Road, and after he had been caught, he ran his own business in exile and became a merchant of the first guild.

The artist’s temperament and outlook on life were influenced by the different temperaments of his parents: his mother was a Baltic German, and his father was from Eastern Siberia, a descendant of that same robber. On the one hand, Wassily Kandinsky was a fiery Scythian. On the other hand, he was a true European who impressed people around him with his perfect manners. He regarded art as a religion and always was dressed in an elegant suit with a tie when in his studio.

Wassily Kandinsky manifested his craving for creativity very early. In 1871, his family moved from Moscow to Odessa, where the future master received elementary education. He studied at the gymnasium, took private lessons in playing the cello and piano, studied painting, and even then teachers were amazed by the bold color combinations in his drawings. He claimed that each color had its own character.

During his studies at Moscow University as a lawyer, in addition to studying criminal and Roman law, Wassily Kandinsky gravitated towards ethnography and wanted to understand “the hidden places of people’s souls” with the help of scientific description. To do that, he went on an expedition to the Vologda Oblast, where he studied the religion of Paganism and wrote in his diary then: “In these wonderful houses I experienced something that I have not experienced before. They taught me to enter the painting, to live in it.”

Kandinsky was a wonderful creator of legends. A lot of people wondered why a lawyer, an assistant professor with the right to teach, suddenly changed his life dramatically and left Russia to study painting in Germany. He had prepared his answer in advance to that question: Wassily Kandinsky was struck to the core by the painting at an exhibition of French impressionists in 1895. He saw it without a signature and did not comprehend what was depicted in it at first. That painting excited and outraged him at the same time; he even had to look into the catalog - Claude Monet's “Haystacks” (there were two versions as to what kind of painting it actually was - this or this one).

The beginning of creativity by Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky studied painting in Munich. The artist fit perfectly fine into the creative community. He successfully studied at the famous school of Anton Ažbe, and in 1900, on the second attempt, he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, in the class of Franz von Stuck, “the first German draftsman.” In 1902, while teaching at the summer courses of the Munich Academy, Kandinsky met Gabriele Münter. She became his friend, ally, and companion in his travels across Europe. An affair with the artist led to a divorce from his first wife, Anna Chemyakina, who came with him from Russia. She was a very selfless and devoted person, she did not blame her husband and said that both of them were to blame for the alienation.

Together with Münter, Kandinsky settled in Murnau, at the foot of the Alps. Kandinsky’s works of that period were based solely on color dissonances, the play of lines and spots gradually replaced the images of real life. That was quite noticeable in his paintings “Crinoline Lady”, “Landscape near Murnau with a Locomotive.” After parting ways with the artist in 1915, Munter stopped painting for ten years, led a secluded lifestyle and did a lot to save his paintings in difficult wartime.

The thought of non-objective art was flying in the air and was reflected in the work of Wassily Kandinsky. One evening, at dusk, he saw a stunning canvas, leaning against the wall of the studio. The artist was fascinated by the combination of colors and the understanding that that was actually his work, standing upside down, came to him as a surprise. At that moment it dawned on him – it didn’t matter what was depicted in the painting, much more important was actually what kind of thoughts and emotions it was able to evoke in the viewer.

Thus began the period of abstract art, and Kandinsky became its discoverer. He wrote theoretical works for curious descendants and his students - “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”, “Point and line to plane.” His desire was not only to paint, but also to create new forms of art that would combine painting, dance, poetry and architecture into the one whole thing.

With the outbreak of World War I, he had to leave Germany and return to Russia. He went on a bureaucratic path, at the same time related to art: he was a member of the art board of the Fine Arts department of the People's Commissariat for Education, chairman of the Russian Procurement Commission, a scientific consultant and the head of the reproduction workshop. Kandinsky painted much less at that time – only 18 works in three revolutionary years.

In 1916, he met his future wife. Student Nina Andreevskaya called him at the request of her friends, and after a telephone conversation with her, he realized that he had fallen in love. On the same day, a watercolor was painted for “To the Unknown Voice”. At the time of their meeting she was 17 years old, he was 50. In 1917, they got married, in the same year they had a son, Vsevolod. In 1920, a disaster happened. Lodya, as his parents affectionately called him, died of gastroenteritis. After that tragedy, the topic of children for the spouses was closed.

In 1921, Kandinsky and his wife left Russia once and for all. He went to Germany - supposedly to establish cultural ties. But in reality, the artist understood that he did not fit into the new post-revolutionary era.

In Germany, he was waiting for work at the Bauhaus College in Weimar. It was a unique educational institution, where professors taught architecture and design in modern language. The artist’s creativity was thriving during that period of time. He created many wonderful paintings - “Composition VIII”, “Vibration”, “Small dream in red”, and also put his own manner into the recognizable and unique style.

In 1933, Kandinsky and his wife traveled to France. Hitler came to power, who considered abstract art to be “degenerative”, and the masters of that field were persecuted. Amazingly, the story of the departure and seizure of paintings from museums in the artist’s life was repeated twice - the first time it was in Russia, the second time – in Germany.

They settled in the suburbs of Paris, Neuilly-sur-Seine. In the works of that period, the extinction of creative energy was not noticeable. On the contrary, it seemed that Kandinsky worked with a new force: he used bright colors, sometimes he added sand onto them, which gave an unexpected effect, and new biomorphic elements appeared.

The most famous canvases of that time were “Silent”, “Colorful ensemble”, “Sky blue”, “A Conglomerate”. Kandinsky’s last work “Deepened Impulse” was painted in 1944. The artist worked until July, and in December died of a brain hemorrhage.

Written by Alexandra Berezhnaya