Born in Moscow in 1866, Kandinsky spent his early childhood in Odessa. His parents played the piano and the zither and Kandinsky himself learned the piano and cello at an early age. The influence of music in his paintings cannot be overstated, down to the names of his paintings Improvisations, Impressions, and Compositions. In 1886, he enrolled at the University of Moscow, chose to study law and economics, and after passing his examinations, lectured at the Moscow Faculty of Law. He enjoyed success not only as a teacher but also wrote extensively on spirituality, a subject that remained of great interest and ultimately exerted substantial influence in his work.
In 1895 Kandinsky attended a French Impressionist exhibition where he saw Monet's Haystacks at Giverny. He stated, "It was from the catalog I learned this was a haystack. I was upset I had not recognized it. I also thought the painter had no right to paint in such an imprecise fashion. Dimly I was aware too that the object did not appear in the picture..." Soon thereafter, at the age of thirty, Kandinsky left Moscow and went to Munich to study life-drawing, sketching and anatomy, regarded then as basic for an artistic education.
Ironically, Kandinsky's work moved in a direction that was of much greater abstraction than that which was pioneered by the Impressionists. It was not long before his talent surpassed the constraints of art school and he began exploring his own ideas of painting - "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..." Now considered to be the founder of abstract art, his work was exhibited throughout Europe from 1903 onwards, and often caused controversy among the public, the art critics, and his contemporaries.
An active participant in several of the most influential and controversial art movements of the 20th century, among them the Blue Rider which he founded along with Franz Marc and the Bauhaus which also attracted Klee, Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956), and Schonberg, Kandinsky continued to further express and define his form of art, both on canvas and in his theoretical writings. His reputation became firmly established in the United State s through numerous exhbitions and his work was introduced to Solomon Guggenheim, who became one of his most enthusiastic supporters.
In 1933, Kandinsky left Germany and settled near Paris, in Neuilly. The paintings from these later years were again the subject of controversy.
Though out of favor with many of the patriarchs of Paris's artistic community, younger artists admired Kandinsky. His studio was visited regularly by Miro, Arp, Magnelli and Sophie Tauber.
Kandinsky continued painting almost until his death in June, 1944. his unrelenting quest for new forms which carried him to the very extremes of geometric abstraction have provided us with an unparalleled collection of abstract art.
Youth and Inspirations
Kandinsky's youth and life in Moscow brought inspiration from a variety of sources. As a child he would later recall being fascinated and unusually stimulated with color. This is probably due to his synaesthesia which allowed him to quite literally hear as well as see color. The fascination with color continued as he grew up in Moscow, although he seems to have made no attempt to study art. In 1889 he was part of an ethnographic group that traveled to the Vologda region north of Moscow. His study of the folk art in the region, in particular the use of bright colors on a dark background was reflected in his early work. Kandinsky would write a few years later that 'Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with the strings'.
It was not until 1896, at the age of 30, Kandinsky gave up a promising career teaching law and economics to enroll in art school in Munich. Also in 1896, prior to leaving Moscow, he saw an exhibit of Monet and was particularly taken with a depiction of a haystack which, to him, had a powerful sense of color almost independent of the object itself.
In addition to painting Kandinsky developed his voice as an art theorist. He helped to found the Munich New Artists' Association in and became its president in 1909. The group was unable to integrate the more radical approach of those like Kandinsky with more conventional ideas of art and the group dissolved in late 1911. Kandinsky then moved to form a new group The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter with like minded artists such as Franz Marc. The group released an almanac, also called The Blue Rider and held two exhibits. More of each were planned, but the outbreak of World War I in 1914 ended these plans and sent Kandinsky home to Russia via Switzerland and Sweden.
Kandinsky's writing in The Blue Rider Almanac and the treatise On the Spiritual In Art, which was released at almost the same time, served as both a defense and promotion of abstract art, as well as an appraisal that all forms of art were equally capable of reaching a level of spirituality. He believed that color could be used in a painting as something autonomous and apart from a visual description of an object or other form.
Along with Piet Mondriaan and Kazimir Malevich, Kandinsky is considered a pioneer in abstract art, undoubtedly the most famous. He was a synaesthete who could, quite literally, hear colors. This effect of color was a major influence on his art, and he even named some of his paintings "improvisations" and "compositions" as if they were works of music and not painting. Works by Kandinsky have been recently sold for as much as US$25 million. Probably the largest collection of his paintings may be seen in the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.