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Kandinsky, Wassily

Kandinsky, Wassily

Kandinsky, Wassily or Vasily, 1866-1944, Russian abstract painter and theorist. Usually regarded as the originator of abstract art, Kandinsky abandoned a legal career for painting at 30 when he moved to Munich. In subsequent trips to Paris he came into contact with the art of Gauguin, neoimpressionism (see postimpressionism), and fauvism. He then developed his ideas concerning the power of pure color and nonrepresentational painting. His first work in this mode was completed in 1910, the year in which he wrote an important theoretical study, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912, tr. 1947 and 1977). In this work he examines the psychological effects of color and his concept of the kinship between music and art.

Kandinsky exhibited with the Brücke group, and with Franz Marc and others he founded the Blaue Reiter group. In 1915 he returned to Moscow, where he taught and directed artistic activities. During the early 1920s his style evolved from riotous bursts of color in his "Improvisations" to more precise, geometrically arranged compositions. In 1921 he returned to Germany and the next year joined the Bauhaus faculty. In 1926 he wrote Point and Line to Plane (tr. 1947), which includes an analysis of geometric forms in art. At the outset of World War II, he went to France, where he spent the rest of his life. In American public collections, Kandinsky is particularly well represented in the Guggenheim Museum, New York City, and California's Pasadena Art Museum.

See his Reminiscences (1913; tr. in Modern Artists on Art, ed. by R. L. Herbert, 1964); biographies by J. Lassaigne (1964) and J. Hahl-Koch (1994); P. Weiss, Kandinsky in Munich: 1896-1914 (1982); V. E. Barnett, Kandinsky: At the Guggenheim (1983); C. V. Poling, Kandinsky: Russian and Bauhaus Years, 1915-1933 (1983); Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Staff, Kandinsky in Paris, 1934-1944 (1985); A. and L. Vezin, Kandinsky and the Blue Rider (1992); T. M. Messer, Vasily Kandinsky (1997); U. Becks-Malorny, Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944: The Journey to Abstraction (1999).

Vasily Kandinsky.

(born Dec. 4, 1866, Moscow, Russia—died Dec. 13, 1944, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France) Russian painter, a pioneer of pure abstraction in modern painting. Trained in the law and offered a law professorship, he chose painting instead and set out for Germany. After art studies in Munich, by 1909 he began his lifelong pursuit: a kind of painting in which colours, lines, and shapes, freed from the distracting business of depicting recognizable objects, might evolve into a visual “language” capable of expressing general ideas and evoking deep emotions. In his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912) he set forth these ideas, comparing the expressiveness of forms and colour to qualities in music. In 1911 he and Franz Marc founded an informally organized group of like-minded artists called Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”). From 1921 to 1933 he taught at the influential Bauhaus in Weimar; during this period Kandinsky continued to evolve in the general direction of geometric abstraction, but with a dynamism and a taste for detail. When the Nazis closed the Bauhaus, he immigrated to Paris. During this final period his painting became a synthesis of the organic manner of the Munich period and the geometric manner of the Bauhaus period. The visual language that he had been aiming at since at least 1910 turned into collections of signs that look like almost-decipherable messages written in pictographs and hieroglyphs. His influence on 20th-century art and abstract art in general was profound.

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The Wassily Chair, also known as the Model B3 chair, was designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925-26 while he was the head of the cabinet-making workshop at the Bauhaus, in Dessau, Germany. Despite popular belief, the chair was not designed for the non-objective painter Wassily Kandinsky, who was concurrently on the Bauhaus faculty. However, Kandinsky had admired the completed design, and Breuer fabricated a duplicate for Kandinsky's personal quarters. The chair became known as "Wassily" decades later, when it was re-released by an Italian manufacturer who had learned of the anecdotal Kandinsky connection in the course of its research on the chair's origins.

This chair was revolutionary in the use of the materials (bent tubular steel and canvas) and methods of manufacturing. It is said that the handlebar of Breuer's 'Adler' bicycle inspired him to use steel tubing to build the chair, and it proved to be an appropriate material because it was available in quantity. The design (and all subsequent steel tubing furniture) was technologically feasible only because the German steel manufacturer Mannesmann had recently perfected a process for making seamless steel tubing. Previously, steel tubing had a welded seam, which would collapse when the tubing was bent.

The Wassily chair, like many other designs of the modernist movement, has been mass-produced since the 1960s, and as a design classic is still available today. Though patent designs are expired, the trademark name rights to the design are owned by Knoll of New York City. Reproductions are produced around the world by other manufacturers, who market the product under different names.

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