How Travelling Inspired Kandinsky's Painting

From the Tunisian sun to the colours in Parc de Saint Cloud

Nina Kandinsky in Venice (1930) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

Throughout his life, Kandinsky went traveling many times, and the trips had a sustained influence on the development of his style and his way of thinking. Those early days were key to his quest for a new artistic language.

Dutch village street (1904) by Münter, GabrieleCentre Pompidou

From 1904, before Kandinsky divorced Ania, he decided to leave Munich to live with his new lover Gabriele Münter. The two of them undertook  a long trip across Europe and North Africa that lasted until 1908.

Lied (Song) (1906) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

During these nomadic years, Kandinsky produced a significant number of small nature studies in oils, done in the open air using a palette knife. Russia remained, however, very present in his works. 

He continued to paint the mysterious figures of what he called his "colored drawings": polychromatic scenes on a black background done in tempera that seem to come straight out of Russian fairy tales and legends. 

Russian peasants driving horses and carts (c.1889) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

Folklore, traditional painting and above all Moscow were the "mythical capital" that had run through all his works ever since a trip he took at the age of nineteen in the province of Vologda, located north of Moscow.

Leier (The lyre) Leier (The lyre) (1907) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

During this study assignment on the survival of pagan rites and the exercise of customary law among the Komis and Permiaks, two related peoples of Finnish origin, Kandinsky discovered the power of the colors of Russian izbas. 

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

He evoked this initial trip in Looking back on the Past:

"I will never forget the great wooden houses covered in sculptures. … They taught me to move within the painting itself, to live inside the painting"  

Mühle, Holland (Mill in Holland) (1904) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

A new ground for experimentation, Europe also fed his eye and perception of what is real. 

Rotterdam (1904) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Kandinsky and Münter went first to the Netherlands. While Kandinsky's painting still looks similar to neo-impressionism, he made sketches of the port of Rotterdam and of Amsterdam, where color is endowed with a vital role for him.

Scheveningen (1904) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

It retains memory. A certain chromatic abstraction thus began to appear in his work, as can be seen in Beach Scene

Tunis, Strasse (Tunis, Street) (1905) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Next, the couple went to Tunis for the winter of 1904-1905. There, Kandinsky experimented with pure color and new geometry. 

With its bay bathed in a distinctive nimbus of light, the brilliant colors of the blue doors against the white of the walls, and views of the old city, Tunis embodied the Orient. 


Tunis, Bucht (Tunis, The Bay) (1905) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

He became interested in applied arts and admired the ornamental abstraction of the old cities: Tunis, Carthage, Sousse, and Kairouan alike.

A fundamental step in Kandinsky's journey towards the progressive deconstruction of the subject, his travels in Tunisia enabled him to make audacious metamorphoses in his style. Kandinsky used a knife to sketch little seascapes at the beach and views of sunbathed streets using a more and more pastelike texture. 

Arabische Stadt (Arab Town) (1905) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

He also did a great many works in gouache and tempera on dark cardboard showing the exoticism of street scenes and Arab horseback riders. 

Saint Cloud garden (c. 1906) by Münter, GabrieleCentre Pompidou

Due to his increasingly frequent participation in artistic shows, for example, his first at the Fall Salon in Paris in 1904, Kandinsky's fame grew without pause throughout these years of wandering.

Rapallo, stürmische See (Rapallo, Stormy Sea) (1906) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

 His naturalism developed in terms of expressiveness, in particular during five months of leisure at Rapallo in the Italian Riviera during the winter of 1905. 

Park von Saint-Cloud (Saint-Cloud Park) (1906) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

The dissolution of the motif into a moving mass of spots of fall color reached its zenith in Paris in the Parc Saint-Cloud series.

The couple arrived in the French capital in May 1906, and decided to live there for an entire year. Kandinsky and Münter explored the most recent works of Matisse, Picasso, and Gauguin, and the artistic world of Fauvism.

Park von Saint-Cloud, Waldlichtung (Saint-Cloud Park, clearing) (c. 1907) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Kandinsky went through a period of doubt and depression and for a while lived alone in Sèvres, where he led the life of a recluse except for exhibitions and salons, such as the Fall Salon of 1906, where he won the Grand Prize.

The following year, he presented his work in Angers (western France) in an exhibition organized by the director of symbolist journal Tendances Nouvelles. Disappointed by his reception at this event, Kandinsky decided to leave Paris and return to Germany.

Improvisation XIV (1910) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

This long trip, during which the potential for abstraction in his pictorial works was confirmed, came to its end with a six-month stay in Berlin during the winter of 1907. While he was there, Kandinsky attended a lecture by Rudolf Steiner, who initiated him into the occult world of theosophy. 

He settled again in Munich, then Murnau with Gabrielle Münter. The Improvisations of 1911 show that these journeys enabled him to take the plunge into abstract painting, devoid of natural reference.  -

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