A painter of Russian origin, Wassily Kandinsky was the initiator of twentiethcentury abstract art. He received music and drawing classes before going to study law and economics at Moscow University, where he began to teach after graduating in 1892. He visited the exhibition of French Impressionism in 1895 and was fascinated by one of Claude Monet’s grainstack paintings. The following year Kandinsky decided to leave his job and devote himself fully to painting. He went to Munich, then a reputed centre of art, where he studied at the academy of the painter Anton Azˇbé and later at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste. In 1901 he was involved in founding Phalanx, an association that organised exhibitions and established an art school. There he met the painter Gabriele Münter, who became his mistress and collaborator during the following years and with whom he travelled around Europe and Tunisia in 1904. He lived in Paris from 1906 to 1907.

The writings of Wilhelm Worringer, which he read in 1909, and the music of his contemporary Arnold Schönberg kindled his growing interest in nonobjective art. Kandinsky was troubled by the materialism of the modern world and regarded abstraction as a means of liberation for man. Kandinsky was a founding member of the Neue Künstlervereinigung, where he met Franz Marc. He and Marc later left the group and together, in 1911, began to publish the almanac Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), which attracted a varied group of contributing artists. In its pages Kandinsky advocated a mystic function for a non-objective art that did not reflect appearances but sprang from the artist’s inner strength. His writings, notable among which are Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912) and Point and Line to Plane (1926), served to disseminate his ideas.

In 1914 Kandinsky returned to Moscow, where he played an important role as a member of the People’s Commissariat for Enlightenment. When social realism became the prevailing aesthetic, Kandinsky returned to Germany, where he became one of the most important collaborators of the Weimar Bauhaus, while his painting soaked up the influence of the geometrical trend embraced by the school.

When Hitler came to power in 1933 and the Bauhaus was closed, Kandinsky fled to Paris and settled in Neuilly-sur-Seine, on the outskirts of the city, where his painting returned to the freer abstraction of the early years.