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Kandinsky’s Composition VII. Kandinsky has the most important insight of his career into the years before the First World War. He works in Munich, Germany and develops a new painting language, which helps him to create original abstract paintings in different series. And the most famous of these will be entitled Compositions. I am Clelia and today we discover Composition VII by Wassily Kandinsky from 1913. 

The Compositions of Kandisnky

Kandinsky considers these Compositions as the result of his artistic philosophy. He only makes 10 in his entire life, and each one is the result of careful planning. Composition VII, which we are talking about today, is widely recognized as the most beautiful and most complex of all.

Obviously, the Compositions are very controversial from the beginning. Viewers find themselves in front of large abstract paintings and are completely baffled. To the first viewers, the paintings appear chaotic, with no recognizable subject, structure, or form. And the best part is that Kandinsky is not entirely unhappy with this opinion. So much so that he wrote in that period: “Each work originates in the same way as the cosmos, through catastrophes which, from the chaotic chaos of the instruments, eventually generate a new symphony”.

Kandinsky explains the philosophy behind his new approach in a treatise entitled The Spiritual in Art from 1911. He does not believe that the public is ready for totally abstract art, and he does not want his abstract paintings to be merely decorative. Instead, she believes she can convey her purest, most spiritual feelings. Initially, he draws inspiration from religious subjects such as the Garden of Eden, the Flood but above all the Apocalypse. He describes the artist as a prophet and anticipates the destruction and the follies of the First World War in the themes of his works, but gradually changes direction. Instead of religious themes in the last Compositions he creates only through form, color and line, as for example in Composition VII.

Kandinsky’s Composition VII | Analysis

Kandinsky and color

In this work, color is a fundamental element. Kandinsky always considered color to be the most crucial element in his paintings and was influenced by the writings of the philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Steiner argues that every color, every perception of light represents a spiritual tone. So Kandinsky goes one step further and invents his own color code, attributing spiritual values ​​to each different shade. 

When describing the tone of a color he uses a musical analogy and compares it to timbre. With this Kandinsky is able to vary the feeling and emotion that his paintings convey to us. His favorite trick is to introduce simple, almost monochromatic color transitions to counterbalance areas of chaos on the canvas. In this work, for example, the right corner so full of a single color seems almost silent and counterbalances the vortex effect that dominates the center of the canvas. 

Kandinsky’s Composition VII and his lines

He also uses lines to give energy to his paintings. For example, horizontal parallel lines make the image more stable, especially on the sides of the work. While the red diagonal line suggests that there is a structure underneath. Almost as if it were tracing part of the outline of a rhombus. Here it is faint but most noticeable from the thick, right-angled corner at the foot of the canvas. The interplay between line, color and form becomes even more effective in Black Lines I, also a work created in 1913.

Kandinsky goes to great lengths to hide any element that may be recognizable which is sometimes called “figurative” in his works abstract. But some elements can still be spotted. For example, a detail in this work can be interpreted as a ladder or a flower. Most of the elements, however, can only be identified by referring to his preparatory studies. 

The Boat Theme

One of Kandinsky’s favorite subjects is boats. And the boat in his works can be reduced to a simple curved shape and a row of lines, which represent the oars. Before becoming a completely abstract painter he also painted this image in several recognizable versions such as in Voyage by boat of 1910. But the boat becomes a recurring theme in the Compositions because it is relevant to the larger theme of which he sometimes narrates: The theme of the Great Flood in the Bible. 

The Eye of the Cyclops

In his preparatory studies, Kandinsky experiments with a vast number of components, while searching for the right formula for his work. Most sketches include some variation of only one specific image. Critics have likened her to a giant eye of a cyclops. A metaphor of the contact between the artist and the spectators. And indeed this element attracts particular attention because it remains stable while others frantically circle around it. 

Kandinsky’s Composition VII | Technique

From a technical the works vary according to the type of image they want to represent. He calls some of his works Impressions or Improvisations and these are neither studied nor planned. But something changes with the Compositions. Each of these works is elaborate and studied and Composition VII is perhaps the most elaborate of all. For a canvas like this Kandinsky makes more than 30 preparatory studies and once completed he takes about 3 days to complete the work. In a Study for composition VII, for example, he inserts an element that we don’t find in the finished work: in the right corner, an angel with a blue face is playing a trumpet. But in the final version we only have a blue trumpet shape and the angel has disappeared.  

Kandinsky and music

What Kandinsky really wants to recreate in art through these works are the characteristics of music. His favorite composer is Arnold Schoenberg, the pioneer of atonal music. Kandinsky admires his approach and has no problem combining even on canvas passages that could be considered dissonant. Indeed he calls them thundering collisions. A real clash between spots of color tone.

Wassily Kandinsky | His story

But to understand how Kandinsky arrived at abstract art, we need to shed some light on him. Indeed, Kandinsky was born in Moscow, the son of a wealthy Siberian tea merchant. First he trained as a lawyer and then, at the age of 30 he decided to become a painter. And it doesn’t happen by accident. In fact, everything changed when in 1896 he discovered Monet’s Sheaves by chance and was very fascinated by them. Thus he moved to Munich to study at the Academy of Fine Arts with Franz von Stuck. And in his class that year was another great abstractionist painter Paul Klee. 

First he travels around Europe, wants to find out more and then falls in love with Gabriele Munter and settles in Germany. He began frequenting progressive art circles and his style quickly changed as he was influenced by Russian folk art, the Fauve and Expressionism. he is free to create his works without having to worry too much about selling them and can give free rein to experimentation. However, his works are so shocking that they shock his contemporaries.

Synesthesia for Kandisnky

He manages to combine his passion for color and music, making them the basis of his abstract style. He believes the art is based on the perceptual phenomenon of synesthesia – whereby stimulation of one sense leads to stimulation of another.

In the period before the outbreak of the First World War, he made rapid progress towards abstract painting. Just two years before the creation of Composition VII, the subjects of his paintings are still quite explicit and realistic. For example, in Impression III (Concert) of 1911 he represents the New Year’s concert spent at the home of his friend Schoenberg. And in addition to the audience, it is possible to identify two large white pillars and the enormous black lid of a grand piano. 

Kandisnky and abstract art

So how does he arrive at abstract art? And what does abstract mean? If we reflect carefully among all the new art forms and movements that emerge in the 1900s, abstract art is undoubtedly the most enduring over time. Any artwork that does not represent a recognizable element can be described as abstract. In the years preceding the outbreak of the First World War, the birth of abstract art is a phenomenon that can be considered international. In fact, it emerges more or less in the same years in various countries. In all different ways. The artists of the period discover the possibility of using color and shapes but not necessarily to represent reality. 

abstract art | Definition and evolution in the 1900s

It is not easy to give a precise definition of abstract art. To be honest, the artists themselves have preferred that of non-figurative art to this expression. Abstract, in fact, literally means “drawn out” and indicates an ability to grasp some elements, summarizing the image in its essential features. But the abstract art of the early 1900s is only a moment of transition, of a long process. A process that begins with Romanticism and continues with the invention of photography and is increasingly denying art the task of describing exactly what surrounds us.

At the beginning of the 20th century, many examples of abstract art can be made: some works by Sonia Delaunay from 1913 in which human figures are transformed into geometric shapes. Or some works by Duchamp such as The Nude Descending a Staircase from 1912. Black Square from 1915 or the works of Mondrian. All fall within this principle of abstraction. However, in attempts at maximum abstraction there is no interest on the part of the artist to represent or to have any of the elements of nature or of reality recognized. The works enhance the shape, color, line. And among the great abstract artists of the early 1900s, Kandinsky succeeded very well in this.

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Famous today as one of the creators of the abstract art movement, Kandinsky is also universally recognized as one of the greatest pioneers of modern art. But that wasn’t always the case. Kandinsky has in fact created ten works in the Compositions series but not all of them have come down to us. We know the first three only thanks to black and white photographs. While studies and sketches exist (particularly of Composition II), a Nazi raid on the Bauhaus in the 1930s resulted in the confiscation of Kandinsky’s first three Compositions. The works were exhibited in the German state-sponsored exhibition on “Degenerate Art”, and then destroyed, together with works by Klee, Marc and other modern artists. Thus making us lose the opportunity to see these great masterpieces today. 

Kandinsky’s Composition VII | Where is it?

Another little curiosity concerning the work is linked to its current location. It is in fact located in one of the most famous modern art galleries in Moscow, which contains many masterpieces from the collection of George Costakis, a Russian collector of Greek origins who by pure chance in the middle of the Second World War found several works in a Moscow studio of Russian constructivism and acquired them. And thanks to this discovery of his, today Malevic’s Black Square and Kandinsky’s Composition VII, the two most important works of 20th century Russian art are found together under the same roof. 

And if you liked this post in which we discovered something more about abstract art and Kandinsky, I suggest you take a look at my channel Youtube to not miss the next videos on the most interesting works of art in history. I also advise you to read my posts about A Sunday afternoon on Seurat’s island of La Grande Jatte or at the one on the last 20 years

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