Wassily Kandinsky In Grey Im Grau 1919

Wassily Kandinsky
In Grey (Im Grau) 1919
Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne / centre de création industrielle. Bequest of Nina Kandinsky 1981

When Germany declared war on Russia in August 1914, Kandinsky was forced to leave Munich and returned to Moscow. He completed few oil paintings in the next few years, focusing mainly on watercolours, graphic work and preparatory studies for future paintings. The paintings that he did complete often evoke dull weather or dark, threatening skies. Their titles – Twilight 1917, Overcast 1917 and Grey Oval 1917 – also suggest a sombre mood.

After the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917 Kandinsky produced no more paintings for two years. This was partly due to lack of funds; but he was also co-operating with the new government by taking on numerous important roles in the new art institutions of the Bolshevik regime. When he did start to paint again in 1919, his paintings show a simplification of form and a more comprehensible structure. Continuing his developments of two years earlier, White Oval 1919 includes both a strong central shape and a dark, enclosing border. The pictorial space is freer than in his earlier work, more open and less physically dense. The painting In Grey 1919 is subdued in colour, and the shapes are starting to become more sharp edged, verging on the geometric – possibly a response to Kandinsky’s contact with the younger artists of the Russian avant-garde, such as Kazimir Malevich and Alexander Rodchenko.

Ultimately, however, Kandinsky was out of sympathy with the new Revolutionary art. Artists like Rodchenko advocated principles of rationalism; they rejected the idea that a painting could communicate a spiritual experience, and they saw Kandinsky’s art as individualistic and typically bourgeois. In 1921, Kandinsky left Russia, never to return.