Oil Painting, a Fundamental Technique

Discover how Kandinsky adapted his favorite medium to his artistic evolution

Centre Pompidou

In his work Looking back on the Past, Kandinsky speaks with love and admiration of his first box of oil paints, in organic terms:

Tubes and commercial colours by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

"With money slowly saved up, when I was 13 or 14 years old, I bought myself a box of oil paints. What I felt then, or, to put it better, the experience I had seeing the color come out of the tube, I still feel that today.

Portrait of Wassily Kandinsky as a youth by Dimo, V.Centre Pompidou

A press of the finger and … these foreign beings we call colors emerged one after the other, living in and for themselves, autonomous, and endowed with the qualities needed for their future autonomous life, and, at all times, ready to yield freely to new combinations, mix with one another, and create an infinity of new worlds. 

Some rest there, their strength already depleted, weakened, solidified, dead, living memories of past possibilities, unwanted by the future. Like in a fight, like in a battle, they exit the tube, these new, young forces, replacing the old ones. 

The middle of the palette is a strange world, the remnants of colors already used, which, far from this source, wander in the incarnations called for by the canvases. 

There is a world there that came into existence at the painter's will, for the pictures already painted, but that was also determined and created by accidental causes, by the mysterious games at play in forces unknown to the artist. 

 And I owe a lot to them, to these coincidences: they taught me a lot more than any teacher or any master."   

Study for Schwarz und Weiss, first painting by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

This painting equipment accompanied Kandinsky during different stages of his life until he reached his studio in Neuilly. 

Shelf with pigments in the studio of Wassily Kandinsky in Neuilly-sur-Seine by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

During the years he spent studying in Munich as well as during his nomadic years with Gabriele Münter in Europe, he made a significant number of small oil studies from life, done in the open air using a palette knife and palette.

Before the war, his abstract language developed through large formats in oil. 

Herbst in Bayern (Autumn in Bavaria) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

After his forced return to Moscow, Kandinsky stopped painting.  In 1919, after focusing on various graphic practices, Kandinsky masterfully took up painting again and returned to large formats with In Gray.

In this picture, what strikes you straight away is the clay-colored background, a surface on which a wide array of elements stands out.

The color, muted by the gray, comes together with the non-color: the clash between the red and the blue is balanced against the relationships between white and black.

Im Grau (In the Grey) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

"In Gray marks the end of my dramatic period, a period during which I've accumulated so many forms," the artist wrote in 1936 to his American producer Hilla Rebay.

Hilla von Rebay painting in her studio in Redding by AnonymousCentre Pompidou

Unlike most of the large canvases of Moscow, Kandinsky took this pivotal work, which announced the development of a new language based on geometry, away with him. 

Etude pour Im Grau (Study for In the Grey) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Working at the Bauhaus in Weimar from 1922 to 1925, the artist's painting became particularly geometric. 

Study for Auf Weiss II by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

From 1925, in Dessau, Kandinsky's painting reconnected with the curved line, and his compositions once again began to include color gradations. Yellow-Red-Blue is the most significant work of this period.

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

 He started to experiment with an airbrush, a color pigment spray, to create effects of transparency like in his last "German" canvas Development in Brown, which he finished in Paris sometime after his arrival.

Développement en brun (Development in brown) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Kandinsky painted a few more masterpieces in a new biomorphic, pictorial language until he had to give up large formats in oil due to shortages under the German occupation two years before his death in 1944. 

Bleu de ciel (Sky Blue) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

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