Kandinsky: Circles

The always illuminating Maria Popova wrote a lengthy review of Wassily Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art that included a public domain link to his manifesto which I dutifully downloaded to my cloud reader. She said it was a spectacular read in its entirety.

The book was translated by Michael T.H. Sadler: Kandinsky believed modern artists should realize their social duty to be spiritual teachers to the world. Sadler’s “task” was to further this school of thought. “… he (Kandinsky) is no adventurer striving for a momentary notoriety by the strangeness of his beliefs, then there is a chance that some people at least give his art fair consideration, and that, of these people, a few will come to love it as, in my opinion, it deserves.” 

But, he admitted, a fault in Kandisky’s manifesto was his tendency to verbosity. Hence Popova’s lengthy review … and I’m expanding my “there is no must in art, because art is free” theme from the previous post.

“To harmonize the whole is the task of art” — Wassily Kandinsky

Circles in a Circle, Wassily Kandinsky 1923

Circles in a Circle, Wassily Kandinsky 1923

Popova writes: Bemoaning the tendency of the general public to reduce art to technique and skill, Kandinsky argues that its true purpose is entirely different and adds to history’s most beautiful definitions of art:

In each picture is a whole lifetime imprisoned, a whole lifetime of fears, doubts, hopes, and joys. Whither is this lifetime tending? What is the message of the competent artist? … To harmonize the whole is the task of art.


 I find some of Kandinsky’s verbosity to be angst-ridden but as Sadler implores, I’m giving his art fair consideration. Popova’s review of the Considering the Spiritual in Art is probably all I’ll consider of the book, but I like his art. Kandinsky painted Circles in a Circle while he taught at the Bauhaus School of Art. 





Kandinsky: Concentric


There is no “must” in art, because art is free.

Wassily Kandisky

Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles,  Wassily Kandinksy 1913

Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles, Wassily Kandinksy 1913


There is no must in blog post, either.





Kandinsky: Blue Mountain

The year is 1909. Kandinsky had already studied economics and law at the University of Moscow. He had already declined a professorship of Roman Law at the University of Dorpat (now University of Tarfu) in Estonia. He had already moved to Münich at age 30 to enroll in Academy of Fine Arts. 

Kandinsky despaired the materialism of the new Industrial Age. The mechanization of Europe was surely a sign of a looming Apocalypse.

To return to his rider (of my previous post) symbolizing a more spiritual future, I’m looking at yon distant blue mountain. The riders in the foreground are kin to St. John’s four horsemen in the Book of Revelation.

I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest …

Der Blaue Berg (The Blue Mountain) Wassily Kandinsky 1909

Der Blaue Berg (The Blue Mountain) Wassily Kandinsky 1909

Again back to my previous post where Kandinsky was a composer of color theory. He will ride on to include this theory in his 1911 manifesto Concerning the Spiritual in Art. But we’re not there yet because the year is still 1909.

And me, cloud-gazing at trees, see faces. Yellow-orange is frightened by what violet-red foretells. Beneath, three riders on white horses charge into the beyond. The lead horse has a yellowish tinge, which can be disturbing for people, as Kandinsky soon will write. The fiery red of Revelation 6:4 drapes the horses and the sky they ride toward with no sword or bow in hand.

The sound of a cello. Darker blue, a ‘typical heavenly color’ is supernatural and peaceful. The mountain rests behind the scene before it. 


… and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand.

Kandinsky may not include the rider on a black horse because for him there will be no famine in his future — the soul is enriched through the transformative powers of art.


Kandinsky: Red rider

The featured art work to begin a few posts on Wassily Kandinsky should not be a 1901 Art Nouveau advertising lithograph for A.I. Abrikosov & Sons, Ltd.
But it does introduce the horse-and-rider motif which, according to the Guggenheim, “symbolized his crusade against conventional aesthetic values and his dream of a better, more spiritual future through the transformative powers of art.”
Poster for Abrikosov Company, Wassily Kandisky 1901

Poster for Abrikosov Company, Wassily Kandisky 1901

Red in Kandinsky’s color theory represents the sound of a trumpet confidently striving toward a goal. Here I guess Kandinsky’s goal would be the purchase of box of candy from A.I. Abrikosov & Sons, Ltd.  

My goal was to introduce the concept of Kandinsky as a composer of color theory as I publish a Monday post which I missed last week because it was Memorial Day weekend.  


 Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.

Wassily Kandinsky


Auction notes: Roundup

The New York Times declared “Christie’s Has Art World’s First $1 Billion Week,” which isn’t exactly true. The newspaper complained that such staggering sums spent on art were a “symptom” of widening income equality.

“L’homme au doigt”, Alberto Giacometti  1947.   “No. 36 (Black Stripe)”,  Mark Rothko 1958 (photo by Quartz).

“L’homme au doigt”, Alberto Giacometti 1947. “No. 36 (Black Stripe)”, Mark Rothko 1958 (photo by Quartz).

I thought we’d been through all this before. Back in November Christie’s and Sotheby’s together sold $1.78 billion in one week.

At the time, Augustino Fontevecchi of Forbes explained that the art market has effectively become “financialized,” turning works into assets that can be traded like equities and commodities. 


So at Christie’s “Looking forward to the Past” auction on May 11th, the big news was Pablo Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O).”  It sold for $179.4 million – the highest price ever paid for a piece of art and about $30 million over its pre-sale estimate. 

There was no mention of Alberto Giacometti’s “L’homme au doigt” in the Times article, but it realized $141.3 million that same evening. It’s shown here on display at Christie’s with “Mark Rothko’s No. 36 (Black Stripe)” in the background. It fetched $40.5 million.

And now I have auction fatigue.

Picasso began the series of Les Femmes d’Alger paintings (versions A -O) in 1954, shortly after the Nationalist uprising in Algeria led to its independence from French rule. The series is based on Eugène Delacroix’s almost-the- same-named 1834 masterpiece.   

Not quite as famous and not for sale any time soon, is Delacroix’s “The Fanatics of Tangier,” which he painted a few years after “The Women of Algiers (in Their Apartment)”. He had been in North Africa since 1832 as part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria.

The Fanatics of Tangier, Eugene Delacroix, 1838

The Fanatics of Tangier, Eugene Delacroix, 1838

Fanatics has been in my media files since February 2011. Last week’s auction frenzy reminded of it.


NOTE:  Delacriox’s Les Femmes d’Alger marked the beginning of French colonization in Algeria, while Picasso’s variations symbolize the end of the country’s foreign rule. 

Another day another Delacroix.



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