Travels and Preparatory Work

The importance of watercolors and India ink

Centre Pompidou

Grüne Frauen (Green Women) (1907) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Kandinsky's experimentation throughout his life with various techniques (wood, linocut, drawing, painting on glass, wall painting, etc.) as he searched for the right medium for what he wanted to depict, shows his open-minded and meticulous nature. 

Study for Eingang (1917) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

This is also evident in his wanderlust and the fact that he would create a number of preparatory studies.  

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

Kandinsky brought back a 251-page notebook containing a number of drawings and handwritten notes from his seminal trip to Vologda.

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

Kandinsky would continue to work in the open air during his itinerant life. Together with Gabrielle Münster they travelled throughout Europe and Northern Africa before they returned to Germany in 1908. Other trips included the Adriatic coast and sea before leaving Germany for the last time in 1933. He created small paintings as well as drawings, sketches, and studies which were like notes on his travels.

Composition IV - Black Figure (c. 1809) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

In 1908, Kandinsky began to create works that went beyond easel paintings, for example his scenic compositions: musical pieces for which he wrote text and music, and created set designs and choreography in watercolor, gouache, and India ink. 

Portrait de Wassily Kandinsky in a painter's smock Portrait de Wassily Kandinsky in a painter's smock (c. 1910) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

A key moment in Kandinsky's life came in 1909 when he returned to his Munich studio after working on a study. Struck by an unexpected sight (a mysterious painting with shapes he could not understand), he realized that it was actually one of his own works, but upside-down. 

Improvisation XIV (1910) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Kandinsky then began to move away from visual reality and instead focused on color and shapes. Improvisation 14 was created a few months later in 1910. The subject of this painting can be found in its preparatory drawing.

In a landscape of willowy trees, two armed knights and their mounts face each other. The colors, outlined in black, create energy and the forces of the two protagonists converge on the background of blue sky. 

 The piece depicts the sole principle of inner necessity which explains the choice of color and shapes. 

Untitled (1913) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Kandinsky is generally considered to have painted his first abstract piece 1910: a watercolor that Kandinsky may have backdated to ensure a claim to having authored this abstract invention. 

This watercolor may have actually been created 1913, and may have been a study for the piece Composition VII from the same year. 

Almanach Der blaue Reiter (1911) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Kandinsky would often use watercolors, gouache, and India ink on paper for his preparatory works, for example his Study for the cover of the Almanach Der Blaue Reiter (1911) and Study for Im Schwarzen Viereck (July 1923) 

Zubovskaya Square in Moscow (c. 1930) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

In 1914, at the outbreak of war, Kandinsky left Munich to take refuge in Switzerland, before leaving for Moscow. During this time, Kandinsky rarely painted, preferring instead to draw and work on paper. 

Zoubovsky Square (1915) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

 During this time, Kandinsky rarely painted, preferring instead to draw and work on paper. 

Study for Moscow I (1916) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

The originality of the Kandinsky collection at the Pompidou center lies mainly in the works on paper created during his time in Moscow (1915–1921). Created during the war which was to be followed by the Bolshevik Revolution, these drawings originate from a more conducive economic context.

Einfach (Simple) (1916) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Kandinsky would take them with him when he fled Moscow in 1921. Plain and displaying a radical dissociation of lines and color, the watercolor on paper, Einfach (Simple), 1916, depicts the riches of the output of the time.

In this search for simplicity, Kandinsky radically draws the consequences of the principles of a movement towards abstraction, and even reaches a gestural mastery reminiscent of oriental calligraphy. 

Gelb-Rot-Blau (Yellow-Red-Blue) (1925) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Gelb-Rot-Blau (Yellow-red-blue), created in 1925, is the most important piece from the Bauhaus period. 

The title gives the theme of the three primary colors and their three corresponding basic geometric shapes: the triangle, the circle, and the square.

Drawing for Point and Line on Plan (1925) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

 In the same year, Kandinsky completed his treatise Point et Ligne sur Plan (Point and Line to Plane). This book contained his theories and a large number of India ink drawings on paper. 

Bild XVI. Das Grosse Tor Von Kiew (Paiting XVI. The Great Door of Kiev), preparatory drawing for the staging of Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky (1928) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

During his time as a teacher at the Bauhaus school (1922–1933), Kandinsky produced an impressive number of drawings and watercolors as a testament to his lessons at Bauhaus, as well as his various studies and preparatory drawings for the dramatization of Pictures at an Exhibition.

Lydia Ivanovna Kojevnikova holding her grandson Alexandre Kojève Lydia Ivanovna Kojevnikova holding her grandson Alexandre Kojève (1903) by Gotlieb, B.Centre Pompidou

A letter from Kojève to Kandinsky, dated 20 September, 1931, shows the how important watercolors were for Kandinsky:

"Dear Uncle Vassia, I received your seven watercolors in perfect condition. I will personally take them [to the Galerie de France] at the beginning of October to avoid any misunderstanding. I opened the package immediately and I was struck by the painting (no. 432, 1931)'Fleckig'; I believe it is one of your best (watercolor) pieces. Again, it is something completely new. I cannot in this moment explain what this something new is, but you feel it immediately." 

Untitled (1944) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

In Paris, where he spent the last 11 years of his life, Kandinsky painted and drew a lot. These works became an important body of work, the common theme of which was the artist's inspiration from images taken from biology. 

Untitled (1944) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou


More than 500 drawings, watercolors, gouaches, books of drawings,  India ink, and graphite on paper (such as Untitled in 1944) make up one of the shining jewels of the Kandinsky collection at the Pompidou Center, alongside over one hundred paintings. 


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