VASILY KANDISKY


Vasily Kandinsky’s use of the horse-and-rider motif symbolized his crusade against conventional aesthetic values and his dream of a better, more spiritual future through the transformative powers of art. The rider is featured in many woodcuts, temperas, and oils, from its first appearance in the artist’s folk-inspired paintings, executed in his native Russia at the turn of the century, to his abstracted landscapes made in Munich during the early 1910s. The horseman was also incorporated into the cover designs for Kandinsky’s theoretical manifesto of 1911, On the Spiritual in Art, and the contemporaneous Blue Rider Almanac, which he coedited with Franz Marc.

In 1909, the year he completed Blue Mountain, Kandinsky painted no less than seven other canvases with images of riders. In that year his style became increasingly abstract and expressionistic and his thematic concerns shifted from the portrayal of natural events to apocalyptic narratives. By 1910 many of the artist’s abstract canvases shared a common literary source, the Revelation of Saint John the Divine; the rider came to signify the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who will bring epic destruction after which the world will be redeemed. In both Sketch for Composition II and Improvisation 28 (second version) Kandinsky depicted—through highly schematized means—cataclysmic events on one side of the canvas and the paradise of spiritual salvation on the other. In the latter painting, for instance, images of a boat and waves (signaling the global deluge), a serpent, and, perhaps, cannons emerge on the left, while an embracing couple, shining sun, and celebratory candles appear on the right.

Blue Mountain (Der blaue Berg), 1908–09. Oil on canvas, 41 3/4 x 38 inches (106 x 96.6 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift  41.505. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

With its undulating colored ovals traversed by animated brushstrokes, Black Lines is among the first of Kandinsky’s truly nonobjective paintings. The network of thin, agitated lines indicates a graphic, two-dimensional sensibility, while the floating, vibrantly hued forms suggest various spatial depths.

By 1913 Kandinsky’s aesthetic theories and aspirations were well developed. He valued painterly abstraction as the most effective stylistic means through which to reveal hidden aspects of the empirical world, express subjective realities, aspire to the metaphysical, and offer a regenerative vision of the future. Kandinsky wanted the evocative power of carefully chosen and dynamically interrelated colors, shapes, and lines to elicit specific responses from viewers of his canvases. The inner vision of an artist, he believed, could thereby be translated into a universally accessible statement.

He realized, however, that it would be necessary to develop such a style slowly in order to foster public acceptance and comprehension. Therefore, in most of his work from this period he retained fragments of recognizable imagery. “We are still firmly bound to the outward appearance of nature and must draw forms from it,” he wrote in his essay “Picture with the White Edge,” but suggested that there existed a hidden pictorial construction that would “emerge unnoticed from the picture and [would thus be] less suited to the eye than the soul.” Painting with White Border, for instance, was explained by Kandinsky as a response to “those . . . extremely powerful impressions I had experienced in Moscow—or more correctly, of Moscow itself.” To illustrate the spirit of the city, Kandinsky included an extremely abbreviated image of a Russian troika driven by a trio of horses (the three diagonal black lines in the upper-left portion of the canvas). The mass of swirling colors and lines in the center has been convincingly interpreted as the figure of a lance-bearing St. George on horseback, an allusion to Moscow’s tsarist tradition (the state seal of Peter the Great included an emblem of the saint). Small Pleasures is filled with veiled imagery of the Last Judgment, as in many of his paintings, but its title suggests other readings. In an essay on the work, Kandinsky wrote that his goal “was to let . . . [himself] go and scatter a heap of small pleasures upon the canvas.”

Black Lines (Schwarze Linien), December 1913. Oil on canvas, 51 x 51 5/8 inches (129.4 x 131.1 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift  37.241. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

When Kandinsky returned to his native Moscow after the outbreak of World War I, his expressive abstract style underwent changes that reflected the utopian artistic experiments of the Russian avant-garde. The emphasis on geometric forms, promoted by artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Aleksandr Rodchenko, and Liubov Popova in an effort to establish a universal aesthetic language, inspired Kandinsky to expand his own pictorial vocabulary. Although he adopted some aspects of the geometrizing trends of Suprematism and Constructivism—such as overlapping flat planes and clearly delineated shapes—his belief in the expressive content of abstract forms alienated him from the majority of his Russian colleagues, who championed more rational, systematizing principles. This conflict led him to return to Germany in 1921. In the Black Square, executed two years later, epitomizes Kandinsky’s synthesis of Russian avant-garde art and his own lyrical abstraction: the white trapezoid recalls Malevich’s Suprematist paintings, but the dynamic compositional elements, resembling clouds, mountains, sun, and a rainbow, still refer to the landscape.

In 1922 Kandinsky joined the faculty of the Weimar Bauhaus, where he discovered a more sympathetic environment in which to pursue his art. Originally premised on a Germanic, expressionistic approach to artmaking, the Bauhaus aesthetic came to reflect Constructivist concerns and styles, which by the mid-1920s had become international in scope. While there, Kandinsky furthered his investigations into the correspondence between colors and forms and their psychological and spiritual effects. In Composition 8, the colorful, interactive geometric forms create a pulsating surface that is alternately dynamic and calm, aggressive and quiet. The importance of circles in this painting prefigures the dominant role they would play in many subsequent works, culminating in his cosmic and harmonious image Several Circles. “The circle,” claimed Kandinsky, “is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the eccentric in a single form and in equilibrium. Of the three primary forms, it points most clearly to the fourth dimension.”

Composition 8 (Komposition 8), July 1923. Oil on canvas, 55 1/8 x 79 1/8 inches (140 x 201 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift  37.262. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

When Kandinsky returned to his native Moscow after the outbreak of World War I, his expressive abstract style underwent changes that reflected the utopian artistic experiments of the Russian avant-garde. The emphasis on geometric forms, promoted by artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Aleksandr Rodchenko, and Liubov Popova in an effort to establish a universal aesthetic language, inspired Kandinsky to expand his own pictorial vocabulary. Although he adopted some aspects of the geometrizing trends of Suprematism and Constructivism—such as overlapping flat planes and clearly delineated shapes—his belief in the expressive content of abstract forms alienated him from the majority of his Russian colleagues, who championed more rational, systematizing principles. This conflict led him to return to Germany in 1921. In the Black Square, executed two years later, epitomizes Kandinsky’s synthesis of Russian avant-garde art and his own lyrical abstraction: the white trapezoid recalls Malevich’s Suprematist paintings, but the dynamic compositional elements, resembling clouds, mountains, sun, and a rainbow, still refer to the landscape.

In 1922 Kandinsky joined the faculty of the Weimar Bauhaus, where he discovered a more sympathetic environment in which to pursue his art. Originally premised on a Germanic, expressionistic approach to artmaking, the Bauhaus aesthetic came to reflect Constructivist concerns and styles, which by the mid-1920s had become international in scope. While there, Kandinsky furthered his investigations into the correspondence between colors and forms and their psychological and spiritual effects. In Composition 8, the colorful, interactive geometric forms create a pulsating surface that is alternately dynamic and calm, aggressive and quiet. The importance of circles in this painting prefigures the dominant role they would play in many subsequent works, culminating in his cosmic and harmonious image Several Circles. “The circle,” claimed Kandinsky, “is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the eccentric in a single form and in equilibrium. Of the three primary forms, it points most clearly to the fourth dimension.”

Several Circles (Einige Kreise), January–February 1926. Oil on canvas, 55 1/4 x 55 3/8 inches (140.3 x 140.7 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift  41.283. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Although Kandinsky was forced to leave Germany in 1933 due to political pressures, he did not allow the mood of desolation pervading war-torn Europe to enter the paintings and watercolors that he produced in France, where he remained until his death in 1944. His late works are marked by a general lightening of palette and the introduction of organic imagery; breaking away from the rigidity of Bauhaus geometry, he turned to the softer, more malleable shapes used by Paris-based artists associated with Surrealism, such as Jean Arp and Joan Miró. Kandinsky’s late, often whimsical, paintings were also influenced by the playful, intricately detailed compositions of his longtime friend and Bauhaus colleague Paul Klee.

During his first years in France, Kandinsky experimented with pigments mixed with sand, a technical innovation practiced during the 1930s by many Parisian artists, including André Masson and Georges Braque. Although Kandinsky utilized this method only until 1936, he created several paintings with rich, textured surfaces such as Accompanied Contrast, in which the interconnected colored planes and smaller floating patterns project slightly from the canvas. Always attentive to and appreciative of contemporary stylistic innovations, Kandinsky inevitably brought his own interests to bear on any aspects he would borrow. As art historian Vivian Barnett has pointed out, his employment of biomorphic forms—a motif favored by Surrealist painters as well as by Klee—attests more to his fascination with the organic sciences themselves, particularly embryology, zoology, and botany. During his Bauhaus years, Kandinsky had clipped and mounted illustrations of microscopic organisms, insects, and embryos from scientific journals for pedagogical purposes and study. He also owned several important sourcebooks and encyclopedias from which depictions of minuscule creatures found abstract equivalences in his late paintings. A schematized pink-toned embryo, for instance, floats in the upper-right corner of Dominant Curve, while the figures contained within the green rectangle in the upper-left corner resemble microscopic marine animals. Various Actions is imbued with similar organic figures hovering above a celestial blue field. These buoyant, biomorphic images, often presented in pastel hues, may be read as signs of Kandinsky’s optimistic vision of a peaceful future and hope for postwar rebirth and regeneration.

Taut Line (Gespannte Linie), July 1931. Watercolor and india ink on paper, 18 7/8 x 10 3/16 inches (48 x 25.9 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection  38.329. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

NANCY SPECTOR

Annunci