Vasilij Vasil'evič Kandinskij French, 1866-1944
Widely considered to be the forefather of modern abstraction, Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky developed a visual language of color, form and movement that redefined art in the 20th century. Born the son of a tea merchant in Moscow, Kandinsky first studied law and economics before becoming involved with the Munich Art world, eventually teaching at the Kunstakademie around the turn of the century. Influenced early on by the light in the work of Impressionists such as Claude Monet, Kandinsky’s early woodcuts and paintings showed a deep understanding of color. After founding the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (Munich New Artists' Association), Kandinsky formed the Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) group with fellow artists and theorists such as August Macke, Franz Marc, Albert Bloch, and Gabriele Münter. Pioneering new and innovative ideas concerning the purpose and emotionality of art making, Kandinsky’s explorations of early abstraction stemmed from his desire to depict the psyche as well as the outside world. A deeply spiritual individual, Kandinsky saw visual art and music as profound means of transcendence, engaging audiences across all boundaries of identity.
As Kandinsky’s work continued to expand in the realms of abstraction, improvisation and geometric composition, he taught advanced courses in art theory at the Bauhaus until the Nazi party closed the school in 1933. Forced out of Germany, Kandinsky settled in a suburb of Paris, where his style continued to shift, encompassing his theories of aesthetic complexity and biomorphic form. He continued to produce work until his death in 1944. Kandinsky’s legacy includes not only his paintings and writings, but also his connections, collaborations and friendships with artist, musicians, and cultural figures such as Solomon R. Guggenheim, who founded the iconic institution with the intention of promoting modern, avant-garde art—including over 150 of Kandinsky’s works. His works are found in almost every major museum collection worldwide and has been the subject of exhibitions and retrospectives including Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Tate Modern in London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Vasilij Vasil'evič Kandinskij was born on December 16, 1866, in Moscow.
From 1886 through 1892 he studied law and economics at the University of Moscow, where he lectured after graduation. In 1896 he declined a teaching position in order to study art in Munich with Anton Azbe from 1897 to 1899 and at the Kunstakademie with Franz von Stuck in 1900. Kandinsky taught in 1901–03 at the art school of the Phalanx, a group he cofounded in Munich. One of his students, Gabriele Münter, would be his companion until 1914. In 1902 Kandinsky exhibited for the first time with the Berlin Secession and produced his first woodcuts. In 1903 and 1904 he began his travels in Italy, the Netherlands, and North Africa and his visits to Russia. He showed at the Salon d’Automne in Paris from 1904.
In 1909 Kandinsky was elected president of the newly founded Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM). The group’s first show took place at Heinrich Thannhauser’s Moderne Galerie in Munich in 1909. In 1911 Kandinsky and Franz Marc began to make plans for Der Blaue Reiter Almanac, although the publication would not appear until the following year. Kandinsky’s On the Spiritual in Art was published in December 1911. He and Marc withdrew from the NKVM in that month, and shortly thereafter the Blaue Reiter group’s first exhibition was held at the Moderne Galerie. In 1912 the second Blaue Reiter show was held at the Galerie Hans Goltz, Munich. Kandinsky’s first solo show was held at Der Sturm gallery in Berlin in 1912. In 1913 one of his works was included in the Armory Show in New York and the Erste deutsche Herbstsalon at the Der Sturm gallery in Berlin. Kandinsky lived in Russia from 1914 to 1921, principally in Moscow, where he held a position at the People’s Commissariat of Education.
Kandinsky began teaching at the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1922. In 1923 he was given his first solo show in New York by the Société Anonyme, of which he became vice-president. Lyonel Feininger, Alexej Jawlensky, Kandinsky, and Paul Klee made up the Blaue Vier (Blue Four) group, formed in 1924. He moved with the Bauhaus to Dessau in 1925 and became a German citizen in 1928. The Nazi government closed the Bauhaus in 1933 and later that year Kandinsky settled in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris; he acquired French citizenship in 1939. Fifty-seven of his works were confiscated by the Nazis in the 1937 purge of “degenerate art.”
Kandinsky died on December 13, 1944, in Neuilly.