Wassily Kandinsky, born December 1866, was a Russian painter and pioneer of abstract art and theory. Born to wealthy, well-educated parents, young Kandinsky took private drawing lessons. His father saw his son’s talent and wanted to encourage his gift. From a young age, sounds, colors, and words were strong stimuli to Kandinsky and signs that he may have had synesthesia– a neurological phenomenon in which the stimulation of one sense triggers another.
In 1886, Kandinsky entered the University of Moscow to study law and economics. He was successful in his profession, eventually accepting a professorship with the University of Dorpat. In 1896, Wassily Kandinsky left his lecturing position to study art in Munich, which was a center of European art at the time.
Kandinsky began his studies in the private academy of Anton Azbe and in 1900 joined the Munich Academy of arts. He married young artist Gabriela Munter and the two traveled across Europe participating in exhibitions before settling in a small Bavarian town. Here, Kandinsky focused on landscapes, colors, and Russian folklore, however, aspects of his work such as color spots and lines were gradually less focused on reality.
In 1903, Wassily Kandinsky painted his breakthrough piece Der Blaue Reiter. In 1909, he was a founder of Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM) to accommodate works of art deemed too abstract for academic circles. In 1911, Kandinsky’s work was rejected from an NKVM exhibition. In response, he and fellow artist Franz Marc organized a rival exhibition, co-founding the group Der Blaue Reiter.
Kandinsky published “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” in 1912; the first theoretical foundation of abstraction. He wrote about the impact of shapes and color on emotions. His works began to be titled Composition, Improvisation, or Impression to underline their distance from the physical.
At the start of World War I, Kandinsky had to leave Germany. His wife remained in Munich as he returned to Moscow, remarrying to Nina Andreevskaya– a daughter of the Russian General. In Russia, Kandinsky took part in post revolutionary cultural and political development. He felt removed from the avant garde and spirituality while working with government institutions.
In 1921, Kandinsky accepted an invitation to teach at the Bauhaus school in Berlin. At this time, his works featured geometric shapes and constructively organized canvases, which differed from his generally intuitive expressions. The Nazis closed the Bauhaus school in 1933, and Kandinsky was again forced to leave Germany. He and his wife moved to Paris, where they lived for the rest of their lives.
In France, Kandinsky’s style again changed to biomorphic forms and softer, nuanced colors. His work was avidly collected, particularly by the Guggenheim in their mission to be more open to avant garde art. Wassily Kandinsky died in December 1944. His theoretical and abstract work,
including color theory and abstract shapes that were to Kandinsky a language to a transcendent plane, influenced many later artists, particularly those in the field of Abstract Expressionism.