Wassily Kandinsky Biography

Wassily KandinskyPaintings by Wassily Kandinsky would move from the realistic and picturesque to completely abstract examinations of line and color. Kandinsky's influence stretched beyond his paintings, however. He was a prolific writer and teacher, spreading his ideas far and wide through his numerous classes, articles and books.

Birth and Education

Wassily Kandinsky was born in Russia in 1866 to a wealthy family. His father was a tea merchant, fond of travel. As a child, Kandinsky visited Venice, Rome and Florence, learning about painting from looking directly upon the works of the masters. Kandinsky also studied music as a child, learning to play both the piano and cello. This education, too, would figure in Kandinsky paintings as the artist would work to express musical beauty through painted forms.

In 1886, Kandinsky enrolled in the University of Moscow to study law and economics. In 1889, Kandinsky was part of a group sent to study people in the Vologda district in the north of Russia. Here, he was exposed to folk art, which would also influence later Kandinsky compositions.

In 1893, Kandinsky graduated with a doctorate, but felt his interest in law and economics beginning to wane. In 1895, he visited an exhibition of Impressionist paintings by Claude Monet. The use of color and line was so moving to Kandinsky that he determined to dedicate his life to art.


In 1896, Kandinsky moved to Munich, then considered the center of the European art movement. He studied for two years at a private school under Anton Azbe, learning to work with realistic images. Kandinsky paintings were not suited to this form of study, and the young man often skipped class. In 1900, Wassily enrolled in the Munich Academy of Arts and studied with Franz Stuck. As part of his coursework with Stuck, Kandinsky painted exclusively in black and white, learning to express himself with line rather than color.

In 1901, Kandinsky founded an art group, Phalanx. He organized shows for the members of the group, and taught classes as well. In 1903, Wassily Kandinsky had his first one-man show in Moscow. Kandinsky paintings from this time period were characterized by bright, discordant lines of color, often clashing and interweaving.

Kandinsky met an artist, Gabriele Munter, and the two moved to Bavaria. Here, Kandinsky continued to develop his painting. Kandinsky's artwork contained landscapes based on bright colors. Kandinsky's Autumn in Bavaria is representative of his work during this time. The landscape is supersaturated with color with form less important than color.


In 1910, Kandinsky artwork took a turn to complete abstraction, and sealed the artist's fame as a painter. He generated a completely abstract watercolor, commonly referred to as First Abstract Watercolor. While Kandinsky's painting is not, technically, the first abstract image to have been generated in Western art, it was the first to achieve widespread public acclaim and notoriety. All Kandinsky compositions produced during this time were completely abstract, promoting line and color over realistic interpretations. Improvisation 28, painted in 1910, is a representative painting of the time. Here, Kandinsky attempted to paint what he heard in music, in a free-form, improvisational style. Bold mountains and peaks of line and color dance around circles and dashes of swirling paint. The feeling is free, the color expansive.

In 1912, Kandinsky wrote his theories down in "Concerning the Spiritual in Art." This book would become the bible of the abstractionist movement, and would allow Kandinsky to spread his ideas. Kandinsky felt he was generating a new language for art, a completely new way of representing the world, and his book helped him to teach the language, and solidify his position as a leader of the movement. In this same year, Kandinsky also wrote a book of memoirs and a book of black-and-white lithographs.

War Years

In 1914, when World War I was declared, Kandinsky returned to Russia. He was married to a Russian native, Nina Andreevskaya, and became active in politics in his home country. Kandinsky taught classes for the People's Committee of Education, and published articles concerning his theories about art. He held free workshops on art, and taught several classes concerning color and form, a particular passion for Kandinsky. Wassily Kandinsky had novel ideas, and some considered them too radical for students. He continuously fought with the Board of Education, and finally chose to leave the country rather than change his classes to suit the committee.

In 1922, Kandinsky moved to Germany, and began teaching at the Bauhaus school. While Wassily Kandinsky was an accomplished painter, he considered teaching others about his theory to be his true calling, so people could apply lessons from Wassily Kandinsky paintings to their own paintings. At Bauhaus, he lectured on the use of line and color. He found time to work on his own painting as well, moving toward a yet more refined, abstract format. In Blue, from 1925, contains geometric shapes and swirls on a bight blue background. This is truly color and line conquering realistic portrayal. In 1926, he wrote another book describing his artistic techniques, moving toward a closer marriage of music and painting. Here, he described horizontal lines as cool and smooth and vertical lines as hot. The Bauhaus began to face attacks from right-wing critics, who felt the school was too intellectual. In 1933, the Nazis closed the Bauhaus. Kandinsky's artwork was declared "degenerate," and the artist fled to Paris for his safety in 1939. The Kandinsky painting Gravitation, painted in 1935, seems far from degenerate to modern viewers, with its blocks of color and geometric shapes, but these sort of nonrepresentational images were dangerous for the artist to produce during the Nazi era.

Final Years

In Paris, Kandinsky lived a solitary, isolated life, allowing him to focus solely on his painting, rather than teaching or lecturing. Here, he had the space to transform Kandinsky paintings once again. Due to war shortages, it was difficult to find large canvases, so the artist generated his images on small cardboard papers. Kandinsky paintings from this period are remarkably bright. Colorful Ensemble, painted in 1938, contains bright swirls of colorful shapes, enclosed in a speckled black cloud shimmering over a blue sky. This is an active, playful painting, blending all of the theories and colors of Kandinsky's previous artwork. Kandinsky called this movement in his painting "concrete," rather than abstract, as he felt they were a mix of geometric shapes and organic forms, and a totally new method of expression. Kandinsky continued to generate images in this new style up until his death in 1944.