Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian artist who is most famous for painting some of the earliest known works of pure abstract art. He was also an art theorist whose books exerted a deep and profound influence on twentieth century art. Initially a teacher of law and economics, Kandinsky gave up his promising career to pursue his interests in art. He rose to prominence in the 1910s to become one of the leading figures in modern art. Know about the family, life, career, works and achievements of Wassily Kandinsky through these 10 interesting facts.

 

#1 His parents got divorced before he turned five

1906 Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky
1906 Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky

Born on 16th December 1866 in Moscow in the Russian Empire, Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky was the only child of Vasily Silvestrovich Kandinsky, a tea merchant, and his wife Lidia Ticheeva. The Kandinsky family moved to Odessa (now in Ukraine) in 1871. The same year, Vasily and Lidia got divorced. Wassily was less than 5 years old at the time. Elizabeth Ticheeva, elder sister of his mother, took over the responsibility of raising him. At Odessa, Wassily completed his secondary education, graduating from the Grekov Odessa Art School.

#2 He became a lawyer in 1892

Wassily took his first lessons in drawing and music while he was at Odessa. He became an amateur performer on the piano and the cello. As an adolescent, Kandinsky was fascinated by colors believing each color had a mysterious life of its own. However, despite his inclination towards arts, after completing secondary education Wassily joined the University of Moscow in 1886 to study law and economics. He completed his studies in 1892 to become a lawyer and was granted a degree equivalent of a doctorate. The following year, Kandinsky became lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the University of Moscow.

#3 Kandinsky gave up a promising career in teaching to study art

In 1896, around the age of 30, Kandinsky gave up a promising career teaching law and economics to devote himself full-time to become an artist. He had been offered professorship at the University of Tartu, Estonia but instead decided to move to Munich, Germany to study art. According to Kandinsky, two events influenced his decision by challenging his artistic sensibilities. First was seeing the exhibition of painters of the art movement Impressionism, particularly French artist Claude Monet’s Haystacks series. The second was watching Richard Wagner’s famous opera Lohengrin at the Moscow Royal Theatre.

Haystacks on a Foggy Morning
Haystacks on a Foggy Morning by Claude Monet

 

#4 He emerged as a prominent painter in the first decade of the twentieth century

Wassily had learned German from his maternal grandmother when he was a kid. In Munich, he first joined the private art school of renowned Slovene realist painter Anton Azbe. After studying under Azbe from 1896 to 1898, he entered the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, from where he received a diploma in 1900. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Kandinsky emerged as a prominent art theorist and painter. He had his first solo exhibition in Moscow in 1903 and it was followed next year by two others in Poland. His most famous painting from the first decade of the century is perhaps The Blue Rider (1903), which gives an indication of his style which would develop into pure abstraction.

Der Blaue Reiter (1903) - Wassily Kandinsky
The Blue Rider (1903)

 

#5 Kandinsky is most famous for being a pioneer of abstract art

Kandinsky was among the most important leaders of the abstract art movement of early twentieth century and he is considered a pioneer in non-figurative painting. 1910 to 1914 is considered the peak of his artistic career and it was the time when his artworks decisively moved away from representational traditions of Western European art and towards pure abstraction. A 1910 untitled work by Kandinsky, now renowned as the First Abstract Watercolour, is considered his first purely abstract work and one of the first ever to completely rid the representational tradition. Music, being abstract by nature, was an intrinsic part of his paintings. He has named some of his spontaneous works as “improvisations” and elaborate works as “compositions.”

First abstract watercolor (1910) - Kandinsky Wassily
First abstract watercolor (1910)

 

#6 He wrote some of the most influential books on twentieth century art

Apart from being a painter, Kandinsky was an art theorist and his influence on the history of painting is perhaps more due to his theoretical works. The ideas that he presented in his book Concerning the Spiritual In Art (1910) had an international impact, particularly in the English-speaking world. The pioneering work defended and promoted abstract art; and talked about the spiritual abilities of art. Another influential work by Kandinsky is Point and Line To Plane (1926), which analyses geometrical elements from the point of view of their inner effect on the observer.

Illustration from Point and Line to Plane
Illustrative composition in Kandinsky’s Point and Line to Plane

 

#7 Kandinsky was a founder and leading member of Der Blaue Reiter

Cover of 1912 Der Blaue Reiter almanac
Cover of 1912 Der Blaue Reiter almanac by Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky was a leading member of the avant-garde art movement in Munich. In 1909, he helped found the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (Munich New Artist’s Association, NKVM). However, when NVKM became too strict, Kandinsky and like-minded artists found a group called Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). Involving some of the leading expressionist artists, it organized exhibitions and also published an almanac. Der Blaue Reiter lasted from 1911 to 1914, when it was disrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. It is regarded as a forerunner and pathfinder for modern art in twentieth century Germany.

#8 His 3 Compositions were displayed at the Degenerate Art Exhibition

Kandinsky returned to Russia after the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Here he devoted most of his time to art education and museum reform. He served as professor at the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts and then at the University of Moscow. In 1921, Kandinsky moved back to Berlin and the following year he accepted a teaching post at Bauhaus, a school of architecture and art in Weimar, Germany. In 1933, the Nazis forced the Bauhaus to close and the same year Kandinsky immigrated to Paris, where he remained for his last 11 years. The first three paintings of the Compositions series by Kandinsky were confiscated in the Nazi raid. They were among the works put on display in the infamous “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich in 1937. Kandinsky’s paintings were then destroyed.

 

#9 He had a love affair with German artist Gabriele Munter

Wassily Kandinsky and Nina Andreevskaya
Wassily Kandinsky and Nina Andreevskaya, 1926

In 1892, Kandinsky married his cousin, Anna Chimyakina. Anna moved to Munich with him in 1896. In 1901, Kandinsky got acquainted with Gabriele Munter, who was his student and later became a well-known German expressionist painter. They became involved in a relationship and after Kandinsky split with his wife in 1904, they started to live together. Their relationship is considered to be tumultuous. Kandinsky got officially divorced with Anna in 1911, and he broke his relationship with Munter in 1914 when he left Germany, though they did correspond till 1916.

#10 Wassily Kandinsky is called the father of abstract art

In 1916, Kandinsky got romantically involved with Nina Andreevskaya, a Moscow woman. In February 1917, Kandinsky, aged 51, married the much younger Nina. They had a son named Vsevolod Kandinsky the same year but he died in 1920. Their marriage is considered to be successful and lasted till Wassily Kandinsky died of cerebrovascular disease on 13th December 1944 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris, France. Kandinsky had a long lasting and profound influence on twentieth century art and he is considered by many as the Father of Abstract Art.

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