The Sound of Colours

Wassily Kandinsky's "Yellow-Red-Blue", 1925

By Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

Wassily Kandinsky's "Yellow-Red-Blue", 1925

Yellow-Red-Blue. No. 314 (1925, 1960) by Wassily KandinskyBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Can you hear colours, or even taste or smell them?

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), the famous painter and Bauhaus Master, could. It’s called synaesthesia.

He called this colour lithograph (its counterpart in oils hangs in the Centre Pompidou in Paris) simply ‘Yellow-Red-Blue’.

And, you guessed it, there’s more to it than just a theory of colour …

… this turns out to be a small instrumental work.

Kandinsky heard high trumpet notes as lemon yellow …

… and in shades of blue he heard:

flutes (light blue),
cello (dark blue),
double bass (deeper blue) and
a deep organ (deep, solemn blue) …

… and isn’t that a piano we can hear?

Forms and colours were for him the keys and strings of an instrument. As a child, Kandinsky learned to play the piano and the cello. A trained lawyer, he adored Arnold Schoenberg’s Twelve Tone music and in homage to it gave his pictures titles like ‘Improvisation’ or ‘Composition’.

An extraordinarily gifted artist, he arranged “colour sounds” into “colour symphonies”.

Kandinsky was following the colour theory of the German poet Goethe, according to which yellow and blue, which he has placed here in powerful opposition to each other, are the strongest pair of opposites.

Between them he has put red to cool the conflict.

The bright warmth of red made him think of fanfares.
Vermilion of a tuba.

Red was for him the masculine colour, and the square the masculine form.

Blue was for him the feminine counterpart …

… and the circle the feminine form.

The character of the colours reflected for him the harmonies and dissonances of a melody.

When Kandinsky painted his first abstract pictures, the critics thought he was insane. But all he wanted to do was to touch the human soul.

And can’t you feel the small symphony in ‘Yellow-Red-Blue‘?

Credits: Story

Text / Concept / Realisation: Astrid Alexander

Editing: Astrid Alexander, Cornelia Jeske

Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt

© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps