Fragment I for Composition VII (Center)

You might think this is purely abstract, but look again: Wassily Kandinsky used coded symbols to foreshadow World War I. Take a deeper dive into the work.

Fragment I for Composition VII (Center) (1913) by Vassily KandinskyMilwaukee Art Museum

While this is a finished painting, it is also a study that Kandinsky made for a nearly ten-foot-long mural called Composition VII, housed in the State Tretyakov Museum in Moscow, Russia. This study is for the central piece of the mural.

Kandinsky was inspired by music and borrowed from musical vocabulary, naming his major artworks “compositions.”

St. George
This simplified figure appears to be riding a horse across a bridge, symbolizing movement toward a utopian world. Art historians think this may be St. George.

Kandinsky, in his earlier work, often included the prominent military saint, who according to legend had slain a dragon.

Biblical themes
The dense swath of blue is meant to evoke the story of the great flood (Noah’s Ark), biblical themes of the Apocalypse, and resurrection and rebirth. Kandinsky often started his paintings with themes from the Bible and Russian folk tales.

Barbed wire
Hash marks purposefully recall a barbed-wire fence. Although the artist, Wassily Kandinsky, is often considered the father of abstract (non-realistic) painting, he carefully planned his marks and images to have specific meanings.

A cannon is the central image, radiating with green force waves meant to indicate an explosion—and to bring to mind the nervous energy present in Europe in the years leading up to World War I.

This shape represents a boat with two oars, symbolizing transport from a war-filled world to a utopian ideal. Kandinsky wrote about his vision for abstract art in his widely read manifesto, Concerning the Spiritual in Art.

The shallow background, a delicate white subtly tinted with colors, allows the forms in the foreground to stand out while adding its own quiet pulsating energy.

Kandinsky applied his paint to the canvas quickly and densely, intending to give the finished work a dynamic feel.

Credits: Story

Wassily Kandinsky
(Russian, 1866–1944)
Fragment I for Composition VII (Center), 1913
Oil on canvas
34 15/16 × 39 7/16 in. (88.74 × 100.17 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley
Photographer credit: Larry Sanders

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.
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