Wassily Kandinsky – Composition IX (1936)

With the new discoveries in science, including Einstein’s famous theory of relativity at the beginning of the 20th century, artists started questioning the limited, illusory reality they were experiencing. There must be more beyond the physical world, they thought. Art became a way to test the notion that a deeper, spiritual dimension was within reach and few people advocated more for that than Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky.

Known today for his abstract works and his writings on art and spirituality, Kandinsky understood the importance of color on its own and, just like Robert Delaunay, he celebrated the link between art and music. In this sense, he gave the title of Compositions to what he considered to be his most important pieces – large, abstract paintings, carefully planned and thought through; transcendental, in his view. In total, he completed ten Compositions between 1910 and 1939.

Wassily Kandinsky - Composition IX (1936)
Wassily Kandinsky – Composition IX (1936), oil on canvas

Composition IX is a cheerful, abstract artwork, which includes biomorphic forms, reminiscent of life and living organisms. You can easily see the semblance to Joan Miró’s works, who the Russian encountered in Paris. This choice of biomorphic abstraction also expressed the artist’s appreciation for science and his fascination with biology:

“During his Bauhaus years, Kandinsky had clipped and mounted illustrations of microscopic organisms, insects, and embryos from scientific journals for pedagogical purposes and study. He also owned several important sourcebooks and encyclopedias from which depictions of minuscule creatures found abstract equivalences in his late paintings.” Nancy Spector, Guggenheim Museum

The Composition’s straight diagonals and curved lines offer a lot of movement. So do the dispersed smaller elements that are splattered around like debris and crumbs or that gather together to form larger, kaleidoscopic shapes. Many of the large elements look like human organs and intestines – the main shape, black and red in the center of the painting, has been compared to a fetus in a womb. Some of the forms look slightly transparent, partly taking on the colors of other shapes with which they overlap and interact. It makes for a very interesting mosaic, dynamic and ever-changing, the viewer being unable to tell which elements come first.

Unlike Miró’s carnival, the colors are particularly bright, suggesting a celebration of life or, at the very least, a very positive outlook. This is true for most of Kandinsky’s later paintings completed after he left Germany in 1933, due to political pressure, and moved to France.  After the move, his works turned brighter and more optimistic, employing less rigidity. In France he was also exposed to Surrealism, which may have had an influence on his choice of biomorphic forms. At a time when most European countries were preparing themselves for World War II, through his art Kandinsky was waging a bet on human resilience and postwar rebirth.

11 thoughts on “Wassily Kandinsky – Composition IX (1936)

  1. My very first thought was how much this painting is indebted to Miro’s “Carnival”, as I was happy to discover you would point out. Kandinsky must have really been impressed with Miro. I don’t think his painting here is as good a Miro’s, but, his explorations of abstraction lay the groundwork for American Abstract Expressionism, though little credit is given as critics are usually lost in the narrative in which art is only meaningful if it is a radical departure with the past, even if the past spectacularly prefigures it.

    It’s hard for me to look at Kandinsky’s abstractions and take American abstraction seriously as a revolutionary innovation. Kandinsky already said so much of it so eloquently and persuasively. And his paintings are perhaps the closest visual equivalent to instrumental music. I also agree with him that “there’s more beyond the physical world” as we know it.

    I’d really like to see a retrospective of his art in person.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “… little credit is given as critics are usually lost in the narrative in which art is only meaningful if it is a radical departure with the past, even if the past spectacularly prefigures it.”

      You touched a sore spot right there. I find it extremely unjust that art history is a leap from ism to ism, always in search of a departure from the norms. I understand the need for change and the thrills of bending the limits, but this linear narration of art really annoys me. I wish all the isms could coexist instead of being placed on a time continuum, each considered “better” than the one before.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the masterclass,
    A newfound appreciation for abstract paintings especially with a teacher like you. It is a fine coincidence that there are drawings similar to fetuses in a womb, because just the other day I wrote something about them. Not cheerful though 😦
    Will post it.

    Have to look at more of Kandinsky’s artwork…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cool, we synchronized! I’m really glad you enjoyed it, as it’s quite a departure from his earlier works. It struck me as looking far more contemporary than art from the 1930s, due to the choice of color. I thought it had a poster-like feel about it.

      Like

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