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Wassily Kandinsky
french (born russian)
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Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
One of the first creators of pure abstraction in modern painting, Wassily Kandinsky greatly influenced the development of art during the 20th century. A Russian who became a German citizen and then a French citizen, he was criticized by the Communist art establishment in Russia and labeled a “degenerate” artist by the Nazis. He published theoretical works on art, taught in art schools, and participated in founding groups of artists, including the influential Munich group Der Blaue Reiter ("The Blue Rider" 1911-14). In addition to paintings he created lithographs, etchings and woodcuts. Kandinsky was born in 1866 in Moscow to a well-to-do family. In 1871 the family moved to Odessa on the Black Sea, where he received his initial education. He studied law, statistics and economics at the University Moscow from 1885, graduating in 1893. The previous year he married his second cousin Anna Shemiakina. After a brief time as an academic assistant while writing a doctoral dissertation, he went to work for a printing company in 1895. Inspired by an exhibition of French art, particularly a Haystack by Claude Monet (1840-1926) and a performance of a Richard Wagner opera, Kandinsky and his wife moved to Munich in 1897 where he studied painting at the art school of Anton Azbé (1862-1905) for two years. He first showed his art in an exhibition in Odessa in 1898. Kandinsky participated in an exhibition in Moscow in 1900; he continued to show works at the annual exhibition until 1908. He was admitted to the Munich Academy of Fine Arts that year, where he studied under the German painter and sculptor Franz von Stuck (1863-1928). The following year he quit the school and with a group of other young artists formed an artists’ association called the Phalanx, which held a dozen exhibitions from 1901 to 1904. The group also founded an art school where Kandinsky taught painting and draftsmanship and developed a friendship with one of his students, Gabriele Münter (1877-1962). The friendship evolved into an affair the next year and Kandinsky began traveling with Münter to various locations in France, Germany, Italy and Russia and separated from his wife. Kandinsky exhibited at the Paris Salon d’Automne in 1904, and continued to show works there until 1912. He and Münter lived in Paris in 1906, in Berlin the following year and settled in Munich in 1908, where he was a founder of the “New Artists’ Association.” In 1911 he painted his first abstract oil painting, left the New Artists’ Association and founded Die Blaue Reiter with Franz Marc (1880-1916), which held its first exhibition in December, and published his book On the Spiritual in Art. Kandinsky exhibited widely in Europe, and in New York’s Armory Show in 1913. With the start of World War I Kandinsky and Münter left Germany for Switzerland and then Moscow. Their relationship ended in early1916, and within months Kandinsky met 20-year-old Nina Andreevskaia, whom he married the following year. After the 1917 revolution he taught art and continued to exhibit but found himself out of step with the artistic community and subject to the economic difficulties of the time. Nina and he left for Berlin in 1921, moving to Weimar to teach at the Bauhaus in 1922. He continued to exhibit works in a variety of exhibitions in Europe and America and published his second theoretical treatise, Point and Line to Plane in 1926. He and Nina became German citizens in 1928, allowing them to travel outside the country, which they did extensively. In 1930 his works were removed from the Weimar museum and in 1932 the Nazis forced the Bauhaus to close, although it operated in Berlin for a short time until Hitler ascended to power in 1933. With the assistance of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) the Kandinskys found an apartment in the Parisian suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine that December. Kandinsky resumed painting and exhibited in numerous shows over the next several years. The Kunsthalle Bern mounted a large retrospective exhibition in 1937 but his work also appeared in the “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Germany that year and 57 of his works were confiscated from German museums. The Kandinskys became French citizens in 1939. After the German invasion of France in 1940 they took refuge in the Pyrenees, but later returned to their apartment, where they lived during World War II. Kandinsky completed his last painting, Tempered Elan (Paris: Musée National Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou) in early1944. He suffered a stroke and died in his home on December 13, 1944. (Rev. TNB 2/2014) Selected bibliography: Barnett, Vivian Endicott, et al., Kandinsky. Exhibition catalog. New York: Guggenhein Museum Publications, 2009. Hahl-Koch, Jelena. Kandinsky. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1993.