Vasily Kandinsky. Panel for Edwin R. Campbell No. 4. 1914. Oil on canvas, 64 1/4 x 48 1/4" (163 x 122.5 cm). Nelson A. Rockefeller Fund (by exchange. © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

“Must we not then renounce the object altogether...?”

Vasily Kandinsky

“Must we not then renounce the object altogether, throw it to the winds and instead lay bare the purely abstract?” Vasily Kandinsky posed this question in December 1911, in Concerning the Spiritual in Art, a text that laid out his argument for abstraction.1 That same month, he seemed to answer his own question, making a radically new picture type, Komposition V. Both his text and his painting established Kandinsky as a central actor in the move toward abstraction that was playing out across a network of artists, poets, and musicians in the years immediately preceding World War I.

An earlier painting from 1909, Picture with an Archer, suggested the direction Kandinsky was taking his work. In this landscape, certain forms remain discernable, such as the archer astride a horse and drawing his bow, two men in Russian dress, a collection of houses, and a central tower. But the painting’s color thrums with vibrancy, forming a patchwork of rich, non-naturalistic hues that nearly consumes the canvas. Soon, in works like Study for Painting with White Form and Improvisation, the artist would liberate line from its traditionally descriptive function. No longer used to bound form, it became purely expressive.

Kandinsky believed that the most advanced art would awaken “emotions that we cannot put into words.”2 For him, abstraction provided a vehicle for direct expression, circumventing language. He believed that color and form possessed their own affective power, acting on the viewer independently of images and objects. "Color is a means of exerting direct influence upon the soul,” he wrote in Concerning the Spiritual in Art. “Color is a keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano, with its many strings.”3

Throughout his career, music remained an important touchstone for Kandinsky. One of his first proto-abstract canvases had been inspired, he said, by a concert of Arnold Schoenberg’s atonal work in 1911. In late 1912 or 1913, he produced a volume of poetry known as Klänge (Sounds), in which he paired semi-abstract woodcuts with 38 prose poems. “I wanted to create nothing but sounds,” he declared.4

Compelled to leave Munich immediately after the outbreak of World War I, in August 1914, Kandinsky returned to his native Russia. There, he served as the first director of the Museums of Painterly Culture, working to establish a network of regional museums, in 1919. One year later, he became the first director of INKhUk (the Institute of Artistic Culture) in Moscow, a state-funded interdisciplinary research center for the study of culture. In 1922, he returned to Germany to join the faculty of the Bauhaus, an avant-garde art and design school based in Weimar and, later, Dessau. He remained at the Bauhaus until the Nazis shuttered it in 1933, prompting him to relocate one final time, to France.

Kandinsky made color theory an important part of the Bauhaus curriculum, and his preoccupation with primary form (basic geometric shapes including the triangle, circle, and square) and primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) influenced a new generation of artists, among them Herbert Bayer and Sonia Delaunay-Terk. During this time, his abstractions became increasingly hard-edged, as in Orange, with the circle emerging as his favored form—“a precise but inexhaustible variable,” he said, that “points most clearly to the fourth dimension.”5 In this, Kandinsky remained steadfast in his belief in the power of color and form to supplant language and to open our perception to a transcendent plane.

Natalie Dupêcher, independent scholar, 2018

  1. Vasily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art (1911), translated in Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, vol. 1 (1901–1921), ed. Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo (Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1982), 169.

  2. Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 129.

  3. Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 160.

  4. Kandinsky, quoted in Ralph Jentsch, Illustrierte Bücher des deutschen Expressionismus, exh. cat., Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum, Berlin (Stuttgart: Edition Cantz, 1989), pp. 60–61.

  5. Vasily Kandinsky to Will Grohmann, October 12, 1930; quoted in Will Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky: Life and Work (London: Thames and Hudson, 1959), 188.

Wikipedia entry
Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky (16 December [O.S. 4 December] 1866 – 13 December 1944) was a Russian painter and art theorist. Kandinsky is generally credited as one of the pioneers of abstraction in western art. Born in Moscow, he spent his childhood in Odessa, where he graduated from Odessa Art School. He enrolled at the University of Moscow, studying law and economics. Successful in his profession, he was offered a professorship (chair of Roman Law) at the University of Dorpat (today Tartu, Estonia). Kandinsky began painting studies (life-drawing, sketching and anatomy) at the age of 30. In 1896, Kandinsky settled in Munich, studying first at Anton Ažbe's private school and then at the Academy of Fine Arts. He returned to Moscow in 1914 after the outbreak of World War I. Following the Russian Revolution, Kandinsky "became an insider in the cultural administration of Anatoly Lunacharsky" and helped establish the Museum of the Culture of Painting. However, by then, "his spiritual outlook... was foreign to the argumentative materialism of Soviet society" and opportunities beckoned in Germany, to which he returned in 1920. There, he taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture from 1922 until the Nazis closed it in 1933. He then moved to France, where he lived for the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1939 and producing some of his most prominent art. He died in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1944, three days before his 78th birthday.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Kandinsky was raised and educated in Moscow, but left for Munich in 1896 to attend art school. There he was exposed to the paintings of the French Impressionists and the music of Wagner, which inspired him. In Germany, he was active in the foundation of several different art schools and artists' groups, most notably "Der Blaue Reiter." His theoretical texts were also published internationally. In 1914, he returned to Moscow, where he collaborated with Malevich and Tatlin. In 1922, he began teaching painting at the Bauhaus in Weimar, while continuing to paint and publish treatises on painting. Kandinsky became a naturalized German citizen in 1928, and later a French citizen. Russian artist. Comment on works: Abstract
Russian, French, German
Artist, Author, Teacher, Designer, Engraver, Decorative Artist, Illustrator, Painter, Sculptor, Theorist
Vassily Kandinsky, Vasilii Vasilevich Kandinskii, Vasilij Vasil'evic Kandinskij, Vasily Kandinsky, Vasilij Kandinskij, Vasilij Kandinski, Wassili Kandinsky, Wassily Wassiljewitsch Kandinsky, Wahsili Kang-ting-ssu-chi, Vasili Vasilevich Kandinsky, Wassily Kandinsky, Vasily. Kandinsky, Vasily Vasil'yevich Kandinsky, Vasilĭi Vasilʹevich Kandinskĭi, Kandinsky, Wa-hsi-li Kʻang-ting-ssu-chi, Kʻang-ting-ssu-chi, Vasilij Vasil'evič Kandinskij, Basile W. Kandinsky, Vasilij Vasilijevitch Kandynski, w. kandinsky
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


154 works online



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