Neuilly-sur-Seine 1866 - Neuilly-sur-Seine 1944


At the relatively advanced age of nearly thirty, Vasily Vasilievich Kandinsky abandoned a burgeoning career as a teacher of law in Moscow to take up studies as a painter. In 1896 he moved to Munich to study, enrolling in the private art academy established by the Slovenian painter Anton Ažbe, where he joined a number of other Russian artists, including Marianne von Werefkin and Alexej Jawlensky. Having failed the entrance examination to the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in 1898, Kandinsky was accepted the following year and there studied with Franz von Stuck, alongside Paul Klee. By 1900 he was exhibiting his work at the Moscow Artist’s Association, and the following year was a founder member of an artist’s association known as Phalanx, exhibiting with the group as well as teaching at the associated art school until the group was dissolved in 1904. In 1902 he met the painter Gabriele Münter, a Phalanx student, who became his mistress and companion, and the same year he exhibited with the Berlin Secession. In 1905 he had his first one-man show in Germany, and in 1906 he and Münter lived for a time in Paris. At this time Kandinky’s work was characterized by subjects that presented a romanticized, folkloric view of medieval Russia, but after his return to Germany in 1908 and spending summers in the Bavarian town of Murnau, he began to paint a series of vibrant landscapes in which he started to explore a new pictorial language. He also began adopting imaginary subjects, leading to compositions that verged on abstraction. By 1910, Kandinsky was producing three types of painting: ‘Impressions’, which retained a connection to nature, ‘Improvisations’, which attempted to express a mood or emotion, and ‘Compositions’, which were the most complex and were preceded by numerous preparatory studies. He also wrote a treatise, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, completed in 1910 but not published until 1911-1912. In 1911 Kandinsky was one of the founder members of the seminal group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), alongside Franz Marc and August Macke, as well as Münter, Jawlensky and Werefkin. Despite the relatively brief period of its existence, the Blue Rider may be said to have introduced modernism into German art before being disbanded with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 when, as a Russian citizen and therefore an enemy alien in Germany, Kandinsky was forced to return to the country of his birth. During the seven years he spent in Russia, between 1914 and 1921, Kandinsky worked mainly on paper, producing some forty paintings and around 150 watercolours. Kept busy by the various administrative artistic and cultural tasks given to him by the Bolshevik government following the October Revolution of 1917, he had relatively little time for his art. In 1921 Kandinsky left Russia to return to Germany, and within six months had taken up a position on the staff of the Bauhaus in Weimar. There he ran the workshop for mural painting and, alongside Klee, conceived and taught the preliminary course that was undertaken by all the students. He also continued to develop his artistic theories, publishing several essays and another treatise, entitled Point and Line to Plane. During Kandinsky’s years at the Bauhaus, between 1922 and 1933, his abstract compositions were dominated by geometric forms of circles, rectangles, squares and triangles. He established a long, close and mutually influential relationship with the other major painter and teacher at the Bauhaus, Paul Klee, and when the school left Weimar and moved north to Dessau in 1925, both Klee and Kandinsky continued to work and teach there, with the latter eventually becoming deputy director. After its final move to Berlin in 1932, however, Kandinsky soon found his own position in the school untenable, and the Bauhaus was closed for good in 1933. Troubled by the increasingly hostile environment in Germany, Kandinsky made the decision to emigrate to France. By January 1934 he and his wife Nina had settled in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a wealthy suburb of Paris, where the artist was to live and work for the remainder of his career. Freed from his duties as a professor and administrator at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky was able, for the first time in many years, to concentrate fully on his artistic production in Paris, creating a stimulating and highly original body of work, characterized by an emphasis on organic forms and imagery. He exhibited with the group Abstraction-Création in 1934, at the Galerie des Cahiers d’Art in 1935, and at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher in 1939, the same year that he and his wife gained French citizenship. Also in 1939, Kandinsky’s large painting Composition IX, painted three years earlier, was acquired by the Musée Nationale d’Art Moderne at the Jeu de Paume, becoming the first of his major abstract works to enter a French museum collection. During the Second World War, the shortage of art supplies for oil painting at the time of the German occupation of the city meant that he worked mainly in gouache and watercolour, and exclusively so after September 1942, when he used his last canvas. Kandinsky died of arteriosclerosis a few months after the liberation of Paris, at the age of seventy-eight.