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Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky

Moscow played a great part in the life of the renowned abstract artist Vasily Kandinsky. It was in this city that the artist was born and chose his path in life. In the capital he first felt the urge to take up painting and developed his artistic method. There are a number of memorable places in the capital linked to Kandinsky’s name.

Vasily Kandinsky was born in Moscow in 1866. In 1871, the Kandinskys moved to Odessa (now in Ukraine). While a student there, the prospective innovator took up music and painting. In 1885 the 18-year old Kandinsky returned to Moscow and enrolled at the Law Department of the Moscow UniversityRussian: Moskovskiy universitet or Московский университет.

MOSCOW UNIVERSITY

Московский университетAt that time the Law Department occupied a complex of buildings in the very centre of Moscow (Mokhovaya and Bolshaya NikitskayaRussian: Моховая, Большая Никитская streets). The main building, built by architect M. Kazakov in the 1760s and reconstructed by architect Domenico Gilardi after a fire in 1812during the war between the Russian Empire and Napoleonic France on the territory of Russia in 1812, has been preserved. It is located in Mokhovaya street (#11). Gilardi reconstructed the building in the late classicist style, and made several changes to its image. Today, the former main building of the Moscow University houses the Institute of Asian and African CountriesRussian: Institut stran Azii i Afriki or Институт стран Азии и Африки as well as the university museum and the archive funds.

Kandinsky did very well at university. However, his love for art ultimately prevailed over his academic pursuits: sometime around 1895 he made the decision to devote his life to painting. In 1895-1896 he worked as a director of the publishing house “I. Kushnerev & Co Association” (16, bld. 1, former Pimenovskaya streetRussian: Pimenovskaya ulitsa or Пименовская улица, Krasnoproletarskaya streetRussian: ulitsa Krasnoproletarskaya or улица Краснопролетарская at present).

“I. KUSHNEREV & Co PARTNERSHIP” PRINTING HOUSE

The building of the printing house was constructed by the architect F. Voskresensky in 1900s in the industrial Art Nouveau style. The building has an elegant look, in harmony its manufacturing function. Its ornate corner window-tops and large horizontal windows, with the alternation of red and green colours, are distinctive features of the building. After the revolution the printing house filled orders for the new government and in 1922 it was given the name Krasny ProletaryRussian: Красный пролетарий (meaning “a red proletarian”). The street was renamed in the same way. In the second half of the 20th century the printing house was one of the leading graphic printing enterprises of the Soviet Union. In the early 21st century the manufacturing facility was closed, and the historical building in Krasnoproletarskaya street was converted into a business centre.

In 1897 Kandinsky moved to Munich intending to continue his artistic education.

KANDINSKY’S TENEMENT BUILDING

(8/1 BURDENKO STR.)

1944_image2_sKandinsky returned to Russia only 14 years later, in 1914. After his arrival, Kandinsky settled in the house which belonged to his father. This tenement building on the corner of the 3rd Neopalimovsky side streetRussian: Tretiy Neopalimovskiy pereulok or Третий Неопалимовский переулок and Burdenko streetRussian: ulitsa Burdenko or улица Бурденко (8/1; in Kandinsky’s time called Dolgy side streetRussian: Dolgiy pereulok or Долгий переулок) was built by Dmitry Chelishchev in 1913. As Nina Kandinskaya recalls: “At the beginning of the war, having moved to Russia, Kandinsky was not planning to stay long in Moscow. But it turned out to be the endless seven years. Kandinsky surely loved Russia and felt more or less comfortable in Moscow, although Munich always remained in his heart. <…> In Moscow Kandinsky owned a tenement building with 24 flats. He lived on the fourth floor. It was a solution for us that we would use this flat on the first occasion. <…> Initially Kandinsky wanted to live on the fifth floor where he equipped everything for his purposes. However, when he went to Germany, his brother-in-law lent the flat. When quite unexpectedly the fourth floor was free, it did not take Kandinsky long to move in. By the way, the flat on the fifth floor had a small tower you could only get to through the flat under it walking up the spiral stairs. A splendid view over the Kremlin opened up from the windows of the tower. <…> Kandinsky lost his ownership right to the building in the course of expropriation”. The building is a combination of the discreet neoclassical and historical styles. Its corner part turns into a tower (as a reference to the Middle Ages), bridging the two structures on both sides. The rustic stonework, covering the two lower storeys, and the building’s numerous arches are a tribute to the classical ancient Roman tradition. At present it is occupied by commercial and residential tenants.

THE STATE TRETYAKOV GALLERY IN KRYMSKY VAL

(10, Krymsky Val).

1945_image3_sIt could have been the views from his house that inspired Kandinsky to create two works in 1916: “Moscow. Smolensky boulevardRussian: Moskva. Smolenskiy bulvar or Москва. Смоленский бульвар” and “Moscow. Zubovskaya SquareRussian: Moskva. Zubovskaya ploschad or Москва. Зубовская площадь”. Now these two paintings are kept in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Krymsky ValRussian: Gosudarstvennaya Tretyakovskaya galereya na Krymskom valu or Государственная Третьяковская галерея на Крымском валу.

Another of the master’s works, “Moscow. Red SquareRussian: Moskva. Krasnaya ploschad or Москва. Красная площадь”, also explores the Moscow theme. It was painted in the same year, 1916. Through a combination of abstract and figurative elements this composition expresses the “bell ringing” of the capital. Vibrant colours, dark contours and a dynamic twisting rhythm transport the viewer into a different solar-sound dimension. This is the way the artist saw the capital. In his biographical prose piece “The StairsRussian: Stupeni or Ступени” the artist writes: “Moscow: ambiguity, complication, agility to the highest extent, collision and disorder of particular elements of its appearance, eventually representing a peculiarly unparalleled single image. The inner life holds the same properties confusing an unfamiliar observer (hence the diverse and controversial feedback of foreigners on Moscow), yet eventually in the same way peculiar and unified life. This outer and inner Moscow I consider to be the departure point of my search. It is my picturesque tuning-fork”.

Государственная Третьяковская галерея на Крымском валуKandinsky had an active role in creating new art institutions: he worked in the Russian Academy of Art SciencesRussian: Rossiyskaya akademiya khudozhestvennykh nauk or Российская академия художественных наук, set up the Institute of Painterly CultureRussian: Institut khudozhestvennoy kultury or Институт художественной культуры in Petrogradtoday Saint Petersburg, the Moscow Museum of Painterly CultureRussian: Moskovskiy Muzey hudozhestvennoy kultury or Московский Музей художественной культуры, and several similar museums in other cities of the country. He also taught at the Higher Art and Technical StudiosRussian: Vysshie khudozhestvenno-tekhnicheskie masterskie or Высшие художественно-технические мастерские (VKHUTEMASRussian: ВХУТЕМАС). But the artist couldn’t fully accept the existing Soviet ideology. In 1921 he went on a business trip to Berlin and never returned.

VKHUTEMAS

1946_image4_sThe Higher Art and Technical Studios were formed in 1920 by merging the First and Second State Free Art Studios, which in turn had been created from the Stroganov School of Applied Arts and the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. Within only a few years VKHUTEMAS became the leading art school in the country. The first avant-garde projects were born here. Famous artists and architects like K. Melnikov, A. Rodchenko, V. Stepanova, V. Tatlin, V. Favorsky, P. Florensky, F. Shekhtel, and others taught at VKHUTEMAS together with Kandinsky.

The VKHUTEMAS departments were located at two addresses: 11, RozhdestvenkaRussian: Рождественка street and 21, MyasnitskayaRussian: Мясницкая street. Initially the site in Rozhdestvenka street was occupied by the Vorontsovs’ estate. Its main building and wings were used by the Stroganov schoolRussian: Stroganovskoe uchilische or Строгановское училище in the late 19th century and by VKHUTEMAS later. The building which has been preserved – house #11 – is a small building in the classical style. The lower storey and the corners are decorated with horizontal, rustic stonework while the doors are given prominence with the help of porticoes and volutes. Today the building houses divisions of the Moscow Architectural InstituteRussian: Moskovskiy arkhitekturnyi institut or Московский архитектурный институт and offices.

1947_image5_sA new building by architect A. Kuznetsov was added to this building in 1915. The latest construction technology of the time was applied there: it was made of reinforced concrete and almost fully glazed. The inside facade of the building is a semi-rotunda with Dorian columns. These neoclassical elements are reminiscent of classical samples.

21, Myasnitskaya street is the Yushkov’s house commissioned by A. Yushkov in 1783 – 1805 and built by architect V. Bazhenov. The main distinctive feature of the building is a corner rotunda with Ionic columns. The rotunda is placed between the two twin bulks of the building, whose centres are decorated with gables. In the 19th century there used to be a Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture School here; at present it houses the Iliya Glazunov Russian Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and ArchitectureRussian: Rossiyskaya Akademiya zhivopisi, vayaniya i zodchestva Ilya Glazunova or Российская Академия живописи, ваяния и зодчества Илья Глазунова.

MUSEUM OF PAINTERLY CULTURE

ГМИИ им. ПушкинаKandinsky took an active role in setting up the Museum of Painterly Culture and was its first director (1919 ‒ 1920). The museum displayed artworks of contemporary artists – future classics of the Avant-Garde. The museum collection was created as a guidebook of artistic development. When Kandinsky worked there, the museum was located at 14, VolkhonkaRussian: Волхонка street. Later the museum was affiliated with the Tretyakov GalleryRussian: Tretyakovskaya galereya or Третьяковская галерея. Today the building houses the 19th and 20th Century European and American Art GalleryRussian: Galereya iskusstva stran Ameriki i Evropy XIX-XX vv. or Галерея искусства стран Америки и Европы XIX ‒ XX вв (a department of the A. Pushkin State Museum of Fine ArtsRussian: GMII im. Pushkina or ГМИИ им. Пушкина). It used to be a part of the Golitsyns’ estate built by architects S. Chevakinsky, I. Zherebtsov, and M. Kazakov. The house was rebuilt several times, and only the gate with the Golitsyns’ coat-of-arms has remained intact.

PUSHKIN STATE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS. 19TH AND 20TH CENTURY EUROPEAN AND AMERICAN ART GALLERY

(14, VOLKHONKA STR.)

1949_image7_sToday Vasily Kandinsky’s works are displayed in the A. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (the 19th and 20th Century American and European Art Gallery). Among others, there are two works that stand out – “The Blue against the Multi-ColouredRussian: Sinee na mnogotsvetnom or Синее на многоцветном” and “A Structure Made of AnglesRussian: Struktura iz uglov or Структура из углов” created between the second half of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s when Kandinsky worked in Berlin. The influence of ideas from the Bauhaus movement can be felt in the paintings. Kandinsky turned to geometrical abstraction. He is interested in points, lines, and other primary elements that make up shapes. The lyrical chaos we see in The Red Square blends into a stiff geometry.

Kandinsky, similar to many other great pioneers, did not receive due recognition in his homeland during his lifetime. However, today Moscow remember the extraordinary artist, who was able to see the world from an entirely new perspective. One of the most comprehensive exhibitions of Kandinsky’s works took place in the art space of the Moscow Arts CentreRussian: Tsentr iskusstv or Центр искусств in 2016 to commemorate his 150th anniversary. It displayed Vasily Kandinsky’s 50 works, which he left in Russia when departing to Germany. At that time they were nationalised and divided between the museums and private collections.

At 13 Fonvisina streetRussian: ulitsa Fonvizina or улица Фонвизина in Moscow, contemporary abstract artists painted a huge portrait of Kandinsky on the sidewall of a residential building, in a style typical of the artist. The building was planned to be demolished. However, Kandinsky will continue to be remembered and admired by his followers in the capital. They stand ready to continue his legacy as the founder of the world abstract movement in his native city.

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Gallery

Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val
Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts
Moscow State University
Kushnerev Printing and Publishing House on Pimenova Street. An old photo
Wassily Kandinsky. Composition VII. 1913
Wassily Kandinsky. Ladies Wearing Petticoats. 1909
Wassily and Nina Kandinksy in Berlin in 1922
Wassily Kandinsky
Yushkov House at 21, Myasnitskaya Street
Wassily Kandinsky. Angular Structure. 1930
Wassily Kandinsky. The Blue on the Multicolor. 1925
Wassily Kandinsky. Moscow. Smolensky Boulevard. 1916
Wassily Kandinsky. Moscow. Zubovskaya Square. 1916

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