A law professor, who started studying painting at 30 – this is not how most people imagine Kandinsky, the master of colour and one of the pioneers of the abstract art.
He was born in Moscow in 1866, in family with German and Tatar heritage. Living in Odessa with his aunt after his parents’ divorce, he learned how to play piano and cello. He was interested in a range of subjects at school, along with drawing, but eventually he became a professor of law.
At the age of 30, he made a decision to move to Munich, and pursue painting and drawing there. Apparently, this decision was heavily influenced by two events he witnessed in 1896 – the exhibition of French Impressionists (especially being impressed by Monet’s Haystacks) and hearing Wagner's Lohengrin at the Bolshoi Theatre.
While he attended art school in Munich, he was mostly self-taught. His initial works are mostly landscapes, with very few human figures. With some fellow Russian immigrants and German artists, he founded The Blue Rider group, which became the basis for expressionism. Kandinski developed a romantic relationship with one of the group members - Gabriele Münter, with whom he lived for several years after his divorce from his first wife.
Paintings from The Blue Rider period are already examples of his abstract art, dominated by colour and not realistic objects and figures – expressing the inner feelings and emotions. One of the best examples of this is Improvisation 27, Garden of Love II.
He was quite prominent already when WW1 started and forced the artist to return to Russia. However, being restless and not agreeing with the approaches to art there, he went back to Germany with his second wife – Nina. He taught at Bauhaus and explored abstraction more, especially using geometric forms, lines and angles. Paintings such as Circles in a Circle or On White II are his revolutionary and exciting experiments in producing abstract work, driven purely by colour and lines.
Kandinsky didn’t stay long in Germany again - had to flee Nazi persecution in 1930s and finally settled in Paris, where he died in 1944. His last decade was devoted to his so-called ‘synthetic’ period, where he included a wide range of elements into his paintings - colours, shapes, curves, lines, textures. Composition X from 1939 is a superb example of it.
Kandinsky always stayed as a true poet of colour, just like he wanted: “Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colour, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential”.