Vasily Kandinsky. Counterpoint: Composition VI -Composition VII

The State Tretyakov Gallery

Composition VI
As Wassily Kandinsky wrote about this painting in May 1913, "This picture I was bearing in mind for one and a half years. And often it seemed to me that perhaps I would not achieve it. The point of departure was the Deluge <… > a mirrored picture which I have made rather more for my own pleasure. Here different objective forms are given, which are sometimes merry, <… > nudes, the ark, animals, palms, flashes, rain, etc. As the mirrored picture was ready, I found myself wishing to work this theme over into a composition, and it was rather clear to me in which way I would have to do it.

In several sketches I dissolved the objective forms and in others I tried to achieve the impression in a more abstract way. But this did not work either. <… > I also tried the already tested way of giving up for a time the task, so as to be able to take a sudden look at the sketches with fresh eyes. <… > My mirrored picture was at that time on exhibition. But it returned and as I saw it again, I was immediately again where I was, when I had first completed that mirrored picture. <… > from time to time I would give a look at the mirror picture which hung in my studio. And every time I would react the same way, firstly by the colors and then by the compositional work and then by the form of design in itself which all was without any relation to the object. This mirrored picture appeared separated from myself.

<… > At last the day came when a quiet inner feeling made me entirely sure of myself. I immediately produced nearly without any corrections a definite last sketch, which nearly practically seemed to satisfy me. <… > In two or three days the picture as a whole was there. The struggle to master the canvas was over. <… > Then came the extremely delicate pleasant and nevertheless strenuous process of harmonizing the different parts of the picture with each other.<… > In this picture one sees two centers: 1. On the left the delicate, pinkish, slightly vague center with feeble, uncertain lines.

2. On the right (slightly higher than the left one) the rude, red-blue, a little out of key, with sharp, malignant, strong and very precise lines. Between these two centers there is a third one (closely to the left one) which only later on is discovered to be a center, but on a final count will be considered as the main center. Here the pink and the white are mixed in a foam which gives the impression of neither lying on the canvas nor on any ideal plane. Rather it seems to hang in the air and appears to be surrounded with haze. <… > The "somewhere" of the main center produces the decisive impression of the picture. <… >

The smaller form of this picture called for something very plain, yet broad ("largo") with respect to influence. For this purpose I used long solemn lines <… > Those lines are connected with those above them, which are in a cross direction to the former and are thick and decisive. The two systems of lines are in conflict with each other. To soften the dramatic vibration of the lines <… > I placed on the picture a display of a whole fugue of pink spots. They give the great disturbance a certain calm and provide an objective outlook to the whole drama. This solemn and calm character is underscored also by the various blue spots which contribute to an inner warmth. <… >

The entirely deep brown forms (especially in the upper left hand corner) contribute a dull and very far sounding note, which reminds one of hopelessness. Green and yellow bring life to the soul and provide it with the missing activity. I have also made decisive use here of the smoothness and the roughness of the canvas. This gives the spectator new experiences, even if he comes close to the canvas. In this way all the elements, even those in contradiction to each other, are brought into complete inner balance, so neither of them wins preponderance. The original theme for the creation of the picture (the Deluge) is dissolved into an innerly pure, independent, objective essence. Nothing would be further from the truth than to brand-mark this picture as the representation of the original theme. A significantly acting objective destruction is in such a way also a complete song of praise, a singular sound, which resounds like a hymn of new revival, which does follow every ruination."

Schoenberg Quartet No. 2 - 4th movement
Composition VII
Composition VII is one of the fundamental works of the early 1910s, the pinnacle of Kandinsky's artistic achievement. It was then that the artist realized fully well it was time that he gave up copying the nature and eventually abandoned the figurative painting. He felt that abstract forms could express feelings in a way that cannot be achieved through traditional painting. The artist shifted emphasis to the expression of lines and areas of color free from any connections to the world of objects. The perception of this type of painting required engaging imagination, strengthening the intuitive. Kandinsky wrote: "...color is a means of exerting a direct influence upon the soul. Color is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many strings. The artist is the hand that purposely sets the soul vibrating by means of this or that key."

When structuring his Composition VII, the artist would not invent or construct new forms, but rather shaped and corrected those which were produced by his imagination: "All the forms ever used in my paintings came to me "by themselves": they either stood, absolutely complete, before my eyes so that I only had to copy them, or were shaped in some happy hours when I was working." For the artist, the concept of composition, itself, suggested the highest and the most complex form of artistic work.

Composition VII was preceded by over thirty sketches, from rough pencil drawings, ink paintings, and watercolors, to over one meter high canvas works. Most of them were made in autumn 1913. The artist used them to develop his general idea, the colors, and the details. This thorough development of the plastic solution through sketches made it possible for the artist to complete the larger picture in a few days, from November 25 to 28, 1913. One may distinguish a group of earlier, figurative, Kandinsky’s works unified by apocalyptic theme among the sources that preceded Composition VII. In this painting, their subtle echo, vaguely representing the trumpeting angels, a horseman, Elijah's chariot of fire, creates before our eyes a vision of transforming substance. Besides, the large size of the picture seemingly welcomes us to look inside, creates an effect of personal presence and involvement.

The artist invites us to join him in the creative process of making a picture, rather than observing the painting. "Painting is like a thundering collision of different worlds that are destined in and through conflict to create that new world called the work. Technically, every work of art comes into being in the same way as the cosmos ― by means of catastrophes, which ultimately create out of the cacophony of the various instruments that symphony we call the music of the spheres. The creation of the work of art is the creation of the world."

Schoenberg Quartet No 2 - 4th movement
"The new century brought with it the world wars, resulting in an existential catastrophe, which set the artists’ search for the ideal back for decades. It gave place to the cruel manifestations of modernism, which further shaped the artistic trend. This is why today the Kandinsky of the Composition VI period appears to be just a staunch traditionalist and an incurable romantic."              D.Ozerkov
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The State Tretyakov Gallery

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