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Wassily Kandinsky papers, 1911-1940 (bulk 1921-1937)

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Kandinsky (Wassily) Papers

Biographical / Historical Note

Wasily Kandinsky [Vasilii Vasil'evich Kandinskii] was born in 1866 in Moscow, Russia and died in 1944 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. He is considered one of the first creators of purely abstract painting.

In 1896, after academic studies and initial career in law and social sciences, Kandinsky turned down an offer of professorship in jurisprudence, and together with his first wife Anja Shemiakina, left Russia for Munich with the intention of becoming a painter.

In Munich, he enrolled at the Academie der Bildenden Künste where he studied with Anton Azbé and Franz von Stuck. After achieving a diploma in 1900, Kandinsky participated in several nonacademic shows, including the Phalanx group in Munich, of which he became president in 1902, with the Berlin Sezession group, in the Paris Salon' d'Automne and the Salon des Indépendants, and with the group Die Brücke in Dresden.

In 1909 Kandinsky met the German painter Gabriele Münter. They established a close relationship and lived and worked together in Munich as well as in Murnau, in southern Bavaria. At this time Kandinsky began the process that led to the emergence of his personal style and to the historic breakthrough into abstract painting. The marriage to Anja Shemiakina was dissolved in 1911.

Kandinsky was actively involved in avant-garde movements in Munich. Among his friends were Alexej von Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin, Franz Marc, Paul Klee, Hans Arp, August Macke, and the composer Arnold Schoenberg. In opposition to officially approved art, Kandinsky helped to found the group Neue Künstlervereinigung, and participated in the group's first exhibition in 1909 and in the second exhibition in 1910 at the Moderne Galerie Tannhäuser. While preparing for the third exhibition in December 1911, the group split due to aesthetic differences. Favouring freedom of expression, Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter, and Alfred Kubin, left the group Neue Künstlervereinigung and exhibited their art work that same month at the Moderne Galerie Tannhäuser [Galerien Thannhauser] under the name Der Blaue Reiter. Der Blaue Reiter was also the title of a volume on aesthetics edited by Kandinsky together with Franz Marc, and published by Piper Verlag in Munich in 1912. Also in 1912, the Piper Verlag published Kandinsky's main theoretical treatise Über das Geistige in der Kunst.

In 1914, with the outbreak of World War I, Kandinsky left Munich and returned to Russia by way of Switzerland, Italy, and the Balkans. Gabriele Münter initially accompagnied Kandinsky; however, their relationship ended in Odessa in 1916. In Moscow Kandinsky settled down with the intention of reintegrating himself into Russian life. In 1917 he married a Russian woman, Nina von Andreevskaia. In 1918 he became professor at the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts and a member of the arts section of the People's Commissariat for Public Instruction. In 1919 he created the Institute of Artistic Culture, and helped to organize numerous museums across the Soviet Union. In 1920 he was made professor at the University of Moscow and was honored with a state-arranged one-man show. In 1921 he founded the Russian Academy of Artistic Sciences. Because of the change in the Soviet government's policy towards avant-garde art, Kandinsky and his wife Nina, left Russia for Berlin at the end of 1921.

Early in 1922 Kandinsky was offered a teaching position at the Bauhaus school of architecture and applied art in Weimar, where he began lecturing on the elements of form, gave a course in color, and directed the mural workshop. In 1923 Kandinsky became vice-president of the Sociéte Anonyme in New York and co-editor of the series Bauhausbücher. In 1924 he founded the group Die Blaue Vier, together with Klee, Feininger and Jawlensky. In 1925, after the school's relocation to Dessau, Kandinsky added a class on painting not intended as applied art. In 1926, his second important treatise Punkt und Linie zu Fläche, in which he emphasized in particular the expressiveness of colors, was published by Albert Langen in Munich. In 1927 several exhibitions of his art took place in Germany and abroad. His essay "Réflexions sur l'art abstrait" appeared in 1931 in Cahiers d'art in Paris.

In 1933 the Nazis forced the Bauhaus to close. After living several months in Berlin, Kandinsky emigrated to France. For the remaining 11 years of his life, he lived with his wife in an apartment in Neuilly-sur-Seine near Paris. During this time, he continued to paint and to write, mainly for the magazine Cahiers d'art. Numerous exhibitions of his art took place between 1934 and 1936, including the exhibition in 1935 in Paris at the gallery Cahiers d'art, in 1936 in the United States at J. B. Neumann's New Art Circle in New York and at the Stendahl Gallery in Los Angeles, and in San Francisco. In 1937 a retrospective show opened at the Kunsthalle in Bern. Also in 1937, Kandinsky's art work was included in the propagandistically designed Nazi exhibition of modern art called Entartete Kunst [Degenerate art], shown at the Hofgarten in Munich.

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