8 Things You Did Not Know About Kandinsky

Centre Pompidou

Mit dem schwarzen Bogen (Picture with a Black Arch) (1912) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

1. He had the gift of synesthesia

Kandinsky was capable of synesthesia, an involuntary neurological phenomenon by which a person perceives several senses as being associated.

Vassily Kandinsky and two young people playing music (c. 1888) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

In Kandinsky's case, the sense of hearing was associated with the sense of sight, sounds, and colors being intimately linked in his mind. He could therefore " see music " as he found himself following a performance of Wagner's Lohengrin

Impression III (Concert) (1911) by Wassily KandinskyStädtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau

This specific faculty thus led him to attempt to transcribe sounds and music into painting, which set him on the path towards abstraction.

Wassily Kandinsky's apartment building in Moscow on the corner of Dolguy Street and Trety Neopalimovsky Street (1978) by Makroff, OlgaCentre Pompidou

2. He owned and lost properties

In 1913, Kandinsky sold the building he inherited and had a new six-storey building made of twenty-four apartments built, overlooking Zubovskaya Square in Moscow, which he painted several times. In 1915 he moved there on the top floor.

In 1917 he sold this building while continuing to rent the apartment. He also acquired the adjoining land with the intention of building a detached house with a studio.  

After the outbreak of the October Revolution and the ousting of the ruling government by the Bolsheviks, Kandinsky was expelled and had of all his property confiscated, including the land he had just acquired.

Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky (c. 1895) by Thiele, R.Centre Pompidou

3. He became an artist at the age of 30

In December 1896, Kandinsky left his homeland and moved to Munich with his wife, Ania Tchimiakina, in order to start a career as an artist. It was a radical move, a true departure. The artist was already 30-years old and left behind a respectable life, conforming to the conventions dictated by his family lineage.

Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky (c. 1895) by Kourbatov, I. F.Centre Pompidou

The choice of Munich is not surprising for a young Russian who wants to study painting. The German city had a reputation for delivering solid technical training. 

Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky (c. 1895) by Antonopoulo, I.Centre Pompidou

Kandinsky might have also been reassured by the large number of his compatriots living in Munich, often like him from a bourgeois or aristocratic background. Like many of them, he decided to attend the prestigious private school of the Slovenian painter Anton Ažbe.

Kandinsky in front of Franz-Joseph-Strasse in Munich (c. 1905) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

He later joined Franz von Stuck's prestigious class at the Academy of Fine Arts, after having been initially refused. However, he quickly abandoned this academic teaching and practiced painting in his own way.

Wassily Kandinsky and his students at the Phalanx School in Munich (1902) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

4. He opened his own school in 1902: it was open to women

At the beginning of 1902, the Phalanx (group and school opposed to conventional and conservative art viewpoints) of which Kandinsky was president, opened a painting school in Schwabing. Kandinsky taught painting and drawing there. The school was open to women from its inception.

Wassily Kandinsky and his students at the Phalanx School before the "work on the motif" in Kochel Wassily Kandinsky and his students at the Phalanx School before the "work on the motif" in Kochel (1902) by Münter, GabrieleCentre Pompidou

This position was non-conformist and progressive, since, at the time, women were only admitted to the Society of Women Artists, an institution linked to the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, or to the evening classes of that Academy. 

Wassily Kandinsky and his students at the Phalanx School in Munich (1902) by Münter, GabrieleCentre Pompidou

That’s where Kandinsky met Gabriele Münter, one of his students, and a relationship began between them.  

Wassily Kandinsky and his son Vsevolod (c. 1919) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

5. The early years of the Vassily-Nina Kandinsky couple

After their honeymoon in Finland, Kandinsky and his young wife Nina spent the summer holidays in the Akhtyrka countryside. 

Akhtyrka. Nina et Tatiana in the veranda (1917) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

On one of Kandinsky’s small sketches from the surroundings and the country estate itself, Nina is depicted, pregnant with their son Vsevolod. 

Woman holding Vsevolod in her arms (c. 1919) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

Born in September 1917, the child did not survive the severe hardships of the revolutionary years and died in June 1920. Kandinsky and Nina never spoke of their mourning.

Marcel Duchamp, Katherine Dreier and Wassily Kandinsky on the platform of Dessau rail station (1929) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

6. He was friends with Marcel Duchamp

European avant-garde made its official entry into the United States in 1913 at the Armory Show in New York. Kandinsky exhibited Improvisation 27, which artist and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz bought to defend him against criticism. Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase was a scandalous success.

Another scandal followed in 1917 when Duchamp presented a urinal claiming artwork status to the hanging committee of the Salon of independent artists of which he is a member: Fountain became history, formalizing the invention of the ready-made, a radical innovation which establishes an art of the idea and positions Duchamp in art history. 

Marcel Duchamp, Katherine Dreier and Wassily Kandinsky on the platform of the rail station in Dessau (1929) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

In 1920, Marcel Duchamp  founded, together with American collector Katherine S. Dreier, (public limited company) the International Organization for the Promotion of the Study in America of the Progressive in Art. 

 In May 1929, Duchamp hosted Kandinsky in Dessau during his visit to the Bauhaus with Katherine Dreier. In December 1933, exiled in Paris, the Kandinskys settled into a new building suggested to them by Marcel Duchamp in Neuilly-sur-Seine.


Letter from the rector of the Black Mountain College in the United States inviting Nina and Vassily Kandinsky to come. (1935-02-18) by J. A. RiceCentre Pompidou

7. Kandinsky never went to the United States

During his entire life, Kandinsky never went to the United States and he refused to emigrate there. 

In 1935, he turned down the offer from his former Bauhaus colleague, Josef Albers, to join him at Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

Wassily Kandinsky in his office in his apartment in Neuilly-sur-Seine (1938) by Lipnitzki, BernardCentre Pompidou

 In 1941, he stayed in war-torn Paris, when he could have gone to New York. 

Katherine Dreier (1924) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

In a letter dated February 29, 1928, sent from Dessau to his friend Katherine Dreier, he expressed his disapproval of the lack of American interest in abstract art and the misdeeds of their materialism.

Mrs. Guggenheim, Wassily Kandinsky, Hilla von Rebay, Solomon R. Guggenheim in the Bauhaus garden in Dessau (1929) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

Katherine Dreier, who had become a friend, was a key emissary for distributing his work in the United States, as was Hilla Von Rebay, a close associate of Der Sturm gallery in Berlin and advisor to Solomon R. Guggenheim in his acquisitions.

Works by Wassily Kandinsky being hung in the studio of Galka Scheyer's villa in Los Angeles (c. 1934) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

For his 70th birthday in 1936, monographic exhibitions were held of his work in New York and Los Angeles. During the same year, he participated in the major exhibition " Cubism and Abstract Art " at the MoMA in New York.

Galka Scheyer near a painting by Wassily Kandinsky (?) (c. 1934) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

8. He was a member of the " Blue Four" group

The German Galka Scheyer, who emigrated to New York in 1924, was the founder of the Blue Four group. 

Die Blaue Vier: pact of the members of the group (1924-04-01)Centre Pompidou

She organized the distribution of works by Alexeï von Jawlensky, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, and Kandinsky on the American art scene. Her aim was to promote these four artists through group exhibitions and conferences throughout the United States. 

Poster for the Blue Four exhibition at the California School of Fine ArtsCentre Pompidou

In spite of American reactions to abstraction, the initial Blue Four exhibition was held at the Daniel Gallery in New York in February 1925, before continuing the adventure on the West Coast. 

Poster for a meeting around "The Blue Four" with G. Scheyer and an exhibition at the Daniel Galleries [New York] (1925)Centre Pompidou

Kandinsky wrote to her in January 1924: "Regarding our small group of friends, we—Feininger, Klee, and myself—have discussed among ourselves and propose the name The Four meaning four friends or four colleagues. All four of us are each very different, which I believe is an additional advantage."

Galka Scheyer and Wassily Kandinsky on the terrace of the Henning villa in Berlin (1933) by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

The last Blue Four exhibition during Scheyer's lifetime took place in New York in the autumn of 1944, shortly before Kandinsky's death.

Wassily Kandinsky in his studio in Neuilly-sur-Seine in front of "Dominant Curve" Wassily Kandinsky in his studio in Neuilly-sur-Seine in front of "Dominant Curve" (1938) by Lipnitzki, BernardCentre Pompidou

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