Dictionary of Art and Artists











Paintings


that Changed the World


 

  CONTENTS:          
  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  
             









From Lascaux to Warhol






Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats


 

 


Painting Music
 

From the visible world to an abstract symphony of colours

 

The sun is melting Moscow down to a mere speck which, like a tuba gone mad, is making the whole inner being, the whole soul vibrate.... It is only the final chord of the symphony that heightens colours to their most vivid.... Pink, purple, yellow, white, pistachio-green, flaming red houses, churches - each a song unto itself - the shrill green lawn, the deep drone of the trees.... Painting this hour, I thought, would represent the artist's most unlikely and loftiest happiness.

Wassily Kandinsky, 1912, in Collected Writings 1,1980

 

 


The colours of Moscow: St Basil's Cathedral on Reel Square

 

 

One evening in 1910 Vasily Kandinsky entered his Munich studio, noticed a canvas that had been accidentally hung upside down and was enraptured. He had suddenly comprehended that this was a picture "of extraordinary beauty, glowing with an inner radiance". At that time, as the Russian emigre would say later, he had, in a flash of insight, understood what abstraction really meant. In connection with art, "abstraction" did not mean "anything that could be perceived by the senses; it meant trying to represent the intellectual content of something".This did not mean depicting a couple embracing, for instance, but instead expressing their feelings of joy, love and security solely by means of a non-representational approach.

The discussion waxed loud and long as to who had been the first to paint an abstract picture and who should therefore be regarded as the founder of abstract painting. All his life, Kandinsky would remain convinced that the honour should have gone to him. Today it is a well-known fact that other artists, such as Hans Schmithals, painted abstract pictures before Kandinsky did. Nevertheless, Kandinsky deserves full credit for the pioneering way he allowed colour and form to become autonomous in his compositions.

Kandinsky had refused a university chair in law to become a painter. His progress towards abstraction was long and arduous. At the beginning of his artistic career, any type of painting that did not correspond to reality left him bewildered. At the age of thirty he saw an exhibition of French Impressionists in Moscow and stood for hours before Monet's Haystack, jotting down notes: "It was only when I read the catalogue that I realised it was a haystack. I couldn't pick it out. I was embarrassed about not being able to do so. I also felt that the painter had no right to paint so indistinctly. I numbly sensed that the real subject of the painting was missing." Then Kandinsky became more familiar with the painting and noted happily "that the picture not only seizes one, it imprints itself indelibly on one's memory to hover, always unexpectedly, before one's eyes in all its detail.... Painting has assumed magic-al power and magnificence. Unconsciously, however, the subject has been discredited as an unavoidable element of the picture. I had the general impression that a tiny particle of my sundrenched fairy-tale Moscow already had an existence of its own on canvas." Despite his allegiance to abstraction, Kandinsky drew his inspiration solely from the visible world, starting with carvings on Russian peasants' houses and extending to African masks and Upper Bavarian votive tablets. It was not his aim to represent nothingness with his abstract renderings; he endeavoured to reveal the primal chaos from which the creative force emerged, the force that once formed the world. Composition Vll, Kandinsky's most important work from the period before the First World War, does not attest to destruction, but carries the message of a creative beginning.

 


Vasily Kandinsky
(1866-1944)
Composicion VI

 

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