Russian Artist Wassily Kandinksy’s ‘Abstract Composition’ has Fun with Woodcut

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

In celebration of Wassily Kandinsky’s birthday on December 4, we hope that you enjoy this print from the collection.

Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866–1944)
Abstract Composition (Untitled woodcut from portfolio ’20th Century’), 1939
Published in Revue XXe Siècle, no. 5/6 (1939), p. 53
Woodcut on paper
9.25″h x 12.125″w
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Cinda Perry, in memory of Spence Perry, 2018.7.71

In Kandinsky’s colorful and playful Abstract Composition (first produced from 1922–25), he sought to establish an equilibrium among the carefully rendered geometric forms. He skillfully juxtaposed each of the separated and overlapping shapes through a harmonious palette of blue and red, such that the forms are suspended and appear to float in space. While some compositional elements resemble doorways, cords, or building facades, others are simple circles and thin rectangles. Kandinsky’s precise approach to abstraction recalls the work of his European contemporaries, especially El Lissitzky (1890–1941), László Moholy-Nagy (1890–1941), Josef Albers (1886–1973), and Fernand Léger (1881‒1955). Apart from his work as a painter, Kandinsky was also a printmaker who made numerous lithographs and woodcuts.
A pioneering abstract artist, Kandinsky was raised and educated in Moscow, but left for Munich in 1896 to attend its Academy of Fine Arts. There, he was exposed to the paintings of the French Impressionists and the music of Richard Wagner (1813–83), which inspired his work and ideas. In Germany, he was active in the foundation of several different art schools and artists’ groups, most notably “Der Blaue Reiter,” a group of avant-garde artists in Munich that included Franz Marc (1880–1916), Paul Klee (1879–1940), and Alexej von Jawlensky (1864–1941). Kandinsky’s highly influential theoretical texts such as Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1914, in which he focused on the relationship between color and spirituality) were also published internationally. In 1914, he returned to Moscow, where he collaborated with Russian Constructivist artists Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935) and Vladimir Tatlin (1885–1953). In 1922, he began teaching painting at the innovative Bauhaus school in Weimar (he remained on its faculty until it was closed by the Nazis in 1933), while continuing to work and publish treatises on art. Kandinsky became a naturalized German citizen in 1928 and later obtained French citizenship.  

This WeekendArt is sponsored by Dr. & Mrs. Dean Notabartolo