Kandinsky Before He Was a Painter

Centre Pompidou

Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky as a child Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky as a child (c. 1874) by Raoult, J. X.Centre Pompidou

Born in Russia

Vassily Kandinsky was born on December 4, 1866 in Moscow to a well-off family. He was the son of Vassily Silvestrovitch Kandinsky and Lydia Ivanovna Tikheïeva. 

Portrait of Wassily Silvestrovich Kandinsky Portrait of Wassily Silvestrovich Kandinsky (1901) by Gotlieb, B.Centre Pompidou

His father, a tea merchant, was originally from Western Siberia, on the northern border of Mongolia.

Portrait of Lydia Ivanovna Kandinsky and her son Wassily aged three Portrait of Lydia Ivanovna Kandinsky and her son Wassily aged three (1869) by Vichnevsky, F.Centre Pompidou

His mother was from the upper-middle class in Moscow, and his maternal grandmother, originally from the Baltics, was a German speaker.

Family group with Wassily Kandinsky Family group with Wassily KandinskyCentre Pompidou

His education was essentially provided by his aunt Elizaveta Tikheeva, his mother's eldest sister. Kandinsky would later go on to dedicate Concerning the Spiritual in Art to this highly cultured woman.  

Elisabeth Tikheieva on a doorstep (c. 1900) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

Education by his aunt in Odessa

His father's delicate health caused the family to move to Odessa, on the shore of the Black Sea. 

Family group with Wassily Kandinsky Family group with Wassily KandinskyCentre Pompidou

Not long afterwards, in 1871, the couple divorced. Vassily stayed with his father.  His mother remarried. 

Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky, aged 8 Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky, aged 8 (1874-12-01) by YavorovskyCentre Pompidou

From 1876 to 1885, he attended school in Odessa and frequently returned to Moscow with his father for the summer holidays.

Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky aged 20 Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky aged 20 (1886) by Tchekhovsky, V.Centre Pompidou

Legal studies in Moscow

and study trip to the province of Vologda

In 1885, Kandinsky moved to Moscow to start his studies in law, economics and statistics at university.

He became assistant to his professor, Alexandr Ivanovich Chuprov, following his final exam in 1893.

Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky (c. 1895) by Thiele, R.Centre Pompidou

At the request of the Imperial Society of Natural Sciences, Anthropology and Ethnography, he took a study trip to the province of Vologda in 1889. 

The purpose of the trip was the study the survival of pagan rites and the practice of customary law amongst the Komis and the Permiaks, two related people of Finnish origin.  

Notebook 1 (Travel to Vologda) Notebook 1 (Travel to Vologda) (1889) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

The interiors of the peasant dwellings in the region featured bold colors, which left a lasting impression on him. Upon his return, he started to publish his ethnological reports.

Anya Chemiakin in the garden of the property in Moscow (c. 1890) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

First marriage to Anna Chimiakina

Anya Chemiakin in Kochel with Daisy (1902) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

In 1892, Kandinsky married his cousin Anna Chimiakina, whose family owned a large summer house in Akhtyrka, in the Moscow area, a place from which Kandinsky would draw a great many subjects for his paintings. 

The Kushnerev printing house in Moscow (c. 1900) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

 After having submitted an essay on the legality of workers' salaries, Kandinsky gave up on completing his thesis and instead became artistic director of the Kuchnerev printing house in Moscow, at the end of 1895.

The Bolshoi Theater in Moscow (c. 1900) by Daziaro, J.Centre Pompidou

French art exhibition in Moscow

and performance of Wagner's Lohengrin at the Bolshoi Theatre

In 1896, Kandinsky had two defining artistic experiences which were to determine his professional evolution. At the French art exhibition in Moscow, he discovered one of Claude Monet's Haystacks, the non-figurative expression that left him astounded. 

The performance of Wagner's Lohengrin at the Bolshoi Theater was another revelation, that of the idea of total art that was so dear to Wagner.

Wassily Kandinsky and Anya Chemiakin walking along a street in Munich (c. 1900) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

He decided study painting in Munich, a flagship city where the artistic and intellectual circles were growing and evolving. He moved there in December with his wife, Anna.

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