b. 1866, Moscow; d. 1944, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France

Vasily Kandinsky was born December 4, 1866, in Moscow. From 1886¯92, 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 had 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 [more] 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 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 December 13, 1944, in Neuilly.

Kandinsky and Music

"The term "Composition" can imply a metaphor with music. Kandinsky was fascinated by music's emotional power. Because music expresses itself through sound and time, it allows the listener a freedom of imagination, interpretation, and emotional response that is not based on the literal or the descriptive, but rather on the abstract quality that painting, still dependent on representing the visible world, could not provide.

"Kandinsky's special understanding of the affinities between painting and music and his belief in the Gesamtkunstwerk, or the total work of art, came forth in his text "On Stage Composition," his play "Yellow Sound," and his portfolio of prose poems and prints Klange (Sounds, 1913). Music can respond and appeal directly to the artist's "internal element" and express spiritual values, thus for Kandinsky it is a more advanced art. In his writings Kandinsky emphasizes this superiority in advancing toward what he calls the epoch of the great spiritual.

"Wagner's Lohengrin, which had stirred Kandinsky to devote his life to art, had convinced him of the emotional powers of music. The performance conjured for him visions of a certain time in Moscow that he associated with specific colors and emotions. It inspired in him a sense of a fairy-tale hour of Moscow, which always remained the beloved city of his childhood. His recollection of the Wagner performance attests to how it had retrieved a vivid and complex network of emotions and memories from his past: "The violins, the deep tones of the basses, and especially the wind instruments at that time embodied for me all the power of that pre-nocturnal hour. I saw all my colors in my mind; they stood before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me. I did not dare use the expression that Wagner had painted 'my hour' musically."

"It was at this special moment that Kandinsky realized the tremendous power that art could exert over the spectator and that painting could develop powers equivalent to those of music. He felt special attraction to Wagner, whose music was greatly admired by the Symbolists for its idea of Gesamtkunstwerk that embraced word, music, and the visual arts and was best embodied in Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung, with its climax of global cataclysm. One can also presume that Kandinsky, philosophically a child of the German Romantic tradition, was strongly attracted to Wagner's use of medieval Germanic myths and legends, including those of the world's creation and destruction, as symbols that allowed for the translation of his philosophical attitudes toward the world view, religion, and love. For instance, Kandinsky was enthralled by Tristan and Isolde as an expression of undying love and spiritual transformation. But in Wagner there is also an affinity with the philosophy of Schopenhauer, who considered music to be of central importance in man's emotional life.

"Among his musical contemporaries, Kandinsky admired the work of Aleksander Scriabin, whose innovations he found compatible with his own objectives in painting. What especially intrigued Kandinsky were Scriabin's researches toward establishing a table of equivalencies between tones in color and music, a theory that Scriabin effectively applied in his orchestral work Prometheus: A Poem of Fire (1908). These tonal theories parallel Kandinsky's desire to find equivalencies between colors and feelings in painting: indeed, one of the illustrations included in the essay on Scriabin published in the Blaue Reiter Almanac was a color reproduction of Composition IV.

"In his conclusion to On the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky again resorts to a musical metaphor to describe the deliberately cloaked pictorial construction of form and color. In a passage in which he is primarily concerned with the issues of composition and where Composition II is reproduced as a reference, he divides compositions into two groups: "1. Simple composition, which is subordinated to a clearly apparent simple form. I call this type of composition melodic. 2. Complex composition, consisting of several forms, again subordinated to an obvious or concealed principal form. This principal form may externally be very hard to find, whereby the inner basis assumes a particularly powerful tone. This complex type of composition I call symphonic."

"He goes on to discuss diverse elements of the Compositions in overtly musical terms, clarifying his understanding of a melodic composition as being that in which the objective element is eliminated to leave only the basic pictorial form-such as simple geometrical forms or a structure of simple lines that create general movement. The movement is either repeated in the individual parts of the painting or is varied by using different lines or forms. These are compositions that possess a simple inner soul; their creation and perception occur on a less complex level, where the perceptual and spiritual elements are fairly simple.

This writing is from excerpts at Mark Hardens' Artchive at http://www.artchive.com