Making Colors Sing: Wassily Kandinsky


At the request of readers Trena, Bob the Walrus, and Leo, today's "Feel Art Again" features Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). The Russian-German-French artist painted in several styles over the years, but he is most well-known for his abstract paintings featuring geometric shapes, such as "Yellow, Red, Blue" (1925).

1. Born and raised in Russia, Wassily Kandinsky left his native country for Germany around the age of 30 to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. He remained there for close to 20 years, but returned to Russia at the outbreak of World War I. In 1921, he moved back to Germany, and became a German citizen in 1928. Within 5 years, though, he was labeled a "degenerate artist" by the Nazis; he then left Germany for France. In 1939, he became a French citizen, and remained in France until his death.

2. Today, Kandinsky is believed to have had synesthesia, or the crossing of senses. For Kandinsky, music and colors were deeply intertwined; he heard tones and chords as he painted. As he put it, "I applied streaks and blobs of colors onto the canvas with a palette knife and I made them sing with all the intensity I could." He also described painting as akin to creating music: "Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the piano with strings. The artist is the hand that plays"¦"

3. Kandinsky considered "Composition VII" to be the most complex piece he ever painted. Although he studied and prepared for nearly 6 months, he took less than 4 days to actually paint the masterpiece. He intended it to "evoke a flood, baptism, destruction, and rebirth simultaneously."

4. After becoming exhausted while working on "Composition IV," Kandinsky went for a walk to clear his mind. While he was walking, his companion, Gabriele Münter cleaned up his studio, inadvertently turning "Composition IV" on its side in the process. When Kandinsky returned, he didn't recognize his work, but fell to his knees and wept, saying "it was the most beautiful painting he had seen."

5. Kandinsky's first wife, Anya Shemyakina, was his first-cousin. They divorced after 19 years of marriage, at which point Gabriele Münter became Kandinsky's companion. After Kandinsky and Münter split, Kandinsky married Nina de Andrejevski, who was 34 years his junior. She was 16 when they married and he, more than 50, but they remained married until Kandinsky's death in 1944.

A larger version of "Yellow, Red, Blue" is available here. Fans of Kandinsky should check out this biographical video (part 1 of a longer video); the Kandinsky gallery on Art in the Picture; this video that attempts to illustrate the experience of synesthesia; this animation of a Kandinsky painting; Tate Modern's teacher's pack on Kandinsky's abstract art; and this geometry lesson based on Kandinsky's work. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at artist suggestions, with details of current exhibitions, or for sources or further reading.