Kandinsky's first abstract watercolor

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Wassily Kandinsky, 1913, Untitled (Study for Composition VII, Première abstraction), Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Large, colorful abstract painting
Wassily Kandinsky, 1913, Composition VII, oil on canvas, 200.6 × 302.2 cm, Tretyakov Gallery

Wassily Kandinsky's first abstract watercolor (Study for Composition VII, Première abstraction), painted in 1913[1] is one of the first artworks to emerge from the representational tradition of Western European painting entirely, shedding references to well known forms, conventions of material representation and all narrative allusions. The watercolor is the first extant entry in Wassily Kandinsky's parallel series of abstract "Compositions" and "Improvisations" that began to emerge during his Blue Rider Period. Though the work is dated 1910, art historians believe the date is apocryphal, and that Kandinsky dated the work in 1913.


Kandinsky's work from the second decade of the 20th century displays a fair degree of progressive continuity away from the representational traditions of Western European art and towards pure abstraction, his first abstract watercolor appears to be his first purely abstract work. It was thought to be the first purely "abstract painting" as abstract painting later came to be understood (as a culturally significant form, as opposed to "mere ornamentation" created as a decorative element within architecture, written works etc.).

Contemporary with Cubism and Futurism and the increasingly abstract work of Delaunay, Kandinsky's are generally understood as one element of a more general and distributed transition to abstraction. This pioneering watercolor, although among the first of its kind, in fact post-dates by three years a series of large-scale non-representational paintings by the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Klint's continuing obscurity, in spite of her undeniable place as the earliest European artist to embrace extreme abstraction, reflects, at least in part, a continuing reluctance within the art-critical community to cede this distinction to a Swedish woman who did not participate in the wider modernist discourse and whose imagery may be more easily tied to spiritualist interests than theirs, the issue is particularly contentious within the art community because modernism, by definition, ascribes value to a work on the basis of novelty or originality, thereby giving great weight to the question, 'Who painted a non-representational picture first?'


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