Wassily Kandinsky is considered one of the most prominent artists in history. Creating a breakthrough in the art world as an avant-garde master abstract artist, he is considered the first key figure of pure abstract art in the early 20th century.

painting by kandinsky

His brilliant understanding of art theory, unusual use of color and impeccable execution are the most outstanding elements of art. Bright colors, lines and seemingly out of place geometric shapes are recognizable by many.


Wassily Vasilievich Kandinsky was born in Moscow on December 4, 1866. His parents were musicians Vasily Silvestrovich Kandinsky and Lidia Tikheeva. They divorced when he was five years old and he moved in with his aunt in Odessa, where he learned to play the piano and cello and also practiced drawing.

The combined synergy of playing musical instruments and painting fueled a sense and understanding of Kandinsky’s art as a channel for spiritual self-expression.

Odessa port (1898). One of Kandinsky’s early works:

port of odessa

He approached color with the fluid essence of music and believed that “every color has a mysterious life in itself.”

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At the request of his family, in 1886 he studied law at Moscow University, graduating with honors. Kandinsky married his cousin Anna Chimyakina in 1892. He got a job at the Moscow Faculty of Law, moonlighting as an art and printing production.

Houses of Munich (1908):

munich houses

Fortunately for the future artist, two events marked the beginning of his creative career. In 1896 he saw an exhibition of French Impressionism in Moscow. He was fascinated by Monet’s Haystacks at Giverny and its vibrant colors, experiencing unconventional art for the first time. The second event occurred when he heard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin at the Bolshoi Theater. He immediately abandoned his fruitless career as a lawyer and moved to Munich to focus on his new passion.

Haystacks (End of Summer) by Claude Monet. It was one of many Impressionist paintings in which Monet experimented with light and positioning in different seasons.


The outstanding artist began to draw and study art at the age of 30 at the Anton Azhbe private school in Munich. Although he also studied at prestigious art schools such as the Academy of Fine Arts.

anton azbe

Anton Azhbe (pictured above), 1904 photograph. The humble teacher took many Eastern European students under his wing. Even though Kandinsky hated his figure drawing lessons, his teaching method was of high value.

Monet’s work and Wagner’s music provided inspiration for the up-and-coming artist, prompting him to explore unconventional color patterns as he delved into abstract art.

His unorthodox method was criticized by peers and contemporaries. Nevertheless, he became the founder of the avant-garde movement of the 20th century.

In 1903, he decided to move in with an art student, Gabriele Münter. They were good friends, often going on different adventures and traveling frequently before settling in Bavaria.

Cow, 1910:

kandinsky cow

One day, preparing to write Composition IV, Kandinsky went for a walk. At this time, Gabriele Münter was cleaning her studio and accidentally turned the canvas on its side. When Kandinsky returned, he did not even recognize the painting. He fell to his knees, wept and said that this was the most beautiful picture he had ever seen.

Composition IV

He seems to have freed himself from attachment to the object, which explains his focus on one element. Like when he saw Monet’s Haystacks, this experience changed Kandinsky’s life.

Kandinsky’s paintings during this period were full of bright colors, shapes, lines. He believed that music was important to abstract art because music itself is abstract in nature, meaning it cannot represent the world, but it can express the direction of the soul. For this reason, he sometimes referred to his spontaneous paintings as “improvisations” and more complex ones as “compositions.”

Composition VII – according to Kandinsky, the most difficult work he ever wrote (1913):

Composition VII

Kandinsky later formed the Association of New Artists (Neue Künstlervereinigung München) in Munich and became group president in 1909. Kandinsky’s unconventional methods were not well received by the members, and it disbanded in 1911. The collapse brought about another avant-garde group that promised completely new artistic perspectives.

Kandinsky formed a new ambitious group called the Blue Rider, which lasted until 1914. The group included August Macke, Albert Blok, Gabriele Münter, as well as Franz Marc, who was a member of the Bauhaus movement. He became friends with Paul Klee and many other artists with a similar outlook.

The group was, in fact, a premonition of expressionist art, along with another group called Die Brücke (The Bridge), formed in Dresden in 1905. The Blue Rider had two exhibitions and more were planned, canceled due to the First World War.


During the outbreak of the war, Kandinsky dramatically changed his abstract style, adding even more minimalistic elements, alluding to Russia, where the constructivist movement caught his attention. He focused more on geometric designs and basic artistic elements.

Untitled (1911):


Kandinsky is considered the first artist to create a purely abstract work of art. This untitled watercolor is the first example. The painting is now in the Center Pompidou in Paris. During this period, Francis Picabia and Piet Mondrian also began to experiment with similar patterns.

While in Moscow, the 50-year-old Kandinsky married in 1916 the much younger Nina Andreevskaya. They had only one son, who unfortunately died at a young age. After the revolution, Kandinsky stayed in Russia to apply his teaching methods to reform Russian educational programs. He participated in the creation of the Moscow Institute of Artistic Culture and the Museum of Artistic Culture.

It seems that almost everyone Kandinsky met seriously contradicted and diverged from his views and theory. The extremely harsh and radical members of the Institute rejected Kandinsky’s expressionist view of art.

In Germany, he focused on teaching at the Bauhaus school, and this was a very productive period for a progressive teacher. Kandinsky passed on his cutting-edge theories to his students through drawing classes that focused on various concepts and methods of art. He emphasized the importance of geometric elements.

circles within circles

In the late 1930s, he and his wife moved to the suburbs of Paris. There they were helped to find housing by the famous artist Marcel Duchamp. The time spent in Paris was very difficult for him. Kandinsky was isolated from colleagues and students, he was depressed, his paintings sold poorly, and he no longer attended creative discussions.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, they put any cultural development on the back burner by closing the Bauhaus school. Although Kandinsky had legal German citizenship, it was impossible for him to remain in Germany.

He, along with other artists, was presented at the Entartete Kunst exhibition in July 1937 in Munich. But this was far from an ordinary art exhibition. The term “Entartete Kunst” was adopted by the Nazis to describe any art that was considered “modernist”, anti-German, Jewish, or communist in nature. Any artists who get noticed will be punished, banned, and worse.

goebbels at the exhibition

The Nazi Party did everything in their power to block any free-thinking cultural movement. The Gestapo ran this smear campaign to disrupt cultural gatherings by eliminating any form of potential anti-Nazi intent among the population.

At a widely attended “exhibition”, 57 works by Kandinsky were illegally confiscated and subsequently destroyed. Music, films, like any other art form, were subject to restrictions and prohibitions. Jazz was greatly frowned upon for its dissonant tones and unusual rhythm.

Exhibition program cover: Degenerate Music Exhibition, Düsseldorf, 1938:

program cover

The exhibition moved to many cities in Austria and Germany, and the works were sold, lost or destroyed during travel. Kandinsky died on December 13, 1944 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. He suffered from cerebrovascular disease. Although still considered controversial by many, Kandinsky earned the respect of renowned art lover Solomon Guggenheim and continued to exhibit until his death.

solomon guggenheim

Solomon Robert Guggenheim (February 2, 1861 – November 3, 1949) was an American businessman, art collector, and philanthropist. You can read about the Guggenheim Museum in New York in a separate article.

Throughout his life, Kandinsky held frequent exhibitions, taught many students, and published books about his art theories. Today, New York auction houses and galleries sell his work for a staggering $20 million.

composition VIII

In his work, color became a means of expressing emotions, and not just a means of describing a subject. He felt that the use of color was not merely a means of representing objects and forms, but rather a method of reaching a level of spirituality. Many of Kandinsky’s works are on display at the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris.

Kandinsky believed that each historical period puts its signature on art. His vibrant color exposure through a spiritual sensibility, along with the mimicry of music, undoubtedly changed the rigid outlook on artistic expression in the 20th century.

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