Kandinsky's first abstract watercolor

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Wassily Kandinsky, first abstract watercolor, 1910. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France

Wassily Kandinsky's first abstract watercolor, painted in 1910, 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.


Kandinsky's work from the first 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, and may 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. af 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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