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Wassily Kandinsky

(Russian, 1866-1944)

Wassily Kandinsky was one of the most influential Russian painters and art theorists. An early champion of abstract painting, he is known for his lyrical style and innovative theories on non-figurative art.

Wassily Kandinsky was born in Moscow on December 4 in 1866, to musical parents Lidia Ticheeva and Vasily Silvestrovich Kandinsky, a tea merchant. When Kandinsky was about 5 years old, his parents divorced, and he moved to Odessa to live with an aunt, where he learned to play the piano and cello in grammar school, as well as study drawing with a coach. Even as a boy he had an intimate experience with art; the works of his childhood reveal rather specific colour combinations, infused by his perception that "each colour lives by its mysterious life."

In 1889, he was part of an ethnographic research group which travelled to the Vologda region north of Moscow. This experience, and his study of the region's folk art (particularly the use of bright colours on a dark background), was reflected in much of his early work.

In 1896, at the age of 30, Kandinsky gave up a promising career teaching law and economics to enrol in art school in Munich. He was not immediately granted admission, and began learning art on his own. Kandinsky was similarly influenced during this period by Richard Wagner's Lohengrin which, he felt, pushed the limits of music and melody beyond standard lyricism. He was also spiritually influenced by H. P. Blavatsky (1831-1891), the best-known exponent of theosophy.

From 1906 to 1908 Kandinsky spent a great deal of time travelling across Europe (he was an associate of the Blue Rose symbolist group of Moscow), until he settled in the small Bavarian town of Murnau. The Blue Mountain (1908-1909) was painted at this time, demonstrating his trend toward abstraction.

In 1909 he helped found the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (Munich New Artists' Association), where he became its president. However, the group could not integrate the radical approach of Kandinsky with conventional artistic concepts and the group dissolved in late 1911. Kandinsky then formed a new group, the Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) with like-minded artists. The group released an almanac (The Blue Rider Almanac) and held two exhibits. More of each were planned, but the outbreak of World War I in 1914 ended these plans and sent Kandinsky back to Russia via Switzerland and Sweden.

From 1918 to 1921, Kandinsky dealt with the cultural politics of Russia and collaborated in art education and museum reform. He painted little during this period, but devoted his time to artistic teaching, with a program based on form and colour analysis; he also helped organise the Institute of Artistic Culture in Moscow.

In 1916 he met Nina Andreievskaya, whom he married the following year. His spiritual, expressionistic view of art was ultimately rejected by the radical members of the Institute as too individualistic and bourgeois.

In 1921 Kandinsky escaped from the Soviet Russia and was invited by Walter Gropius to join the Bauhaus movement in Weimar, Germany. Whilst there Kandinsky taught design and advanced colour theory, as well as a class in abstract painting.

In 1933 Bauhaus was banned by the Nazis and Kandinsky fled from Germany and settled in Paris. He became a French citizen in 1939 and continued living and working in Paris throughout the Nazi occupation. He was frequently visited at his studio in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, by Miro and other younger artists. He became established internationally through several exhibitions, and his works were acquired in the USA by Solomon Guggenheim, who became one of his most enthusiastic supporters.

Wassily Kandinsky died on December 13, 1944, in his studio in Neuilly-sur-Seine.

Wassily Kandinsky