Thinking color : Use of Black and Dark Backgrounds

The importance and role of dark backgrounds in Kandinsky's work

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

For Kandinsky, pure painting, in and of itself, works through its fundamental principles, which are the paint (the color) and the form, the distribution of planes and lines, and their relationship (the movement).

These two principles are apparent in the use of the color black and dark backgrounds. 

Altrussisches (Old Russia) (recto) - Old Man with Beard(verso) Altrussisches (Old Russia) (1904) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Kandinsky started painting on dark backgrounds very early on. From 1900, he created what he called the "colored drawings": paintings done in tempera on a dark background in which Kandinsky depicted scenes from an imaginary past using motifs from old Russia.

The dark backgrounds allowed Kandinsky to play with the intensity of the colors and the sense of space. 

In his pictures on a light background, the painter used black to outline the color and to create dynamism between the forms.

Study for Im Schwarzen Viereck (1923-07) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Black was also used in the corners to break up the rectangular shape of the picture and make it less rigid, to create an undefined space. 

As mentioned in his treatise Point and Line to Plane, unlike all the other colors, black is equivalent to silence. 

Model of Pannel for the Exhibit of Juryfreie: Wall A (1922) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Kandinsky's architectural creations were also influenced by the use of dark backgrounds. When he started at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Kandinsky committed to a mural painting project for the Juryfreie Kunstschau in Berlin.

Model of Pannel for the Exhibit of Juryfreie: Wall D (1922) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

The aim of this project was to simulate the entrance hall of a contemporary art museum in an octagonal space. Kandinsky made a gouache maquette on black or brown cardboard: four sketches for the main walls, and another one for the corner panels.

Model of Pannel for the Exhibit of Juryfreie: Wall A (1922) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

The paintings were then realized on large black hanging canvases by Bauhaus students during the summer of 1922. Unfortunately, the room was later to be dismantled without leaving a trace. 

Brown (1934-04) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Kandinsky continued to use dark backgrounds until the end of his life, progressing from imaginary scenes to the biomorphic and cellular forms that are illustrative of his Parisian period. 

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