Wassily Kandinsky Improvisation Gorge 1914

Wassily Kandinsky
Improvisation Gorge 1914
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich

In his writing, Kandinsky identified the subject of Composition VI 1913 as the Deluge, or great Biblical flood, a cataclysmic event that ushers in an era of spiritual rebirth. He believed that painting itself resembled such a cataclysm: ‘Painting is like a thundering collision of different worlds that are destined in and through conflict to create that new world called the work.’ Though one can make out the forms of boats, crashing waves and slanting rain, it is the mood of violence and chaos that is more important than the literal interpretation of objects or narrative. The painting is characterised by a powerful sense of movement, created by contrasting light and dark areas of colour, linked by strong diagonals. Conventional perspective has disappeared. Instead, forms and colours are layered and juxtaposed, interacting to create a swirling, three-dimensional effect. The monumental scale of the work adds to this, giving the viewer the sense of being immersed in the space of the painting. These effects contribute to what Kandinsky described as the ‘inner sound’ of the picture.

Always fascinated by the emotional power of music, Kandinsky regarded this ‘inner sound’ as crucial to his painting. The connection is made explicit in the title of Fugue 1914, which suggests a visual equivalent to a musical fugue, with its overlapping, repeated motifs and themes at different pitches.

Improvisation Gorge 1914 shows Kandinsky still drawing inspiration from the landscape. He evokes his experience of walking through a steep-sided gorge, using the ladder motif to express a sense of towering height. However, he resists creating a recognisable scene: this painting, based on the experience of landscape, is more internalised than his earlier Murnau landscapes.

Moscow Red Square 1916 is a joyous celebration of Kandinsky’s home. Always nostalgic about the ‘fairy-tale Moscow’, which he described as the original inspiration for his art, Kandinsky here creates an exuberant image of the city, bathed in colour. The soaring heights of its buildings are reminiscent of a mountain landscape. Although this work dates from a period when Kandinsky felt that he had achieved a fully-fledged purity of abstraction, this painting shows that he was still willing to allow figurative elements in his work.