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Kandinsky: A Russian-born German Expressionist

August 23, 2011

Wassily Kandinsky, Watercolor after Painting with White Border (Moscow), 1915. Watercolor, India ink, and pencil on paper, 5 1/16 x 13 1/4 in. The Hilla von Rebay Foundation, on extended loan to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1970.37. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

As visitors to The Phillips Collection make their way through our special exhibition, Kandinsky and the Harmony of Silence, they may find themselves puzzled as to why two entire rooms have been dedicated to German expressionism when Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian.

When I joined The Phillips Collection community as a curatorial intern in March, I was quickly thrown into the final preparations for this exciting project. One of my tasks was to draft wall text for this specific portion of the show. Having studied German expressionism and Kandinsky at various points throughout the course of my art historical education, I knew a fair amount about both. I did not, however, understand the deep connection between the two. While doing the necessary research, I quickly learned that although the city of Moscow was Kandinsky’s beloved hometown as well as the inspiration for his Painting with White Border (Moscow), Germany is where he spent the majority of his artistic life, thus becoming his second home.

Turning to painting at the relatively late age of thirty, it was in Munich that he embraced Germany’s thriving art scene, working with artists Gabriele Münter, Franz Marc, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Heinrich Campendonk, and others.  These artists – not only his colleagues but also his close friends – left an indelible mark on Kandinsky’s work.  His fond reminiscences of Russia continued to color his art in both subject and style throughout his career, but it was Germany and the community of artists and theorists he came into contact with there that nurtured his artistic identity.

Paul Klee, Arrival of the Jugglers, 1926. Oil on incised putty on cardboard mounted on cardboard, 6 7/8 x 10 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1939.

So, while enjoying Kandinsky and the Harmony of Silence, pause for a moment to contemplate the expressionist installation that accompanies the exhibition. This body of work gives the viewer a taste of the wide reaching art movement that is inextricably linked to the formation and success of this artist. Revolutions in Painting: Expressionist Art from The Phillips Collection is an essential addition to the overall experience of this exhibition and the viewer’s fundamental understanding of the abstract master named Kandinsky.

-Samantha James, Curatorial Intern

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