As a Russian-born avant-garde painter, Wassily Kandinsky transformed modern painting.
Art by Wassily Kandinsky launched “pure abstraction” in the early twentieth century. In addition, Kandinsky was a prominent leader of the Blue Rider (der Blaue Reiter) artists group that rewrote the goals of painterly expression.
Here are some of the most asked questions about Wassily Kandinsky paintings and his fascinating life.
Wassily Kandinsky is the anglicization of Kandinsky’s Russian name. Born December 4th, 1866, his full name is Vassily Vasilyevich Kandinsky.
Born in Moscow, Kandinsky lived with his parents until he was five. However, they divorced at this point, and he moved to live with an aunt in Odessa. Kandinsky became proficient in the piano and cello during his grammar school studies. He also worked on drawing with a local teacher.
Despite his early talents, Kandinsky didn’t pursue art. Instead, he followed his family’s wishes to pursue a career in Law. As a result, Kandinsky studied law and economics at the University of Moscow, graduating in 1886.
On one field trip (looking at traditional criminal jurisprudence and the influence of religion), Kandinsky traveled to the Vologda province. Here, he discovered the region’s intense spiritual folk art. It had a profound impact on him.
Nonetheless, Kandinsky continued with the law. He gained a prestigious position at the Moscow Faculty of Law and devoted himself to work.
In 1896 however, Kandinsky saw an exhibition of FrenchThen, seeingssionist art in Moscow. Then, seeing Claud Monet’s Haystacks at Giverny, proved a transformative experience. And it is the first painting Kandinsky had seen with a primary focus on color, light, and form.
Around this time, Kandinsky also spoke of the performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin. This Bolshoi Theater concert awakened his creative impulses. After that, he abandoned his law career and moved to Munich (at the age of thirty) to pursue artistic studies.
Wassily Kandinsky paintings evolved throughout his career. While studying at Munich, he often employed conventional themes and techniques.
Despite this, Kandinsky developed his art, music, and color theories during this period of his life. As a result, amalgamating his early twentieth-century creations provides some of the earliest abstract oil paintings ever produced.
Kandinsky met fellow art student Gabriele Münter in 1903. Although already married (to Anja Chimiakin, his cousin), Kandinsky moved in with Münter.
The pair traveled extensively, and Kandinsky divorced his wife in 1911. He and Münter settled in Bavaria just before the First World War started.
Kandinsky is famous for his astoundingly creative painting and his work with leading artistic movements. While in Munich, Kandinsky formed the Blue Rider artist group alongside fellow artist Franz Marc.
Kandinsky set up the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM) in 1909 but felt it was becoming too conservative in its approach. As a result, Kandinsky and Franz Marc launched Der Blaue Reiter Almanac in 1911 and withdrew from the NKVM.
Kandinsky joined the Bauhaus movement alongside the artist Paul Klee and composer Arnold Schoenberg. He started lecturing at the Bauhaus School (in Weimar, Germany) in 1922.
At the outbreak of World War I, Kandinsky returned to Moscow. Here, he noticed the new Constructivist movement. Focusing on strong geometric shapes, straight lines, and bright colors was another pivotal moment in Kandinsky’s artistic career.
While in Russia, Kandinsky also met Nina Andreevskaya. At this time, Kandinsky was almost fifty years old. Nina was just seventeen. Nonetheless, she claimed it was mutual love at first sight and remained Kandinsky’s devoted wife for the next 28 years.
They had one son (Lodya), but he died at three. It was a devastating emotional blow to the couple.
Kandinsky’s most famous painting is called The Blue Rider (1903). It shows a small rider (wearing a blue cloak) charging across a vibrant green meadow. However, potential danger lurks beneath the surface of the rocky outcrops.
For Kandinsky, blue was highly symbolic. Linking with universal concerns, the darker the shade of blue, the more it relates to spiritual and intellectual concerns.
In the painting, broad dark blue shadows creep up the canvas. The shadows link with the dark blues of the horizon, fading into the paler blue sky. Some art historians believe the rider carries a small child, but others argue this is yet another shadow.
Disagreements like this were fundamental to Kandinsky’s artwork. In a conscious technique, he actively encourages viewers to engage with his ambiguous paintings and is apparent in his later abstract art, such as Composition IV and Improvisation 30 Cannons.
Many art historians comment on the comparative lack of artistic skill and precision in Kandinsky’s The Blue Rider painting.
Indeed, the horse has a highly unusual gait (seemingly levitating above the ground). Kandinsky’s paint is heavily dappled, with little care for specific forms. As a result, the rider appears more like a series of colors than an observed figure.
For this reason, many people ask why it remains Kandinsky’s most famous painting. However, the Blue Rider is critical because it set the direction of Kandinsky’s astoundingly creative artistic output.
From this point onwards, he increasingly used blue symbolically (for instance, in The Blue Mountain, 1908), which also featured several riders. These flat planes of color also suggest Fauvist influences.
Kandinsky gave each color equal attention in his art (just as much as a “traditional” painter would observe and recreate reality).
He also increasingly used musical ideas. Abstract by nature, music expresses the immediate feelings of its composer. Comparably, Kandinsky aimed to express his innermost thoughts and emotions with his art spontaneously.
Wassily Kandinsky is famous for his pioneering abstract painting.
Kandinsky Concentric Circles is one of his most well-known artworks. Despite this, Kandinsky envisioned the work as an experiment in color rather than a stand-alone painting. As a result, it consists of a series of squares with concentric circles, all painted in contrasting colors.
This work allowed Kandinsky to explore the ways colors interacted intellectually. It arose from his writing on Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which dealt with the emotional resonance of color (amongst other topics).
In this text, Kandinsky defined three types of painting: impressions, improvisations, and compositions. While impressions use external reality as a starting point, improvisations and compositions depict images from the subconscious.
As well as Kandinsky circles, these ideas appear in much of Kandinsky’s work during the late 1910s and 1920s. For instance, Composition VII (1913), Arch and Point (1923), and Yellow, Red, Blue (1925) all use abstracted forms floating through colorful space.
While Kandinsky stayed in Russia during the Revolution, he moved back to Berlin in the early 1930s. Here, Kandinsky taught at the Bauhaus school. He wrote plays and poems during this time, created many abstract oil paintings, and worked on his pioneering color theories.
Although Kandinsky had German citizenship, even so, the outbreak of World War II necessitated leaving the country. He moved to France but found it extremely difficult to sell his art during the turmoil of the Second World War.
Initially living in a Parisian apartment (found by Marcel Duchamp), Kandinsky fled to the Pyrenees after the Germans invaded France. He lived a secluded life, marred by depression at the lack of public interest in his art. Nevertheless, he remained enormously productive during the late 1930s, producing works such as Composition X (1939).
Kandinsky died from cerebrovascular disease three days before his 78th birthday. He passed away in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, on December 13th, 1944.
Kandinsky created around 150 oil paintings and over 300 watercolors during his career. Sadly though, many Kandinsky works vanished during the Second World War.
The Nazi government declared Kandinsky’s paintings (and many other artists) to be “degenerate,” leading to the destruction of many of his paintings. 57 Kandinsky artworks disappeared in the 1937 “degenerate art” purge.
The Guggenheim Museum (based in New York) owns 67 paintings by Kandinsky. They also own several hundred more works on paper by the artist.
Solomon Guggenheim was an early supporter of Kandinsky, one of the few prominent collectors who bought his work during Kandinsky’s troubled later years in France.
Explore our extensive collection of Kandinsky paintings if you love bright, bold art by Wassily Kandinsky. Whether abstract oil painting, the iconic Kandinsky circles, or pioneering Blaue Reiter artists, discover reproduction art to add color to your home or office walls.