Wassily Kandinsky
1866 – 1944

Born in Moscow, Russia in 1866, Wassily Kandinsky would be one of the first artists to explore the style that became known as Abstract Expressionism.  Fascinated by colors even at an early age, Kandinsky believed that the elements of painting had qualities in and of themselves and that visual art did not need to be blatantly representational to be of emotional value.  Equipped with this forward thinking belief, Kandinsky would over time move away from the more traditional styles of painting and into the mostly as of then unexplored possibilities of Abstract Expressionism.

Although born in the western city of Moscow, Kandinsky’s family also had roots as far east as Kyakhta, a Siberian town near the border of China.  This gave him a cultural heritage that flirted between both Europe and Asia.  Additionally, his family enjoyed traveling, and through these experiences Kandinsky was further exposed to cultures even beyond the borders of Russia.  His family moved to Odessa in 1871, where he would complete his secondary schooling and begin painting, also learning to play the piano and cello.  This interest in music as well as painting would eventually help fuel the development of his abstract artistic theories.  Throughout his life, Kandinsky noted what he believed to be similarities between the relationship of notes, chords, rhythms and melodies to music and the lines, colors and shapes of visual art.

Kandinsky attended the University of Moscow starting in 1886, and while there he studied law and economics.  In the midst of this, however, Kandinsky was continually fascinated by the visual aesthetics of the city, drawn to the vivid colors of its architecture and art.  In 1889 the university sent Kandinsky on an ethnographic journey to Vologda, a forested area in northern Russia.  His exposure to the Russian folk paintings of the region would have a lasting impression on him.  Also in 1889, Kandinsky would make trips to St. Petersburg as well as Paris to study the art in those cities.  In 1893, he completed his academic career and had achieved the equivalent of a doctorate degree.  He would find brief employment as an instructor at the university before accepting a job as the director of photography for a printer in Moscow.  The University of Dorpat in Estonia offered Kandinsky a professorship in jurisprudence in 1896, but in what would be a life changing decision he decided to decline the offer and traveled to Germany to pursue a career as a painter.

He arrived in Munich, Germany with an air of confidence, well educated and well dressed.  He had accomplished much in his life up to that point, but it was here at age 30 that he first pursued a formal art education, enrolling at a private school run by Anton Azbe.  After two years of study with Azbe and a year of painting on his own, Kandinsky attended the Munich Academy, receiving his diploma for art in 1900.  During the next decade he would paint and exhibit frequently, his first solo exhibition being held in 1903 in Moscow.  His works throughout this period showed influence from a variety of styles ranging from traditional 19th century realism to more modern techniques such as Art Nouveau, Pointillism and Fauvism.  By 1909, he had moved into a house in Bavaria with Gabriele Munter, who had been in a relationship with Kandinsky for the better part of the decade.

As the 1900′s were giving way to the 1910′s, elements of Kandinsky’s personal painting style were beginning to emerge in his artwork.  Although remaining firmly representational up to this point, Kandinsky’s paintings were becoming more and more abstract in nature as he pursued a less realistic and more expressive approach to his subjects.  Between 1909 and 1913, he produced a number of paintings that would be known as the Composition and Impressions series.  With these, all elements of representation would be left out, with the results being truly abstract in style.  As with many artists of his time, World War I would interrupt Kandinsky’s life and provoke a return to Russia in 1914.  Gabriele Munter would stay behind and, in 1917, Kandinsky married Nina Andreevskaya in Moscow.  He began to reintegrate himself into Russian life, even in the midst of the Russian Revolution.  He was encouraged by the positive attitude of the newly formed Soviet Union towards artists at this time and, between 1918 and 1921, Kandinsky held teaching positions at the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Moscow.  He also was involved in the creation of the Institute of Artistic Culture and helped open 22 museums throughout the Soviet Union.  By the end of 1921, however, the Soviet Union began to reject avant-garde art in favor of Social Realism, and Kandinsky decided to return to Germany, moving to Berlin with his wife.

Once in Germany, he was offered a teaching position at the already well known Bauhaus school which he accepted in 1922.  He would teach at both the Weimar and Dessau locations until the school was forced to close by the Nazi regime in 1933.  Despite having become a German citizen in 1928, Kandinsky relocated to Paris, settling in the suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine.  Kandinsky became a French citizen in 1939, and he would live there, continuing to paint until his death in 1944.

Collections Include:
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York
Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut
Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Japan
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio
Didrichsen Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland
Folkwang Museum, Essen, Germany
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome, Italy
Harvard University Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana
Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Germany
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Trento, Italy
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York
National Gallery of Armenia, Yerevan, Armenia
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine
Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, Missouri
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California
State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece
Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel

1866 – Wassily Kandinsky is born in Moscow, Russia
1886 – Begins attendance at the University of Moscow
1896 – Moves to Germany; Begins studies with Anton Azbe
1900 – Attends and receives diploma from the Munich Academy of Arts
1914 – Moves to Russia with the outbreak of World War I
1921 – Returns to Germany
1922 – Takes a teaching position at the Bauhaus school in Weimar, Germany
1933 – Moves to Paris, France
1944 – Dies in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France

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