In a previous post we examined the relationship between Russian Expressionist and Abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky and German Expressionist Gabrielle Münter, focusing on the influence that Kandinsky had upon her art and development of her technique. This time we’re going to take a look at how they viewed each other through their artwork, based on portraits that they created of one another between 1905 and 1906.
Kandinsky’s 1905 painting of Münter is the first that we’ll examine. The oil on canvas work was created early in his career and (relatively) early in their relationship. It is important to remember that Kandinsky had only enrolled in art school in Munich in 1896 at the age of 30 and that prior to that he had no formal training as an artist. That being said, most accounts indicate that Kandinsky, brain box that he was, found art school to be a bit of a doddle and in addition to developing his technical abilities, he began to emerge as an art theorist as well. By the the start of the 20th Century he was experimenting with Fauvism and Pointillism and he created one of his most celebrated works, The Blue Rider in 1903. His relationship with Münter began in 1902 when she was enrolled at the progressive Phalanx School of Painting of which Kandinsky was the director.
Figures were generally a rare addition to a Kandinsky canvas and his 1905 painting Gabrielle Münter is the only known portrait that he created during the course of his career. Just as portraiture was a somewhat foreign endeavour to the Russian, so the style that he utilised in his depiction of Münter seems at odds with some of his other work. The colour palette is somewhat muted, the Pointillism that was on display in The Blue Rider and Riding Couple (1907) is absent, as is the Fauvism that artists like Henri Matisse used to such great effect in their portraits. There is a level of restraint in the brushwork and when compared chronologically with what he produced before and after, it seems clear that Kandinsky was making artistic concessions in the 45cm by 45cm oil on canvas work – something he never did for anyone else.
Münter’s Portrait Of Wassily Kandinsky was a 25.9cm by 19cm colour woodcut that was created in 1906, and which is currently housed at the Städtische Galerie Im Lembachaus in Munich, Germany. Coloured woodcuts were something that Kandinsky was known to have utilised frequently early in his career, and it likely that Münter’s creation was influenced by Kandinsky works such as Farewell (1903) and The Singer (1903) although her portrait is perhaps less complex.
The depiction of Kandinsky smoking a pipe and almost looking down on the viewer reinforces the notion of him as an academic and possibly provides some insight into how Münter, who was 11 years his junior, may have viewed him - it contrasts strongly with the softer image that Kandinsky created of her. While Münter would go on to create numerous portraits over the course of her career, becoming an artist at the forefront of German Expressionism and the Munich avant-garde, there are no other known portraits by Kandinsky in existence.