Vassily Kandinsky (1866–1944), Russian painter, naturalized German, and then French, citizen.
Known as a pioneer of abstract art, and for his theories on a spiritual approach to art and " inner necessity," Kandinsky approached form in a profoundly experimental way throughout his life. His conception of a new and immediate relationship between the artist and the spectator, as well as that of a total art, paved the way for 20th and 21st century art.
1900–1907: Formative Years and Travels
Kandinsky was born in Moscow in 1866 to a well-to-do, cultured family. He was 30 years old when, in 1896, having successfully studied law and economics at the University of Moscow, he decided to focus on painting and went to Munich to study. Among other things, this late choice of vocation was due to a revelation Kandinsky had in front of one of Monet's Haystacks during a French art exhibition in Moscow in 1895: a painting does not have to depict an object. In Munich, Kandinsky would break away from the academic institution. Along with some other artists, he founded the Phalanx group and an art school. There he met the artist Gabriele Münter who would be his partner until the start of the Great War. Not yet divorced from his cousin Ania, he travelled with Münter through Europe and Northern Africa, and in 1906 they lived in Paris for a year. His small-format landscapes show his wandering neo-impressionism.
1908–1914: From The Blue Rider to the Abstract
In 1908, Kandinsky returned to Munich. His painting tended to focus primarily on colors and abstraction. He spent his summers at Murnau, in the Bavarian countryside, with Gabriele Münter and found inspiration in the landscape and local Russian folklore, which constituted a mythical source for him and which he depicted with striking colors and lines. His first major work on art theory, Concerning the Spiritual in Art and Painting in Particular, was published at the end of 1911. He developed his artistic vocabulary throughout the series Improvisations, Impressions, and finally, Compositions, named in reference to music. The Blue Rider Almanac (Der Blue Rider) published in 1912, with Franz Marc, used a multidisciplinary approach to the arts to show that "the question of art is not that of form, but of artistic content." In 1914, as the war escalated, Kandinsky had to leave Munich because he was a citizen of an enemy nation. He took refuge in Switzerland, before returning to Moscow.
1915–1921: Return to Moscow
Almost immediately after he started painting, Kandinsky began moving towards utilizing ever more geometric pictorial elements. After separating from Münter for good in early 1916, he married 20-year-old Nina Andreievskaïa. After the October 1917 revolution, he dedicated himself to the development of Russian cultural policy within the fields of art, education, and museum reform. He founded the "physico-psychological" department of the Academy of Artistic Sciences in 1921. However, he was artistically isolated, and in a very precarious financial situation. At the end of 1921, official duties in Germany enabled him to leave his country for Berlin, and subsequently to accept a position as a professor at the Bauhaus, the famous multidisciplinary art school, founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius in Weimar.
1922–1933: Bauhaus, Weimar, Dessau, Berlin
During his years at the Bauhaus, where he was reunited with his friend Paul Klee, geometric shapes like the circle played a significant role both in his teaching and in his painting. He also created many of his masterpieces during this period, such as (On White II (Auf Weiss II), 1923, Yellow-Red-Blue (Gelb-Rot-Blau), 1925, On the Points (Auf den Punkten), 1928) as well as a number of artistic experiments (from murals to stage design) and experimental techniques (airbrushing). His second theoretical work Point and Line to Plane was published in 1926.The school was founded on the principle of uniting art with multidisciplinary learning, and its members both lived and studied on the premise; Kandinsky enjoyed his time there, although he was reluctant to accept the school's new functionalist and progressive objectives. Due to the rise of the Nazis in 1933, the school was forced to close. Two of Kandinsky's canvases and twelve of his graphic works would be featured in the "Degenerate Art" exhibition in Munich in 1937.
1934–1944: The Final Years in Paris
Kandinsky had to flee again, and chose Paris. He set up his studio in a two-bedroom apartment in Neuilly-sur-Seine where he had a view of the Seine. He produced a lot of art but sold very little. He spent time with Jean Arp and Joan Miro. His artistic evolution was marked by a surprising softness and and new freedom in his painting (Sky Blue (Bleu de Ciel, 1940). His years in Paris brought a more organic and natural flair to his geometric abstraction. In spite of hardship brought on by the war, Kandinsky refused to emigrate to the United States. From 1942, the situation worsened, and Kandinsky would paint flat on makeshift wood and cardboard supports. His palette darkened. Kandinsky died from a stroke on December 13, 1944.