Tag Archives: Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky – The Singer, 1903

28 Dec

“Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

(Kandinsky)

Wassily Kandinsky, The Singer, 1903, colour woodcut

I decided to end the artistic year on this blog with a gorgeous colour woodcut by the Russian painter 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. “The Singer” is one of Kandinsky’s earliest colour woodcuts and its fluid, undulating lines and the ornamental division of the space shows the influence of Jugendstil which was popular at the time. The contours of a pianist dressed in black arise out of a dreamy blue background. His face and arms are pale as moonlight, his hair longish. Despite, or maybe because of, the stylised lines and the simple composition Kandinsky managed to convey such a deep, palpable mood which is dreamy, melancholy, poetic. Roses, piano music and moonlight. Soft, hushed tones, a whisper, a soft sigh, a rustle of red roses. Evereything watery and Neptunian; sensitive, tender, mystical…

Kandinsky deeply felt the connection between painting and music. In fact, his final decision to succumb to the voice that was luring him to become a painter was inspired, partly, by seeing Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin” in the Moscow theatre sometime in the mid 1890s. Whilst listening to the music, he saw the entire range of colours and shapes before his eyes, wild lines were creating drawings in his mind. In the end, he was a painter and not a composer, but he always sought connections between painting and music, between colours and tones. Art was a synesthetic experience for him. Many artists, such as Degas, have painted theatre and stage scenes before, but in Kandinsky’s case the choice of a motif, the singer and the pianist, is especially interesting and meaningful. And I must say, to me, this woodblock feels musical. The sounds of a melancholy Nocturne is seeping out of the black and blue tones. The lines, stylised, fluid, like water, are the medium of a melody that lives in this woodcut. There is a dynamic between the dark background and the white foreground where the singer is standing, dressed in a white dress which, strangely, brings to mind the shape of the skeleton.

I will end this post with a dreamy passage from E.T.A.Hoffmann’s essay about Beethoven’s instrumental music which first appeared in 1810 and was revised in 1813:

…(music is) the most romantic of all arts, and we could almost say the only truly romantic one because its only subject is the infinite. Just as Orpheus’ lyre opened the gates of the underworld, music unlocks for mankind an unknown realm—a world with nothing in common with the surrounding outer world of the senses. Here we abandon definite feelings and surrender to an inexpressible longing..”

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

Henri Matisse – Interior with a Young Girl (Girl Reading)

13 Aug

“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

(Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art)

Henri Matisse, Interior with a Young Girl (Girl Reading), 1904–05

Matisse’s girl in the painting is a quiet little girl, completely absorbed in the book that she is reading. She is seated at the table, perhaps in the dining room. We are somewhat able to decipher the space around her. A bowl of fruits at the table alongside a jug of water. Clearly it wasn’t Matisse’s intention to portray this interior scene in a realistic manner. So what was his intention; playing with colour and appealing to our senses? Perhaps. Matisse is not one of my favourite painters, but when I need my dose of colours and vibrancy I go to Fauvists and their leader Matisse just as the junkie goes to his dealer at the streetcorner. Colour truly has power to uplift us; just look at all the gorgeous, vibrant shades of yellow, red, turquoise, pink, blue and green. So much life and vivacity going on in a single canvas! It’s so childlike and unpretentious. The girl in the painting is Matisse’s ten year old daughter Marguerite who was the daughter of Matisse’s model Caroline Joblaud. Portrait of a girl reading brings to mind the many portraits of children by Renoir who was Matisse’s friend and an artist he looked up to. But in Matisse’s painting the little girl isn’t just a pretty girl in a cozy bourgeoius interior, no, it seems that the colourful patchwork interior composed of contrasting and complementing pathes of colour is actually the interior of Marguerite’s playful, imaginative mind. I imagine that, as she is reading the book, the world around her is transformed accordingly and all the magic of the words and scenes described therein suddently come to life because Marguerite has the power of imagination; she has the power to transcend the ugliness of reality, its dullness and lifelessness, and paint it in all the colours her heart desires, to make it whimsical. And clearly Matisse nurtured his inner child throughout his life, for even his collage cut-outs which he was making in his old days are totally child-like and playful. Matisse transformed the ordinary into extraordinary in this painting. A simple interior scene which might have been boring if painted realistically in shades of brown and beige, is a landscape of vivacity. The space in the painting appears flat but highly decorative and buzzing with excitement. The energy of the painting, and we cannot deny that paintings have energies that directly speak to us, is that of a child’s laughter and play, bright pink ice cream melting in a summer’s day, jumping on trampoline, ribbons, bonbons and candy-floss, the world of fairy tales and make-believe. I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I gaze at this painting, I feel rejuvenated. This just might be one of my favourites by Matisse.

I Live My Life in Widening Circles – Rainer Maria Rilke

17 Jul

1930s Several Circles, Vasily Kandinsky1930s Several Circles – Vasily Kandinsky

”I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one,
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, that primordial tower.
I have been circling for thousands of years,
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?”

1913. Vassily Kandinsky - Color Study, Squares with Concentric Circles1913. Vassily Kandinsky – Color Study Squares with Concentric Circles

My Inspirations for February II

28 Feb

In February I’ve really been inspired by two artists; Kees van Dongen and Kandinsky, and other things such as Manic Street Preachers (anniversary!), peacocks, films such as The Young Victoria and The Invisible Woman. Japanese sakura trees, beautiful gardens and temples were also very inspiration, perhaps due to this late winter days when I long for flowers and spring the most.

I’ve also read The Lord of the Rings I and II this month, and I’ve started reading the third part.

1920s Marchesa Casati by Kees van Dongen

1910s La Casati by Kees Van Dongen

young victoria blue gown 5

1863. Olympia - Manet

The Invisible Woman Cover 2

1846. Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Siciles, duchesse d'Aumale by W.

drawing idea peacock 6

1898. Vlaho Bukovac

the lord of the rings book covers

Japanese White-Eye Hiding in Sakura

Himeji castle with cherry blossoms in Japan

1925. Swinging - Wassily Kandinsky 'The title conveys the painting’s sense of dynamic movement, suggestive of the rhythms of modernity. One of the pioneers of abstract painting, Kandinsky championed a mystical approach to art

Kandinsky – A Poet of Colours

24 Feb

‘Each colour lives by its mysterious life.’ – Kandinsky

1925. Swinging - Wassily Kandinsky 'The title conveys the painting’s sense of dynamic movement, suggestive of the rhythms of modernity. One of the pioneers of abstract painting, Kandinsky championed a mystical approach to art1925. Swinging – Wassily Kandinsky

In these grey days, in times between winter and spring when there’s no snow but no flowers either, my heart longs for colours and joy. I must say that I’ve found a tremendous joy in immersing myself in Kandinsky’s world of colours.

Wassily Kandinsky was deeply absorbed by colours; their meanings and mystical values. He argued for art that was purified from all references to the material world, and colour was essential for liberating the inner emotions of an artist, and transferring those emotions on canvas in a form of whimsical, dynamical and modernistic compositions.

My particular favourite these days is the painting ‘Swinging‘; the title itself suggesting dynamic movement, a certain rhythm and playfulness. The reason behind this sense of dynamic movement is Kandinsky’s deep study of colours and their connections. Even as a child he was drawn to colours, and the delight he felt on first seeing fresh paint come out of tube was indescribable. (…emotion that I experienced on first seeing the fresh paint come out of the tube… the impression of colours strewn over the palette: of colours – alive, waiting, as yet unseen and hidden in their little tubes…) Colours possessed a secret meanings for Kandinsky and they evoked different emotions for him. While blue colour symbolised spirituality and coolness to him, and yellow spiritual warmth, he seemed to really despise green colour, if it’s even possible to connect such intense emotion to colours, associating it with narrow minded and self-satisfied people, believing that it possesses nor joy, nor grief nor passion. Still, green is evident in his art, although not as frequently as blue.

Painting ‘Swinging‘, painted around 1925, during his ‘Bauhaus’ period, is overwhelmingly rich in dynamics, vividness, and it almost has a mystical dimension to it. First glance at this painting instantly brightness anyone’s day. How can something so strict in composition appear so playful, vivid and full of joy at the same time? I especially adore how despite all the strong and vibrant colours, transitions between shades are so soft. It’s that magical, mystic quality of Kandinsky’s paintings that really appeals me strongly, and there’s a certain vibe of innocence about them, like a childhood exploration.

1930s Several Circles, Vasily Kandinsky1930s Several Circles, Vasily Kandinsky

1913. Vassily Kandinsky - Color Study, Squares with Concentric Circles1913. Vassily Kandinsky – Color Study, Squares with Concentric Circles

1923. Circles in a Circle - Vassily Kandinsky1923. Circles in a Circle – Vassily Kandinsky

1910-11. 'Cossacks' was made during a transitional period, when Kandinsky retained some representational elements, such as the two Russian cavalrymen in tall orange hats in the foreground1910-11. ‘Cossacks’ was made during a transitional period, when Kandinsky retained some representational elements, such as the two Russian cavalrymen in tall orange hats in the foreground.

Nevertheless, Kandinsky’s exploration arrived from the inability to face the world that was becoming more and more obsessed with materialism, while the values of the ‘old world‘ were vanishing forever right before his eyes. Kandinsky escaped into a world of his own; a world of colours and abstraction, ecstatically enjoying the mystical qualities of colours.

The true work of art is born from the Artist: a mysterious, enigmatic, and mystical creation. It detaches itself from him, it acquires an autonomous life, becomes a personality, an independent subject, animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being.‘ (Kandinsky)