Pioneer of abstract art and eminent aesthetic theorist, Wassily Kandinsky (b. 1866, Moscow; d. 1944, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France) broke new ground in painting in the first decades of the twentieth century. His seminal treatise On the Spiritual in Art, published in Munich in 1911, lays out his program for developing an art independent of one’s observations of the external world. Kandinsky strove to use abstraction to give painting the freedom from nature that he admired in music. His discovery of a new non-objective subject matter occupied him throughout his life. Nevertheless, Kandinsky’s artistic career had been launched three decades before developing this revolutionary theory. His early works correspond to the movement of expressionism and were mostly produced in Munich after he formed associations with the city’s leading avant-garde groups such as Der Blaue Reiter, in 1896.
Composed of strokes of green, blue, white and earthy oil painting, thickly applied with a palette knife directly on the ground. “Kochel – Waterfall II” is an important example of Wassily Kandinsky’s early landscapes. Kandinsky was greatly inspired by the dramatic terrain surrounding Kochel, a Bavarian town south of Munich set near a large lake at the foot of the Alps, and frequently painted the nature of the area. He depicted this second version of the Lainbach waterfall in the summer of 1902, while he took his class of students to Kochel in his capacity as a teacher at the Phalanx school. As in the other oil studies he produced at the moment, his utilization of strong colors would work to suggest pure shape and form, hovering close to the border of abstraction. In the artist’s words: 'In my studies, I let myself go. I had little thought for houses and trees, drawing colored lines and blobs on the canvas with my palette knife, making them sing just as powerfully as I knew how’. He would later recall how his sounding landscapes would develop out of these exercises.
The summer of 1902 held particular meaning for Kandinsky. It was during this stay in Kochel that his relationship with one of his students, Gabriele Münter, deepened. Only a year later, in 1903, the couple became engaged, though it was kept a secret as Kandinsky was still married at the time. These strong emotions might have permeated his work.