After leaving Russia, Kandinsky went first to Berlin, and then, in 1922, took up a post at the Bauhaus, the groundbreaking new school of arts and crafts in Weimar where he remained until its closure in 1933. The following year Kandinsky moved to Paris, where he spent the remaining decade of his life as a respected figure, continuing to paint and write until his death in 1944.

Wassily Kandinsky Circles on Black 1921

Wassily Kandinsky
Circles on Black 1921
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

This final room shows a small group of paintings dating from the time of his departure from Russia, which indicate some of the developments that he would pursue in his later career. Blue Segment 1921, with its combination of different forms, shows Kandinsky’s art at a pivotal moment. Like many of his earlier works, the title focuses on just one section of the painting, in this case the blue segment rather like a crescent moon. The floating, free-form elements of the painting contrast with more hard-edged geometrical shapes – circles, triangles and rectangles. The colours are more muted, prefiguring his later work, when he was to move away from primary colours and explore a wider range of shades.

In Circles on Black 1921, Kandinsky begins to place a much bolder emphasis on geometry. The title emphasises the circles, which were to become an increasingly important motif in Kandinsky’s art; but there is also a strong white triangle in the top right corner. Kandinsky never ceased to explore the power of colours, and the effect of different colour combinations; in this painting the colours are muted, while bold contrasts are created between the black and white in the background. The interaction between different elements also creates a sense of space, with forms floating backwards or forwards within it.

Kandinsky was starting to employ more stable forms, and leaving behind his fluid, swirling lines and vibrant colours. He believed that ‘form itself, even if completely abstract, resembling a geometric form, has its own inner sound’; from this point on, he would use rational, geometric forms in his quest to achieve harmony and to express a spiritual reality. A decisive chapter in the evolution of abstract art, and Kandinsky’s own immense contribution, came to a close.

Text by Kate Paul