Kandinsky once said great art should “cause vibrations in the soul”.
Born in Moscow in 1866, Kandinsky’s parents gave him a thorough education in music. This instilled a life-long love of melody and harmony, expressed throughout his adult career.
The influence of music is evident in many Wassily Kandinsky paintings. His titles include phrases such as “Compositions”, “Impressions” and “Improvisations”.
Amongst Kandinsky abstract art however, one painting particularly exemplifies this lyrical inspiration. This is Composition VIII.
Completed in 1923, Kandinsky felt Composition VIII was his greatest post-war achievement. Within the painting, linear elements, circles and triangles create an interlinked series of increasingly complex geometric forms. They float and hover in front of the pale, shifting background.
The exact meaning of Kandinsky’s abstract art is largely unknown. Despite this, rough forms resembling suns, mountains, clouds and shifting light and atmosphere are just identifiable.
The central pale blue and pink triangular forms bring landscapes to mind. The four repeating white semi-circles create images of floating clouds. Meanwhile the glowing red, purple and black sun looms over the scene.
These individual lines, shapes and colors come together to create a unified geometric whole. The resultant effect is both pulsating and calm, aggressive and peaceful, representing the artistic synthesis of opposing forces.
Indeed, circles are particularly significant within the composition, especially the dominating orbs floating around the edge of the canvas. Speaking of circles, Kandinsky described how their unique combination of “concentric and the eccentric” allowed for artistic synthesis of “great oppositions”.
Instead of focusing on figurative representations, Kandinsky’s geometric forms aimed for a “universal aesthetic language”. It’s consequently extremely difficult to class Composition VIII in any particular art movement.
Kandinsky believed that abstract forms had uniquely expressive qualities. This view was shared by Suprematist and Constructivist artists, such as Kazimir Malevich, the creator of the legendary Black Square.
The uniquely dynamic and lyrical nature of Kandinsky’s art set him apart from the rest of the Russian avant-garde.
As a result of his increasing alienation, Kandinsky moved to Germany in 1922, teaching at the iconic Weimar Bauhaus school. He painted Composition VIII whilst at the school.
Kandinsky remained in Germany for the following ten years, before the Nazi government declared the artist an enemy of the state. Hitler later confiscated his paintings as part of the “degenerate art” purges.
Kandinsky participated in some of the most exciting and controversial art movements of the twentieth century. Chief among these was Der Blaue Reiter group, which Kandinsky co-founded with the artist Franz Marc.
Writing his memoirs, Kandinsky spoke of his discovery of “nonrepresentational” art. Walking into his studio one sunny evening in 1910, he came across an “indescribably beautiful painting”. The artist was completely unable to distinguish any meaning from it, only seeing form and color
Kandinsky soon realized the painting was merely turned on its side, however. This experience led him to work on a series of abstract works, including Composition VII, 1913. Scholars believe these paintings were the first entirely abstract creations in modern art, making the artist an incredibly important figure.
Two years later, Kandinsky published Concerning the Spiritual in Art. The first theoretical treatise on artistic abstraction, it revolutionized the art world. In this text, Kandinsky explored color’s ability to communicate psychological and spiritual truths.
Almost all Wassily Kandinsky paintings make little reference to figurative representation. Just like Composition VIII, they instead derive inspiration from music and spiritualism. After Kandinsky, art would never be the same again.
Wassily Kandinsky was a 19th and 20th century Russian artist who is credited as being the first purely abstract artist
Kandinsky studied first at the local art school and then went to complete his studies in Moscow. He went on to study in Munich, but this was interrupted by the outbreak of World War 1 at which point he returned to Moscow to continue abstract oil painting on canvas
Kandinsky returned to Germany during 1920 to teach at the Bauhaus School of Art in Munich but when it was closed by the Nazi's, he moved to France
The Blue Rider painting is famous for the name it shares with Der Blaue Reiter art movement which lasted from 1911 to 1914 and included Kandinsky plus other famous expressionist artists Franz Marc and August Macke
Wassily Kandinsky famous paintings include Composition VIII 1923 which is on view at the Guggenheim Museum in New York whilst Several Circles painted in 1926 is another Guggenheim Museum treasure. Circles in a Circle 1923 is held by the Philadelphia Museum of Art
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