German Expressionism

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Vasily Kandinsky

French, born Russia. 1866–1944

Starr Figura, German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 2011

Painter, printmaker, watercolorist, pioneering theorist of abstraction. Abandoning an academic law career in Russia, moved to Munich in 1896 at age of thirty to study art. Founded several progressive art groups in Munich, most notably the Blaue Reiter, in 1911, with Franz Marc. Developed artistic philosophy based on the psychology of colors and shapes. Rejected objective representation and materialism in his art and theoretical writings, favoring spiritual approach of "inner necessity," which culminated in his breakthrough to abstraction, around 1913.

Nearly two-thirds of his two hundred prints were made between 1900 and 1911, including more than fifty Jugendstil and fairy tale–inspired woodcuts from 1902 to 1904, and another fifty-six increasingly abstract woodcuts between 1907 and 1911 for his book Klänge (Sounds) (1913). These formal experiments with reductive woodcuts served as an important avenue toward abstraction. From 1913 to 1916 turned to drypoint, completing twelve rich examples.

As a Russian citizen, was expelled from Germany at outbreak of World War I. In postrevolutionary Russia was closely involved with Constructivist circles reorganizing artistic culture, and his own painting became increasingly geometric in style. Returned to Germany in 1921. Taught at the Bauhaus from 1922 until shuttered by Nazis in 1933. Reengaged with various printmaking techniques during Bauhaus years. Left Germany in 1933 and spent remaining years in France.

Selected Bibliography

Barnett, Vivian Endicott, ed. Kandinsky. Exh. cat. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2009.

Barnett, Vivian Endicott, ed. Kandinsky Watercolors: Catalogue Raisonné. 2 vols. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992–94.

Friedel, Helmut, and Annegret Hoberg, eds. Kandinsky: Das druckgrafische Werk/The Complete Prints. Exh. cat. Munich: Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, 2008.

Kandinsky in Munich, 1896–1914. Exh. cat. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1982.

Long, Rose-Carol Washton. Kandinsky: The Development of an Abstract Style. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.

Roethel, Hans K. Kandinsky: Das graphische Werk. Cologne: DuMont, 1970.

Heather Hess

Printed by Vasily Kandinsky

  • Vasily Kandinsky. The Night - Large Version (Die Nacht - Grosse Fassung). (1903)
    Vasily Kandinsky
    The Night - Large Version (Die Nacht - Grosse...
    Vasily Kandinsky. The Night - Large Version (Die Nacht - Grosse Fassung). (1903)
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