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.
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.