Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Biography

Early Life

Wassily Kandinsky was born into a wealthy family of merchants in Moscow in 1866. His parents divorced when he was five-years-old and he spent most of his childhood in Odessa.

In 1892, he married his cousin, Anna Chimyakina, and accepted a position teaching law at the university in Moscow. In letters and interviews, Kandinsky always talked about his early life and how he was deeply influenced by music and colors. Some scholars believe that the artist was a synesthete, an individual who synthesizes color and sounds simultaneously. Eventually, the pull on Kandinsky’s artistic inclinations overwhelmed him. At the age of 30, he enrolled in art school in Munich.

Germany

Kandinsky’s wife had never intended to marry an artist, so the couple eventually split. They did not officially divorce until 1911, but Kandinsky began a live-in affair with Gabriele Münter. A single woman living with a still-married man caused quite the scandal, but the relationship continued until the outbreak of WWI.

The artist made waves with his radical thinking and never-before-seen abstract forms. He founded the group Der Blaue Reiter (named for his iconic painting of 1903) and wrote his first treatise titled, On the Spiritual in Art. His paintings were well-received and he enjoyed international success at exhibitions in England and the United States.

Return to Russia

When WWI broke out in Europe, Kandinsky moved back to Russia. He was not a very prolific painter at this time, but chose to focus his efforts instead on art reform. He oversaw the organization of 22 Russian museums and was named Commissariat of Popular Culture.  

He also taught theoretical classes at the University of Moscow and founded the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. At the age of 50, he married his 17-year-old student, Nina Andreievskaya. The couple had one son, but he died tragically at just three-years-old.

Bauhaus

At the beginning of the 1920s, Kandinsky was again looking for a way out of Russia. Soviet attitudes about art had changed and he no longer felt welcome in his home country. He accepted a position at the Bauhaus in Weimar.

When the school was forced to move, Kandinsky went with it. He was one of Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four) and published a book about his teaching principles, titled Point and Line to Plane. He also became a German citizen in 1928. When the Bauhaus dissolved in 1933, Kandinsky moved to Paris.

France

The artist spent his final years in an apartment in Paris. He became a French citizen in 1939. He exhibited major compositions in the United States and in Germany, where many of his works were seized by the Nazis.

Kandinsky died of cerebrovascular disease in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. He was survived only by his widow, Nina Andreievskaya.

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