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8 little-known facts from the life of the first Russian abstract artist Vasily Kandinsky
8 little-known facts from the life of the first Russian abstract artist Vasily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky, known for his artistic theories and innovation, viewed art as a spiritual means and the artist as a prophet. He was the first famous Russian artist who created completely abstract paintings, thereby drawing attention to himself and his work, breaking stereotypes and erasing boundaries in the art world.

1. Ethnic background

Wassily Kandinsky. \ Photo:

Vasily was born in Moscow in 1866. Despite being known as a great Russian artist, his ancestry is both European and Asian. His mother was a Russian Muscovite, his grandmother was a Mongolian princess, and his father was a Serb belonging to the ancient Kyakhta family.

Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Munter, 1906. \ Photo:

Vasily grew up in a wealthy family. He graduated from high school in Odessa and during his studies acted as an amateur pianist and cellist. He traveled extensively at a young age and felt particularly well in Venice, Rome and Florence. The artist argued that his attraction to color began around this time, when he not only began to literally notice color in art and in the world around him at every step, but also to feel it.

2. Love for painting

Munich Schwabing with the Church of St. Ursula, Wassily Kandinsky, 1908. \ Photo:

Vasily studied law and economics at Moscow University. His interest in art and color peaked when he studied the city's architecture and the immense wealth of art. He felt a deep connection with the work of Rembrandt after visiting the city's churches and museums.

The Blue Horseman, Wassily Kandinsky, 1903. \ Photo:

At the age of thirty, Vasily began studying art at Anton Azhbe's private school before he was eventually accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts. Kandinsky said that Claude Monet was one of his greatest artistic inspirations.

Vasily also cited music composers, philosophers, and other artists as inspiration, especially in Fauvist and Impressionist circles.

3. Art theorist

Composition VII, Wassily Kandinsky, 1913. \ Photo:

He was not only an artist, but also an art theorist. Vasily believed that fine art is much deeper than its purely visual characteristics. Most notably, he wrote "On the Spiritual in Art" for the anthology "The Blue Rider".

"On the Spiritual in Art" is an analysis of form and color. He states that neither one nor the other are simple concepts, but that they relate to the association of ideas that stems from the artist's inner experience. Given that all these connections are within the viewer and the artist, the analysis of color and form is "absolute subjectivity", but nonetheless enhances the artistic experience. “Absolute subjectivity” is something that has no objective answer, but subjective analysis is valuable in itself to understand.

Small Worlds I, Wassily Kandinsky, 1922. \ Photo:

Kandinsky's article examines three types of painting: impression, improvisation and composition. Impressions are external reality, what the viewer sees visually, and also a kind of starting point for art. Improvisations and compositions depict the unconscious, something that cannot be seen in the visual world. Compositions take improvisation one step further and develop it more fully.

Vasily saw in artists as prophets with the ability and responsibility to open up new ideas and ways of experiencing to the audience. That is why he spoke of contemporary art as a vehicle for new thoughts and research.

4. Kandinsky created the first historically recognized abstract art

Composition VI, Wassily Kandinsky, 1913. \ Photo:

Given his theory, it turns out that Kandinsky wrote works that not only captured reality, but also the unconscious experience of moods, words, and other objects.This was made possible by abstract paintings that focused on color and shape with little or no figurative elements.

The first abstract watercolor, Wassily Kandinsky, 1910. \ Photo:

Vasily was the first European artist to create completely abstract works. However, Kandinsky's abstraction was not translated into arbitrary images. Since music composers inspire visual and emotional responses using purely sound, Kandinsky wanted to create a complete sensory experience using the visual. He wanted to evoke emotion, sound and sensation in the viewer through pure colors and shapes. His interest in music led him to view paintings as compositions, with sound imbued with canvases.

5. Return to Russia

In gray, Wassily Kandinsky, 1919. \ Photo:

After sixteen years of study and creativity in Germany, Vasily was forced to return to Moscow from Munich. He felt like a stranger in his home country and did little art for the first few years, trying to get used to the new environment.

Composition VIII, Wassily Kandinsky, 1923. \ Photo:

Over time, Vasily joined the world of Russian art and helped organize the Institute of Artistic Culture in Moscow, becoming its first director. Ultimately, Kandinsky found that his artistic spiritualism simply did not fit into the dominant currents of Russian art. The main artistic styles were Suprematism and Constructivism. They glorified personality and materialism in a way that contradicted Kandinsky's spiritualist views. He left Russia and returned to Germany in 1921.

6. Nazis and the work of Kandinsky

Exhibition "Degenerate Art" in Munich, 1937. \ Photo:

Back in Germany, Vasily taught courses at the Bauhaus school until the Nazi defamation campaign forced the school to move to Berlin. The Nazi regime confiscated most of the school's art, including the work of Kandinsky.

Triptych by Max Beckman, London Gallery New Burlington, 1938. \ Photo:

Then his art was presented in 1937 at the Nazi art exhibition "Degenerate Art". In addition to Kandinsky, the exhibition featured works by Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and many others. Frederic Spotts, author of Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, defined degenerate art as works that offend the German feeling, or destroy and confuse natural form.

Contemporary art movements were radical and supported uprisings, which the Nazi government did not want. The exhibition was an attempt to prove that contemporary art is a Jewish conspiracy to undermine and destroy German purity and decency.

7. Record sales

Rigide et courbe, Wassily Kandinsky, 1935. \ Photo:

Rigide et courbe was sold on November 16, 2016 at Christies for nearly twenty-four million dollars. Prior to this sale, Kandinsky's Studie für Improvisation 8 was sold for twenty-three million dollars. Given the historical significance of Kandinsky for abstract art, it is not surprising that his works are selling for very impressive sums, even today they are still valuable in the art market.

8. France

Composition X, Wassily Kandinsky, 1939. \ Photo:

After the Bauhaus moved to Berlin, Kandinsky also moved, settling in Paris. Despite being known as a Russian artist, he became a French citizen in 1939. Basil painted some of his most distinguished works while living in France until the end of his days, dying in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1944.

Continuing the topic, read also about why Albrecht Durer's self-portrait provoked a scandal in the art world and how it all ended.

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