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Kandinsky, Wassily
born: 1866 Moscow
died: 1966 Neuilly-sur-Seine, France

Wassily Kandinsky had already graduated from law school when, see- ing French Impressionist paintings in Paris and Moscow, he decided to devote himself to art. He went in 1896 to Munich, where he attended Anton Azbés private school of painting, then Franz von Stuck's class at the Academy, where Paul Klee was a fellow student. Older than most of the students, Kandinsky was keen to pass his experiences and insights on to his younger confreres. He was an amazingly versatile man, teaching, publishing theoretical essays on art, organizing exhibitions, establishing contacts with painters, writers, and composers in Germany, France and Russia. Shortly after the turn of the century Kandinsky founded the Phalanx School, followed in 1909 by the New Artists' Association of Munich, and in igii, after a falling-out with that association, the Blauer Reiter (Blue Rider). His influential book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, was completed in1911. Kandinsky's painting style developed through severa) stages, incorporating features of Impressionism, Symbolism, Art Nouveau and decorative folk art, before burgeoning into pure abstraction. Riders on the Beach belongs to the artist's early phase. It shows a woman and man on horseback, galloping upwards from the lower center of the composition, in opposite directions - symbols, perhaps, of an unrequited romantic longing. The symmetry is underscored by the upright pose of the riders, which, as it were, puts a visual stop on the diagonal movement to left and right. The unpainted portions of the paper, evoking a sandy beach, occupy the greatest area of the composition. Also hovering there, apart from the riders, are flecks of watercolor in bright blue, green, yellow and red, which seem on the verge of dissolving and vanishing like clouds. Amorphic strokes accentuate horses and riders, yet without modelling them in three dimensions. The transparency of the diaphanous watercolors, divorced from objective description, anticipates Kandinsky's attempts to dematerialize the things in his painting and evoke a transcendence beyond all earthly ties. On the outbreak of the First World War, Kandinsky left Germany and returned for a time to Moscow, where after the revolution he was active in cultural affairs and the reorganization of Russian museums. In the course of defining his personal artistic stance within the revolutionary Russian avant-garde, Kandinsky painted in 1920-1921 a series of extraordinary works. One of these, White Line (1920), was done on coarse, rough-woven, apparently unprimed burlap. The oils were applied wet-in-wet, the colors scumbled into one another in many passages. The dynamic, ebullient, varicolored scene with the dominant white, curving stroke in the center plays itself out within a trapezoidal frame against a neutral, greyish-brown background. It is if one were looking through a window into imaginary color-spaces, which the artist intended to strike a chord within the beholder and lead the way into a spiritual realm. This composition belongs to a transitional phase in Kandinsky's work, in which the initial, playfully organic forms gradually began to be supplanted by solid, geometrically rigorous configurations. This was the style of the artist's years at the Weimar Bauhaus, where he took a teaching post in 1922. The changeover to more thoughtful composition and sophisticated color relationships is evident in Sharp-Quiet Pink of 1924, which is dominated by an acute triangle reminiscent of a key element in the Suprematist vocabulary. The Bauhaus emphasis on aesthetic principles and the functionality of art echoes in the abstract forms in the painting, which reflects the theories expressed by Kandinsky in his essay Point and Line to Plane.
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