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Wassily Kandinsky 

Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian painter credited as being among the first to truly venture into abstract art.

The text below is the excerpt of the book Kandinsky, written by Wassily Kandinsky, published by Parkstone International.

Not long ago it seemed that the 20th century had not only begun with Kandinsky, but ended with him as well. But no matter how often his name is cited by the zealots of new and fashionable interpretations, the artist has passed into history and belongs to the past and to the future, perhaps to a greater degree than to the present. So much has been written and said about Kandinsky. His works, including his theoretical ones, are so well-known that this abundance of knowledge and commonplace opinions often hinders our seeing the artist in his individuality, in his real – not mythologised – significance. With a fresh gaze. From the threshold of the third millennium.

kandinsky-in-berlin
Kandinsky in Berlin, January 1922. Photograph.
Musee national d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges-Pompidou, Paris.

Weary of arch postmodernist games, the experienced and serious viewer today seeks in Kandinsky that which no one had seen in him earlier – and had not attempted to see: a buttress in an unstable world of artistic phantoms and fashionable shams. What just less than a hundred years ago was born as a bold revelation has now passed over into the category of eternal values. Among the titans of modernist art, Kandinsky was a patriarch. Matisse was born in 1869; Proust, in 1871; Malevich, in 1879; Klee, in 1879; Picasso, in 1881; Kafka, in 1883; Chagall, in 1887. Kandinsky himself was born in 1866, a year that also witnessed the birth of Romain Rolland and the publication of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Anna Karenina had yet to be written and no one had yet pronounced the term “Impressionism”. Kandinsky, in a word, was born in “the very depths” of the 19th century.

kandinky-mountain-lake
Mountain Lake1899. Oil on canvas, 50 x 70 cm.
Manukhina Collection, Moscow.
kandinky-river-in-summer
River in Summer, 1903. Oil on canvas, 19.5 x 29.5 cm.
The Russian Museum, St Petersburg.

Kandinsky was twenty when the last exhibition of the Impressionists opened; he was thirty-four when Ambroise Vollard held the young Picasso’s first one-man show in his gallery. At the turn of the century, Kandinsky was only just beginning to become a professional, his name was still unknown – and he did not yet know himself. Kandinsky’s intellectualism and that of his art have constantly been noted by scholars and essayists. This situation is not typical: the young paladins of the avant-garde attracted theirs as with the radicalism and the spiritedness of their opinions; and, more often, with a meaningful incomprehensibility interspersed with brilliant revelations.

kandinsky-Improvisation-No.20
Improvisation No. 20, 1911. Oil on canvas, 94.5 x 108 cm.
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
kandinsky-Impression-III
Impression III (Concert), 1911. Oil on canvas, 77.5 x 100 cm.
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich

The destiny of a master who linked his art with Russia, Germany, and France; his work as a teacher in the celebrated Bauhaus; his prose, verse, and theoretical writings; his unbending and determined path towards individuality – all of these things have made Kandinsky more than just another of the great artists of the 20th century. In the culture of our age he has occupied a quite exceptional place: the place adepts not so much with knowledge and logic of an artist alien to vanity and with a desire to shock the viewer; the place of a master inclined to constant and concentrated meditation, to unswerving movement towards a synthesis of the arts, to the quest for more perfect, ascetic and strict formal systems. Moreover, Kandinsky’s art does not reflect or is not burdened by the fate of other Russian avant-garde masters. He left Russia well before the semi-official Soviet esthetic turned its back on modernist art. He himself chose where he would live and how he would work.

kandinsky-Exotic-birds
Exotic Birds, 1915Oil on canvas, 34.4 x 25.4 cm.
The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

He was forced neither to struggle with fate nor to enter into a conspiracy with it. His “struggles” took place “with himself” (Boris Pasternak). The persecutions to which “leftist” artists in Russia were subjected left him untouched and did not complicate his life. Neither, however, as he was awarded a crown of thorns or the glory of a martyr, like a lot of those famous avant-garde artists who remained in Russia. His reputation is in no way obliged to fate – only to art itself. The culture of the past was for him precious and intelligible; he was not concerned with the smashing of idols. Creating „the new” occupied him entirely.

kandinsky-accent-in-pink
Accent in Pink, 1926Oil on canvas, 100.5 x 80.5 cm.
Musée national d’Art moderne, Centre Georges-Pompidou, Paris

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