Wassily Kandinsky: Blue Rider

Kandinsky’s art does not reflect and is not burdened by the fate of other Russian avant-garde masters. He left Russia well before the semi-official Soviet aesthetic turned its back on modernist art. He had been to Paris and Italy, even giving Impressionism its due in his earliest works. However, it was only in Germany that he aspired to study. It is obvious that in his preference for Munich over Paris, Kandinsky had been thinking more about schools than about artistic milieu. The qualities of salon Impressionism, a hint of the dry rhythms of modernism (Jugendstil), a heavy “demiurgic stroke” reminiscent of Cézanne, the occasionally significant echoes of Symbolism and much more can be found in the artist’s early works.

Wassily Kandinsky , Song of the Volga , 1906. Tempera on cardboard 49 x 66 cm. Musée National d’Art Moderne , Centre Geogre Pompidou , Paris

Kandinsky began working in Murnau in August 1908. The intensity with which he worked during this period is stunning. In his early Murnau landscapes it is not hard to recognise a Fauvist boiling of colours and an abruptness in their juxtapositioning, the dramatic tension of Expressionism, which was gathering strength at that time, and the insistent texture of Cézanne. Kandinsky was leaving behind the earthly gravitational field of objects for the weightlessness of the abstract world, where the principal coordinates of being up and down, space and weight are lost.

Wassily Kandinsky , The Blue Mountain, 1908-1909. Oil on canvas. Guggenheim Museum , New York
Wassily Kandinsky , Sketch for Composition II, 1909-10. Oil on canvas, 98 x 131 cm. Guggenheim Museum , New York

According to the myths of the twentieth century, by leaving reality behind, Kandinsky renounced illusions and, therefore, drew closer to a higher reality. In 1911, Kandinsky participated in the foundation of the group Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider). Kandinsky had already acquired a name in his Russian homeland. His On the Spiritual in Art (1912) was known from lectures and other accounts. When, with the “Improvisations” and “Compositions” of 1915-1920, Kandinsky made his final break with the object world, he preserved until the early 1930s the feeling of dynamics, even organic, life in his paintings.

Wassily Kandinsky , Composition VII , 1913. Oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery , Moscow

In the summer of 1922, Kandinsky began teaching at the Weimar Bauhaus. It was then, in the first Bauhaus years, that he began working on his “Worlds”, works in which he quite directly contrasted the grandeur of the great and the small. Kandinsky’s fame grew with that of the Bauhaus.

Kandinsky determined the essence of what was happening to him in the context of his environment. On the one hand, the presence of surrealistic overtones in his art is unquestionable. Those splendid carnivals of the subconscious, those “landscapes of the soul,” realized in his simultaneously menacing and festive paintings from the 1910s, had already been in partial contact with the poetics of Surrealism. In Russia he had come to know himself as an artist: Russian motifs and sensations nourished his brush for a long time. In Germany he had become a professional and a great master; a transnational master. In France, where he was already welcomed as a world celebrity, he completed brilliantly and a bit dryly what he had begun in Russia and Germany.

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