Wassily Kandinsky – Riding Couple

8 Dec

“Darling, it’s only the fairy tales we really live by.”
(Katherine Mansfield, Letter to J.M.Murry, 18 October 1920)

Wassily Kandinsky, Riding Couple (Couple on Horseback), 1906-07

This magical and romantical painting known under various titles such as “Riding Couple” or “Couple on Horseback” is a beautiful example of Wasily Kandinsky’s early work. The embracing couple dressed in their traditional Russian costumes bring to mind the romantic paintings by a fellow Russian painter Viktor Vasnetstov, particularly his painting “Ivan Tsarevich Riding the Grey Wolf” (1889) which I wrote about here. Kandinsky may be using a similar motif but his treatment of the painting’s surface is completely different. While Vasnetsov tries to evoke the mysterious and romanticised, but still realistically painted, spirit of the forest, Kandinsky transports us into a carnival of colours bursting with energy and vibrancy. Around the riding couple are a few thin elegant birches, and behind them is a scenery made up of a wide river and a townscape with many colourful domes and roofs, reminiscent of the grandeur of Moscow, a town that had a special place in Kandinsky’s heart. The description of the scene makes it sound beautiful, but then upon seeing it, ahh it is a feast for the eyes! Kandinsky here uses a Divisionist method which allows the colour to mix and mingle freely in the eye of the viewer and not on the painter’s palette. He is building the space with little dots, dashes and dabs of colour.

Just look at the outfit the couple is wearing; it’s made out of little dots of blue and pink, then the leaves on the trees just blots of brown and gold, the horse’s body is made up of grey dashes, the river is glimmering in all colours, on the right we see the landscape made up of horizontal dashes, and then the sky, those blues and the purple cloud; it’s woven with magic. The landscape is smiling and flickering like Christmas lights. The orange and red leaves that have fallen on the ground also add to the magical appeal. There is a visual contrast between the shining and inviting city across the river and the solitary, more intimate space hidden by the trees where the lovers on the horse are, as if they are hiding their love, or, the city with its lights and promises of fun and gaiety doesn’t appeal to them because they already found the heaven on earth in each other’s arms. The motif, the scenery and the manner in which it was painted all make it seem as if this is a scene from a fairy tale. Maybe the riding couple were banished from the kingdom on the other side of the river and now, shivering from the chill autumnal air and finding abode in the embrace, they will cast a last, melancholy-tinged glance at the place they use to consider their home…

Bellow you can see a painting from the same time period called “The Colourful Life” and again you see this wonderful technique; vivacious patches of vibrant colour are arising out of a dark background and glowing like gemstones; this is what makes these paintings so enchanting. It also makes me think of mosaic; church mosaics seen in the flickering light of a candle. Take a moment to appreciate the wonderful colours; just look at those gorgeous blues, teal, purple and orange in the painting bellow. It truly uplifts the soul. The characters look like they escaped from the pages of fairy tale books and we have a motif of a castle perched on the top of the hill, all of these little details bring the fairy tale spirit and that is another characteristic of Kandinsky’s early period. And it is interesting to note that even though this is Kandinsky’s early phase, he actually celebrated his fortieth birthday on 16th December 1906, so I guess it goes to show that it is never too late to start a hobby or chase your dream. Age shouldn’t be an impediment to your desires.

Wasily Kandinsky, Das Bunte Leben (The Colourful Life), 1907, tempera on canvas

One Response to “Wassily Kandinsky – Riding Couple”

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  1. Wassily Kandinsky – The Singer, 1903 | Byron's muse - 28th Dec 2021

    […] Wassily Kandinsky. Earlier this month I had written about Kandinsky’s magical painting “Riding Couple” from 1906-07, and today we have another example of Kandinsky’s early artistic phase. […]

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