kandinsky: tone & timbre

Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866 - 1944) trained and practiced as a lawyer in his native Russia, but in 1895 he saw Monet's Haystacks at Giverny at a French Impressionist exhibition. He was so inspired, he moved to Munich to study art in 1897. After successful avant-garde exhibitions, he founded the influential Munich group, Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider, 1911-14), and began to paint in a completely abstract style.

Also an accomplished musician, Kandinsky embraced the concept that color and musical harmony are linked. He used color in a highly theoretical way, associating tone with timbre, hue with pitch, and saturation with the volume of sound. He claimed that when he saw color, he heard music. His artwork contained greater abstraction than the Impressionists, and it cannot be overstated how much music influenced his paintings, even down to the names of his paintings: Improvisations, Impressions and Compositions. His forms evolved from fluid and organic to geometric and finally, to pictographic.

Bright colors, like those in Farbstudie Quadrate (above), also held exceptional fascination for him, even as a child. He was profoundly affected by the houses and churches of his native Russia, whose glistening colors gave him the sensation that he was not walking into a building, but into a painting. Credited with painting the first modern abstract works, Kandinsky was gripped by what he called "inner necessity," a compulsion to relentlessly create. He believed that if this drive were pure, it would inspire a correspondingly powerful response in viewers of his work.

Munich-Schwabing with the Church of St. Ursula, 1908.

Blue Mountain, 1908-1909. Oil on canvas, 41 3/4 x 38 inches. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, © 2007 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.



Apryll Annie said...

I love Kandinsky! The art of revolution!

Anonymous said...

I saw Blue Mountain when I visited the Guggenheim last year. You chose some really beautiful paintings for your post. I didn't know that art was his second career.

P said...

I love the idea that he abandoned law after being inspired by a painting.

Jane Flanagan said...

I love Kandinsky! I saw an exhibition in Milan in 1998 and have been smitten since. My MA thesis on synaesthesia and expression in art was largely inspired by him!

Things That Inspire said...

What a gorgeous post. This is an artist who understood color, and the reaction that people have to it. One of the greats of modern art.

P.S. - So glad you consolidated your blogs....I never knew which one to look at!

Luisa Perkins said...

I wonder whether Kandinksy was a synaesthete.