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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Wassily Kandinsky

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Wassily Kandinsky: Dec.16,1866- Dec.13,1944...Russia/France

"The artist must train not only his eye but also his soul."
~Wassily Kandinsky

One of the major gestural abstractionists, as well as one of the first action painters, was Wassily Kandinsky. The "Father of Abstract Expressionism" was born in Moscow, Russia. In a merchant family, his parents divorced early in his youth. His aunt became his primary care giver. She got him private lessons in music, drawing and painting throughout his time under her care. “I remember that drawing and a little bit later painting lifted me out of the reality.” At the age of twenty he began his formal education, studying law and political economics at Moscow University. While there, he assisted with a research project that took him to Vologda, in northern Russia. Their strong folk art tradition inspired Kandinsky. Although he earned his degree in law in 1892, he soon was more focused on making art. Beyond the northern Russian art, Kandinsky was inspired by the French Impressionists, specifically, Claude Monet. He was lecturing about law at the University and got married (all be it to his cousin Anya) but still could not get his attention off his desire to make art.

Kandinsky took his first job in the art industry in 1895, as the art director of a publishing house in Moscow. The following year he refused an offer to be the head law instructor at the University of Tartu to pursue his painting career. He and his wife moved to Munich, Germany to study art at the Ažb's Art School under Anton Ažb. Kandinsky was thirty years old at this time. His wife, an very intelligent person, liked art but married a lawyer, not an artist. She disliked moving to Germany and after seven years, left him. As a teacher, Ažb did not care at all for Kandinsky’s work, which frustrated Kandinsky. If there was a positive that came out of his two years at the studio, it was that he met two good friends, Alexis von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin. Under Franz von Stuck, he entered the Munich Academy of Art in 1900. There he focused on his artistic passions; teaching, composition, and written analysis of artwork. “An empty canvas is a living wonder…far lovelier than certain pictures.”

Over the years Kandinsky was able to rally artists to band together for the good of the whole group. His first artist association, “Phalanx,” was founded by Kandinsky in 1901. The group had twelve group exhibitions. Kandinsky even began a “Phalanx School of Painting.” Through the school, he met Gabriele Mnter, who became a cherished companion and critic until 1914. She was the first romance he had since his wife had left him. Kandinsky was hot and cold in the relationship, sending the girl many mixed messages over the years. During his year with his school, Kandinsky created the style that he would become known for. Influenced by Paul Czanne and Henri Matisse, his build up of colors, lines, and textures took him out of the real world and into the Nonobjective Abstract. “I applied streaks and blobs of colors onto the canvas with a palette knife and I made them sing with all the intensity I could…” In 1909, he founded “Neue Kunslerfereinigung” (The New Group of Artists) together with friend von Jawlensky.

When founding his third artist association, Kandinsky teamed with a good friend, German painter, Franz Marc. In 1911 the team co-founded "Der Blaue Reiter" (Blue Rider). This society was to make a co-operative of all artists: thespians, musicians, and visual artists. Kandinsky himself even wrote in his book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, a theory that in the year 2000 the relationship between music and painting would fuse. People would see sound and hear color. So, he painted what would be the sound of jazz music.

Franz Marc…Feb.8,1880-March 4,1916...Germany

Kandinsky’s co-founder of the Der Blaue Reiter was, as I stated, Franz Marc. He was the son of a landscape painter and chose to also paint as a career. As a young artist he was very influenced by the Impressionists. After defending the art of Kandinsky and the Neue Kunslerfereinigung, they met and formed this new group. The first exhibition of the Der Blaue Reiter took place at Heinrich Thannhauser’s Moderne Galerie in Munich, Germany in December of 1911. The group also published a Der Blaue Reiter Almanac that began in May 1912. Marc wrote many of the major articles in the almanac. At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Marc enlisted. Keeping a sketchbook with him, he inadvertently created Sketchbook from the Field. Through this we see his German perspective on this war. He was killed in combat near Verdun-sur-Meuse, France.

For Kandinsky, at the outbreak of the war, was a different story. He was a Russian enemy in the center of hostile Germany. Fleeing to Switzerland before his return to Russia, he came back to his home and was remarried in 1917 to Nina. The groom was fifty and the bride was twenty three. The Bolshevik Revolution ignited many new ways of doing business in Russia, including in the area of art. Kandinsky helped organize plans for the new Museum for Artistic Culture in Moscow, which he was also the first director. Bu 1919 he was a chairman on an All-Russian commission that was in charge of acquisitions for the museums in Russia. The following year he was appointed professor of aesthetics at Moscow University and founded and professed at the Institute for Artistic Culture in Moscow. He expanded upon his ideas at this institution, and would take those back to Germany. He was frustrated with this Russian government and refused to push its propaganda. “There is no must in art because art is free.” Finally, with abstract art banned, he welcomed the chance to return to Germany. “Just because an artist uses ‘abstract’ methods, it does not mean that he is an ‘abstract’ artist. It doesn't even mean that he is an artist. Just as there are enough dead triangles (be they white or green), there are just as many dead roosters, dead horses or dead guitars. One can just as easily be a ‘realist academic’ as an ‘abstract academic’. A form without content is not a hand, just an empty glove full of air.” He became a huge part of the teaching staff at the Bauhaus from 1922 through 1933, when it was closed by the Nazis.

All the while, Kandinsky was working. He never lost the energy for creating his own paintings. While teaching at the Bauhaus, he’s name became world famous. He was the leading abstract painter in product and theory. He influenced many artists through his works as well as his thoughts about art. "Abstract art places a new world, which on the surface has nothing to do with ‘reality,’ next to the ‘real’ world. Deeper down, it is subject to the common laws of the ‘cosmic world.’ And so a ‘new world of art’ is juxtaposed to the ‘world of nature.’ This ‘world of art’ is just as real, just as concrete. For this reason I prefer to call so-called ‘abstract art’ ‘concrete art.’” One of his most known works from this time, and a work that is a great example of his style is Yellow-Red-Blue. “A circle, which I use recently so often, could not be called otherwise but romantic. And the present day romanticism is essentially deeper, more beautiful, more substantial and more salutary - it is a piece of ice, in which fire is burning. And if people feel only cold and do not feel fire - so much the worse for them…”

Yellow-Red-Blue
1925. Oil on canvas. 50 x 78.7 inches. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France.

After the Bauhaus was closed, Kandinsky moved to France and settle in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Not far from Paris, this became his last residence. Still a major part of the international art scene, he was productive, but often snubbed by many French artistic circles. When the "Degenerate Art" show was put up, fifty-seven of his works were included. Many of his works that were confiscated were destroyed. He knew he would never go back to Russia or Germany after that. So, he and his wife became French citizens in 1939. Over those last ten years in France, Kandinsky created 144 oil paintings and 250 watercolors. It is not known the full amount of work he created over his lifetime. He died at his home in France of heart disease at the age of seventy-eight.

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063