“Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.” – Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky was born in Moscow, Russia, on the 16 December 1866. Now one of the most famous abstract painters of all time, Kandisnky only took up art in earnest aged 30 when he moved to Munich. By this time he was already a trained musician and had graduated with a Law Degree from the university of Moscow with honours in 1886. In 1892 he took up a position on the Moscow Faculty of Law, managing an art-printing works on the side, which encouraged his curiosity to become a passion. He taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture from 1922 until it was closed by the Nazis in 1933. From here he would move to France, where he spent the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1939 and producing some of his most notable works of art.

He also wrote numerous books on colour theory including: Concerning the Spiritual in Art and Point and Line to Plane.

Monet May Have Changed His Life

Now one of the most expensive artists around, Kandinsky was not initially granted admission to the University of Munich, and so began to learn how to paint on his own. In 1896 he saw an exhibition of paintings by Monet, and the impressionistic style of the Haystack would have a very profound influence on him and his perception of how one can paint. He said of the painting: “That it was a haystack the catalogue informed me. I could not recognize it. This non-recognition was painful to me. I considered that the painter had no right to paint indistinctly. I duly felt that the object of the painting was missing. And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineradicably on my memory. Painting took on a fairy-tale power and splendour.” He would go on to imitate Monet in many of his early landscapes, becoming more and more abstract with practice and confidence.

He Is Credited With Creating The First Purely Abstract Work

It was most likely a combination of the impression Monet had made on him, his spiritual connection with music and also his fascination with theosophy (Theosophical theory says that creation is a geometrical progression, beginning with a single point. The creative aspect of the form is expressed by a descending series of circles, triangles and squares,) and it’s main exponent Madame Blatavasky, that lead him to draw the way he did.

The painting in question is was a watercolour, Untitled, painted in 1910, now in the Centre Pompidou in Paris. By the time he created Composition VIII in 1923, all representational elements had been removed from his work. Francis Picabia and Piet Mondrian were exploring similar processes in “pure abstraction” during this period as well.

He May Have Had Synesthesia

It is now widely believed that Kandinsky’s connection with music and colours was a little more than just passion, the “inner necessity” he described; many now believe that he had Synesthesia, described as: “A neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” Essentially, he would see colors when listening to music, and in his case, the contrary: he said he was able to hear music when he saw colours, and drew inspiration from the abstract nature of music, which can’t directly represent figures or landscapes, but suggests emotion and evoking imagination (his synesthesia was most likely a contributor to the creation of his first abstract works).

During the same period that Kandinsky was influenced by Monet’s The Haystacks, he was also being influenced by Wagner’s Lohengrin – which he felt was pushing the limits of music beyond that which it had been before.

His Art Was Confiscated By The Nazis Before He Died

During his time as a Bauhaus professor, three of his first compositions were seized by Nazis and put on display in the now infamous Degenerate Art exhibition in 1937, and then, like thousands of other works, they were destroyed. The term “degenerate” was adopted by the Nazi regime as part of its campaign against modern art. Many other works labeled modern art by the Nazis were seized from museums and private collections, and then displayed in a three-year traveling exhibition across Germany and Austria. During this period most were sold, lost, or presumed destroyed. The film The Monuments Men, directed by George Clooney, was about the hunt for the trove of works seized by the Nazis.

His Most Expensive Paintings

In recent history Kandinsky has become the second most expensive Russian artist at auction. Studie für Improvisation 8 sold for $23 million at Christies in 2012, breaking his previous record for Fuga (Fugue (1914) which sold in 1990 for $22.9 million and now resides at the Foundation Beyeler in Switzerland. Studie zu Improvisation 3 (pictured) sold for $21.2 million at a Christie’s auction of Impressionist and Modern works of art in London in 2013.

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