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Wassily Kandinsky was born in Moscow in December 1866, the son of successful merchant parents who moved to Odessa before he was 5. Brought up there largely by his aunt after his parents' separation, Kandinsky was well educated and well traveled from a young age. In 1886 he started at the University of Moscow, where he earned the equivalent of a doctorate in law and economics. After graduating in 1892, Kandinsky married his cousin, Anja Chimiakin, and became a lecturer on Jurisprudence at the University of Moscow.
His fascination with art prompted him to relinquish his teaching position in 1896 and move to Munich to begin formal art studies. There, the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) movement was in vogue, strongly affecting Kandinsky's work. Studying first with artist Anton Azbe and later with Franz von Stuck at the Art Academy, he associated with a number of ex-pat Russians, producing work that was brightly coloured, often exploring narrative and fairy tale themes.
After completing his studies in 1901, Kandinsky co-founded the Phalanx Artists' Association in Munich where he taught Gabriele Münter. By the summer of 1902, the two had become romantically involved, much to the dismay of his wife. Kandinsky and Münter became engaged in the summer of 1903, while he was still married to Anja, and travelled extensively through Europe, Russia and North Africa until 1908.
The period between 1909 and 1914 proved to be Kandinsky's most productive. Gabriele bought a summerhouse in 1909 in Murnau where they spent many happy times with their colleagues. (Still known as Russenhaus, in its basement, she hid many works by Kandinsky and others from the Nazis.) Upon returning to Munich, Kandinsky founded the Neue Kunstler Vereinigung (New Artists' Association) in 1909.
Fellow painter Alexej von Jawlensky, who was much more aware of developments in French art and had direct contact with Henri Matisse, greatly influenced Kandinsky's use of colour and form. During this time with the NKV, Kandinsky began to paint in a progressively more abstracted form. He also delved further into his fascination with the way in which art - be it music or painting - can trigger intense emotional responses. Late that year NKV had their first show in Munich, enthusiastically defended in the press by Franz Marc whom Kandinsky met along with Auguste Macke at the second NKV show the following spring.
The year 1911 was momentous for Kandinsky. He met both Schoenberg and Klee who became life long friends and influences. He finally legalised his separation from his wife, Anja. He painted his first "non-objective" painting, following which a dispute over artistic sensibilities ensued so he and Marc left the NKV to form their own organization, the seminal group Der Blaue Reiter, which lasted until the declaration of war in was declared in 1914.
He published his volume, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, in 1912, dedicating it to his aunt to whom he attributed his love of music and art. As Kandinsky's work developed, he moved further away from representational painting. This was a gradual process, images becoming ever more unrecognizable. He had his first solo exhibition in Munich and the first of his works shown at the New York Armory (also Chicago and Boston) was bought by Alfred Stieglitz in 1913.
With the outbreak of hostilities, he fled to Switzerland with Gabriele who soon went on to Stockholm while he returned to Russia where he remained except for a final brief visit with Gabriele in 1916 in Sweden. The war and subsequent revolution were disheartening years filled with disappointment, mildly brightened by his marriage to Nina Nikolaevna Andreevskaia in 1917. Kandinsky and his new wife stayed in Moscow until 1922 when he was offered a teaching position at the famous Bauhaus school in Weimar, leaving Moscow, oddly enough, with the full approbation of the government.
There, his work evolved into more geometric abstraction, in which the circle, square, and triangle were emphasized. Kandinsky became a member of the Blaue Vier (The Blue Four), a group that was founded by Emmy (Galka) Scheyer and included Jawlensky, Klee and Lyonel Feininger. His first solo exhibition in the US was held at the Societé Anonyme in New York in 1923, attracting the attention of Solomon R. Guggenheim. In 1926, he published his treatise Point and Line to Plane and, in celebration of his sixtieth year, there were many Kandinsky shows organized across Germany and Europe.
By 1925, the radically avant-garde Bauhaus had already become something of a political football and was moved to Dessau, finally succumbing to the Nazi regime in 1933. At 67, Kandinsky was once again uprooted, moving to France where he became a citizen in 1939, living out the occupation years with his wife in Neuilly-sur-Seine. Painting until the end, he died shortly after his 78th birthday on December 13, 1944.