Wassily Kandinsky | Biography, Facts, Famous Works & Quotes



Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian painter and art theorist who is widely regarded as one of the key figures in modern art due to his contribution to the development of abstract art. Kandinsky was born in Moscow to upper class parents. He initially pursued a career in law before he moved to Germany to study art at the age of 30. After the outbreak of World War I, Kandinsky returned to Russia to teach at the Moscow Academy of Fine Art. The rise of Communism forced him to leave his native country and move to Germany once again. From 1922 till 1933, Kandinsky taught at the Bauhaus. The Nazi party closed the Bauhaus in 1933. Kandinsky then left for Paris, where he spent the last 11 years of his life. Kandinsky married twice, first to his cousin Anja Tschimiakin and then to Nina Andreevskaya, who was 27 years younger to him. He only had one child with Nina, who died young. Know all about Wassily Kandinsky through his biography, interesting facts about him, his most famous works and his best quotes.



BIODATA

BIRTHDecember 16, 1866 – in Moscow, Russia.
EDUCATION* University of Moscow (1886 – 1893) – studied law and economics.
* Anton Azbe’s private school, Munich (1896 – 1897) – mastered his first skills in art
* Academy of Fine Arts, Munich (1900) – received his Diploma in Art
OCCUPATIONTeacher, Author and Artist
KNOWN FOR* One of the key figures in the development of abstract art in the western world
* Creating some of the first abstract paintings in the west
* His book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which is regarded as the first theoretical foundation of abstraction
FATHERVasily Silvestrovich Kandinsky (1832 – 1926) – a tea merchant by profession.
MOTHERLidia Ivanovna Kandinsky (1840 – 1901) – housewife and amateur musician.
WIVES* Anna Chimiakina (m. 1892 – 1911) – Wassily’s cousin and also one of the first women-students of the Moscow University
* Nina Andreievskaya (m. 1917 – 1944) – wife of Kandinsky till his death in 1944 and administrator of his inheritance after his death
CHILDRENVsevolod (1917 – 1920) – died in infancy
DEATHDecember 13, 1944 (aged 77) – due to cerebrovascular disease, common forms of which include strokes.
PLACE OF DEATHNeuilly-sur-Seine, France

BIOGRAPHY

Childhood

Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky was born on December 16, 1866 in Moscow, Russia. Before moving to Moscow, his family lived at Kjachta, a Siberian city on the Mongolian border. This was the birthplace of his father Vasily Silvestrovich Kandinsky. Vasily Silvestrovich was a successful tea merchant whose maternal ancestors were Mongolian. Wassily’s mother Lydia Tikheeva was also well educated and was a native of Moscow. Both his parents were musicians and they instilled in him a love for music which would greatly influence his art. When Wassily was five years old, his parents divorced and he remained their only child.

Wassily Kandinsky parents
Wassily Kandinsky parents – Lydia Tikheeva & Vasily Silvestrovich Kandinsky

In 1871, Wassily moved to Odessa, where he was looked after by his aunt. He received his elementary and secondary education there. While in Odessa, he learned to play the piano and the cello well enough to become an amateur performer. In 1886, at the age of 19, Kandinsky returned to Moscow to study law and economics at the University of Moscow. While graduating, he maintained an interest in art visiting churches around Moscow to see the vividly colored religious icons there. In 1889, he was sent on a research expedition to Vologda in northern Russia by the “Society for Natural Science, Ethnography and Anthropology”. The strong folk art there made a lasting impression on him and he later said he felt like he was walking about in a painting.


Move To An Artistic Career

In 1892, Kandinsky got his law degree and, the same year, he married his cousin, Anja Tschimiakin. The following year, he was appointed instructor at the Law Faculty of the University of Moscow. While he was successful in his career, Kandinsky continued to pay attention to art. In 1895, he took the post of art director of a publishing house in Moscow. The same year, he viewed an exhibition of French impressionist paintings and was much impressed by the art of famous French artist Claude Monet.

1906 Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky
1906 Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky

1896 was a turning point for Wassily Kandinsky. He had an unusual experience while listening to a performance of Wagner’s composition Lohengrin at the Bolshoi Theater. He later described it as: “I saw all my colors in spirit, before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me”. Kandinsky is believed to have had synesthesia, a perceptual phenomenon by which the stimulation of one sense leads to the stimulation of another. After this experience, he moved to Munich, along with his reluctant wife, to devote himself entirely to visual art.

Gabriele Munter
Portrait of Gabriele Munter

In Germany, Kandinsky first studied at the art school of Anton Azbè for a couple of years. He found it disappointing and in 1900, he entered the Munich Academy of Art, the class of Franz von Stuck, “the foremost German draughtsman” of the period. The same year, he received his diploma. The following year, he co-founded “Phalanx” along with Rolf Niczky, Waldemar Hecker, Gustav Freytag and Wilhelm Hüggen. It was an association for avant-garde artists. It was in the “Palanx School” that Kandinsky met Gabriele Münter, an art student. Their relationship turned from professional to personal and lasted for over a decade. The Palanx closed in 1903. Kandinsky and Münter traveled to Tunisia and stayed there for a year. He officially separated from his first wife Anja in 1911.


Second Marriage

By 1911, Kandinsky had adapted a more gestural, abstract style. The same year, his definitive book, “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” was published. It delves into the purpose of art. Moreover, it examines how colors and forms impact the human soul. Conservative art experts were critical of Kandinsky and his painting “Composition V” was rejected for an exhibition in 1911. In response, Kandinsky, along with other artists like Franz Marc, founded their own association called Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), named after a Kandinsky painting.

Nina Andreevskaya
Nina Andreevskaya – Kandinsky’s second wife

The outbreak of the First World War led to Kandinsky fleeing to Switzerland and, after three months, he returned to his homeland Russia. The war also led to his separation with Gabriele Münter. In Russia, Kandinsky taught at the Moscow Academy of Fine Art. In February 1917, he married Nina Andreevskaya, who was 27 years younger. His second wife was the daughter of a Russian general. Before meeting Nina, Kandinsky had talked with her on the phone and he painted “To a Voice”, a painting supposedly inspired by the voice of his future wife. The only child of the couple, Vsevolod, was born in the year of their marriage but, unfortunately, died in 1920. The second marriage of Kandinsky lasted till his death in 1944. He appointed Nina as his sole heir before his death.


The Bauhaus

After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Communists put pressure on Kandinsky to serve their propaganda and restricted his independence. This led Kandinsky to move to Berlin and he never returned to his native country. From 1922 till 1933, Kandinsky taught at the Bauhaus, a radical institution which adhered to revolutionary and unadorned styles. At the Bauhaus, Kandinsky pursued his goal of the “Great Synthesis of the Arts”, in which he wanted to combine different types of art in an effort to simultaneously reveal a universal characteristic in them. At Bauhaus, he also became friends with famous German painter and professor, Paul Klee.

Wassily Kandinsky in 1929
Wassily Kandinsky in Dessau, 1929

By 1930, Kandinsky had become a world renowned painter and art theorist. Also, he and his wife had become German citizens in 1926. However, the rise of the Nazi party in Germany started to cause difficulties for Kandinsky. The new rulers considered him undesirable as he was a Russian, an abstract painter and a Bauhaus teacher. In 1933, the Nazi party closed the Bauhaus. Kandinsky was forced to leave Germany and, this time, he moved to Paris, where he spent the last 11 years of his life. In Germany, his art was termed as “degenerate” and displayed in the Nazis’ Degenerate Art exhibition in 1937. In 1939, Kandinsky and his wife became French citizens.


Death

Cubism and Surrealism were the dominant movements in Paris but Kandinsky continued to make abstract art and defended it in journals. On December 13, 1944, Wassily Kandinsky died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, of cerebrovascular disease, common forms of which include strokes. He was 77 years old. Kandinsky played a pivotal role in the development of abstract art due to which is widely regarded as one of the key figures in modern art.


Main Sources:-
“Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)”. University of West Georgia.
Breedlove, Byron. “Chaos in Form and Color Yields to Harmony”. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Ashmore, Jerome. “Vasily Kandinsky and His Idea of Ultimate Reality”.
Jie, Wang. “A groundbreaking insight into Kandinsky”. Shine.
Watkins, Thayer. “The Life and Works of Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky”. San José State University.
Vasily Kandinsky Teaching Material”. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.


INTERESTING FACTS

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#1 He had a condition called synesthesia in which stimulation of one sense leads to the stimulation of another.

#2 Music is integral to the art of Kandinsky and he called his works Compositions, Improvisations and Impressions.

#3 He co-founded the influential artistic group Der Blaue Reiter

#4 He had a love affair and a bitter fallout with fellow artist Gabriele Münter

#5 He had a long and fruitful relationship with revolutionary musician Arnold Schoenberg

#6 His paintings were displayed in the infamous Degenerate Art exhibition of the Nazis.

#7 Art was deeply spiritual for Kandinsky and the circle in his paintings represented the spiritual realm.

#8 He didn’t create the first abstract painting in western art. Swedish artist Hilma af Klint created her first series of abstract paintings in 1906, several years before Kandinsky.

#9 Kandinsky is regarded as the Father of Abstract Art and he was the most important in the abstract art revolution in the west.

#10 His most famous painting sold at auction till date is Painting With White Lines which fetched £33 million ($41.6 million) in 2017.


ART CAREER AND STYLE

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Kandinsky took up art after a life changing experience while listening to a composition of music. Music played a key role in his art and he gave many of his paintings musical titles like Compositions, Improvisations and Impressions. Among these, the most famous are his exemplary 10 compositions, which were created over more than three decades from Composition l in 1907 to Composition X in 1939. Apart from music, the art of Kandinsky was influenced by the Russian Orthodox faith. Another important factor is his lifelong pursuit of the “Great Synthesis of the Arts”, a way to combine different types of art.


MOST FAMOUS PAINTINGS

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RankTitleLocationYear Created
#10Composition XKunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Germany1939
#9On White IIGeorges Pompidou Center, Paris, France1923
#8Several CirclesThe Guggenheim, New York, United States1926
#7Yellow-Red-BlueGeorges Pompidou Center, Paris, France1925
#6UpwardPeggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy1929
#5The Blue RiderPrivate Collection1903
#4First Abstract WatercolorGeorges Pompidou Center, Paris, France1913
#3Color Study: Squares with Concentric CirclesLenbachhaus, Munich, Germany1913
#2Composition VIIIThe Guggenheim, New York, United States1923
#1Composition VIITretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia1913

TOP QUOTATIONS

“Color directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

Concerning the Spiritual in Art

“Everything starts from a dot.”

Kandinsky on Origin of Art

“An empty canvas is a living wonder — far lovelier than certain pictures.”

Kandinsky on Canvas

“Thus we look upon the geometric point as the ultimate and most singular union of silence and speech.”

Point and Line to Plane

“There is no must in art because art is free.”

Kandinsky on Art

“There is only one road to follow, that of analysis of the basic elements in order to arrive ultimately at an adequate graphic expression.”

Concerning the Spiritual in Art

“Objects damage pictures.”

Kandinsky on Representational Art

“The artist must train not only his eye but also his soul.”

Kandinsky on Artist

“That is beautiful which is produced by the inner need, which springs from the soul.”

Concerning the Spiritual in Art

“With few exceptions, music has been for some centuries the art which has devoted itself not to the reproduction of natural phenomena, but rather to the expression of the artist’s soul, in musical sound.”

Kandinsky on Music as an Art



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