Wassily Kandinsky is hailed as the father of the pure abstraction movement in the early 20th century. Abstract art uses shapes, lines, forms, colors and textures, but it does not represent reality.
Kandinsky was born Dec. 4, 1866, in Moscow, Russia, to a wealthy tea merchant. His mother was an avid musician. His interests were unlike most other children. While other children practiced their spelling, Kandinsky wrote poems and sketched. While other boys played ball, he played his violin and became an accomplished musician by age 9.
When his parents divorced, Kandinsky moved in with his aunt, who was an artist herself. She believed every proper Russian boy should appreciate art, so she gave him a paint box and arranged for art lessons.
When she showed him how to mix colors, Kandinsky insisted he heard a distinct “hissing sound” coming from the box. As he stirred and swished his brush, the swirling colors sounded like an orchestra tuning up in his mind.
His aunt dismissed this experience as foolishness, but Kandinsky persisted. He said the yellow paint sounded like a trilling trumpet, but the blue paint had a happy and lilting quality, such as that of a flute. When he focused on dark blue paint, he heard the calming vibrations of a cello and the deepest, darkest, blue sounded distinctly like a church organ.
His early artistic works as a boy showed his intimate experience with color. They reveal rather specific color combinations, influenced by this musical perception.
In his journal, he later said, “… each color lives by its own mysterious life.”
Although Kandinsky was very interested in art, he followed his family’s wishes by studying economics and law at the University of Moscow between 1886 and 1892.
During his studies, he joined an academic team formed to study the economic and spiritual conditions present in Vologda, a district in northwestern Russia. He deeply was impressed by their folk art and interior decorations of village homes.
It looked as though Kandinsky would become a successful lawyer, but two events caused him to make an abrupt career change in 1896.
The previous year while Kandinsky visited an exhibit of French impressionists, he came upon Claude Monet’s painting Haystacks at Giverny. It was his first experience with non-representational art.
Kandinsky was fascinated by Monet’s lack of details. “Why did he not finish it?” He thought. “Why are there not any details? You can barely tell that it is a haystack.”
Kandinsky was agitated by the fact this piece was so different than all the other realistic painting common at that time as impressionism was in its infancy and was not yet in vogue.
The second event occurred when Kandinsky heard Wagner’s composition Lohengrin while at the Bolshoi Theatre in Russia. He later described his experience in his journal this way: “While they performed the music, I saw all my colors in spirit, before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me.”
That same year at age 30, he left his successful law job to become a full-time art student.
Kandinsky started as any first-year student would, with the study of traditional themes and forms, but most of his education was self-directed. He was deeply devoted to spiritual study and developed artistic theories linking music, color, with his spiritual studies.
Kandinski later embraced the constructivist movement, which is based on dots and geometry.
He helped create Moscow’s Institute for Artistic Culture and the Museum of Pictorial Culture.
Most of the work Kandinski produced in Russia was destroyed, although many of the paintings he made in Germany still exist. His vivid interpretations of music in art coupled with his theories regarding the connection between the spiritual realm and the artistic realm altered the artistic landscape for the modern age and has earned him the ultimate status as the “Father of Abstract Art.”
Join me here next month when we will meet master, Henri Matisse.