The exhibition begins with Kandinsky’s early, naturalistic landscape paintings, and offers a foretaste of his later explorations into the use of colour.
Song 1906 depicts a stately group of boats on the Volga River, with a cluster of buildings on the hillside behind. Kandinsky was travelling extensively during this period, but he retained a nostalgic attachment to his homeland. His use of vibrant colour suggests the influence of contemporary avant-garde art movements such as Fauvism, but also his love of Russian folk art. As a student Kandinsky made extensive research into peasant law, customs and beliefs, and had been struck by the ‘wooden houses covered with carvings’ and full of ‘brightly coloured, elaborate ornaments. Folk pictures on the walls: a symbolic representation of a hero, a battle, a painted folk song… I felt surrounded on all sides by painting…’
Many of the works in this room, and the one that follows, were inspired by the landscape of Murnau, in the south Bavarian Alps. Kandinsky spent much of his time here with his lover Gabriele Münter, a former student at the Phalanx Art School, which Kandinsky had opened in Munich in 1901. While Murnau – Staffelsee I 1908 is clearly recognisable as a landscape, its rich greens and purples show the heightened sense of colour that Kandinsky would later push to extremes. He was deeply moved by the colours in the foothills of the Alps, and wrote about the ‘dusky, dark-violet woods’ and the ‘saturated green of the foliage’, and how the colours stayed with him, even in his dreams. He began to construct paintings around particular experiences of colour or light. As he developed these elements, the physical presence of the landscape receded in favour of purely pictorial questions of colour and composition. In the transitional work Murnau – Landscape with Green House 1909, the house on the left is clearly representational, while the group of houses and rooftops on the right of the painting suggest an abstract composition.