Kandinsky

Vasily (Wassily) Kandinsky (1866-1944) was a Russian painter, teacher, and art theorist who was one of the first artists to explore nonrepresentational art and, in 1910, created the first totally abstract work in modern art, a watercolor entitled Composition I or Abstraction. He is known as the originator of abstract art and the father of abstract expressionism.

As a child in an upper class family in Moscow, Kandinsky displayed a gift for the arts and music, and was given private lessons in drawing, cello, and piano. However he ended up pursuing the study of law and economics at the University of Moscow and lectured there before devoting himself fully to art at the age of thirty when he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Germany. He attended the Academy of Fine Arts from 1896-1900.

Theorist and Teacher

Painting was a spiritual activity for Kandinsky. In 1912 he published the book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art. He believed that art should not be merely representational but should strive to express spirituality and the depth of human emotion through abstraction, much like music does. He created a series of ten paintings titled Composition that allude to the relationship between painting and music.

In his book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky writes, “Color directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

Stages of Artistic Development

Kandinsky’s early paintings were representational and naturalistic, but his work changed after being exposed to the Post-Impressionists and Fauves in 1909 after a trip to Paris. They became more colorful and less representational, leading to his first totally abstract piece, Composition I, a colorful painting destroyed during World War II, known now only through a black and white photograph.

In 1911 Kandinsky formed, along with Franz Marc and other German expressionists, The Blue Rider group.  During this time he created both abstract and figurative works, using organic, curvilinear shapes and curvy lines. Although the work of the artists in the group was different from one another, they all believed in the spirituality of art and the symbolic connection between sound and color.  The group disbanded in 1914 due to World War I but had a profound influence on German Expressionism. It was during this period, in 1912, that Kandinsky wrote Concerning the Spiritual in Art.

Following World War I, Kandinsky’s paintings became more geometric. He started used circles, straight lines, measured arcs, and other geometric shapes to create his art. The paintings are not static, though, for the forms do not sit on a flat plane, but seem to recede and advance in boundless space.

Kandinsky thought that a painting should have the same emotional impact on the viewer as does a piece of music. In his abstract work Kandinsky invented a language of abstract form to replace the forms of nature. He used color, shape, and line to evoke feeling and resonate with the human soul. 

Following are examples of Kandinsky’s paintings in chronological sequence.

Resources and Further Reading

Kandinsky Gallery, Guggenheim Museum, https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/kandinsky-gallery

Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction, The Tate, ​http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/kandinsky-path-abstraction

Wassily Kandinsky: Russian Painter, The Art Story, http://www.theartstory.org/artist-kandinsky-wassily.htm#influences_header​

Updated by Lisa Marder 11/12/17

01
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A Motley Life (Das Bunte Leben), 1907

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). A Motley Life (Das Bunte Leben), 1907. Tempera on canvas. 51 1/8 x 63 15/16 in. (130 x 162.5 cm). Bayerische Landesbank, on permanent loan to the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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The Blue Mountain (Der blaue Berg), 1908-09

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). The Blue Mountain (Der blaue Berg), 1908-09. Oil on canvas. 41 3/4 x 38 in. (106 x 96.6 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift 41.505. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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Improvisation 3, 1909

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Improvisation 3, 1909. Oil on canvas. 37 x 51 1/8 in. (94 x 130 cm). Gift of Nina Kandinsky, 1976. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Adam Rzepka, courtesy Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, diffusion RMN

04
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Sketch for Composition II (Skizze für Komposition II), 1909-10

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Sketch for Composition II (Skizze für Komposition II), 1909-10. Oil on canvas. 38 3/8 x 51 5/8 in. (97.5 x 131.2 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection 45.961. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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Impression III (Concert) (Impression III [Konzert]), January 1911

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Impression III (Concert) (Impression III [Konzert]), January 1911. Oil and tempera on canvas. 30 1/2 x 39 5/16 in. (77.5 x 100 cm). Gabriele Münter-Stiftung, 1957. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Courtesy Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich

06
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Impression V (Park), March 1911

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Impression V (Park), March 1911. Oil on canvas. 41 11/16 x 62 in. (106 x 157.5 cm). Gift of Nina Kandinsky, 1976. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Bertrand Prévost, courtesy Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, diffusion RMN

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Improvisation 19, 1911

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Improvisation 19, 1911. Oil on canvas. 47 3/16 x 55 11/16 in. (120 x 141.5 cm). Gabriele Münter-Stiftung, 1957. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Courtesy Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich

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Improvisation 21A, 1911

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Improvisation 21A, 1911. Oil and tempera on canvas. 37 3/4 x 41 5/16 in. (96 x 105 cm). Gabriele Münter-Stiftung, 1957. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Courtesy Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich

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Lyrically (Lyrisches), 1911

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Lyrically (Lyrisches), 1911. Oil on canvas. 37 x 39 5/16 in. (94 x 100 cm). Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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Picture with a Circle (Bild mit Kreis), 1911

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Picture with a Circle (Bild mit Kreis), 1911. Oil on canvas. 54 11/16 x 43 11/16 in. (139 x 111 cm). Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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Improvisation 28 (second version) (Improvisation 28 [zweite Fassung]), 1912

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Improvisation 28 (second version) (Improvisation 28 [zweite Fassung]), 1912. Oil on canvas. 43 7/8 x 63 7/8 in. (111.4 x 162.1 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift 37.239. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York / © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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With the Black Arch (Mit dem Schwarzen Bogen), 1912

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). With the Black Arch (Mit dem Schwarzen Bogen), 1912. Oil on canvas. 74 3/8 x 77 15/16 in. (189 x 198 cm). Gift of Nina Kandinsky, 1976. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Philippe Migeat, courtesy Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, diffusion RMN

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Painting with White Border (Moscow) (Bild mit weißem Rand [Moskau]), May 1913

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Painting with White Border (Moscow) (Bild mit weißem Rand [Moskau]), May 1913. Oil on canvas. 55 1/4 x 78 7/8 in. (140.3 x 200.3 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift 37.245. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York / © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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Small Pleasures (Kleine Freuden), June 1913

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Small Pleasures (Kleine Freuden), June 1913. Oil on canvas. 43 1/4 x 47 1/8 in. (109.8 x 119.7 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection 43.921. Solomon R. Guggenheim Collection, New York. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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Black Lines (Schwarze Striche), December 1913

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Black Lines (Schwarze Striche), December 1913. Oil on canvas. 51 x 51 5/8 in. (129.4 x 131.1 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift 37.241. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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Sketch 2 for Composition VII (Entwurf 2 zu Komposition VII), 1913

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Sketch 2 for Composition VII (Entwurf 2 zu Komposition VII), 1913. Oil on canvas. 39 5/16 x 55 1/16 in. (100 x 140 cm). Gabriele Münter-Stiftung, 1957. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Courtesy Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich

17
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Moscow I (Moskau I), 1916

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Moscow I (Moskau I), 1916. Oil on canvas. 20 1/4 x 19 7/16 in. (51.5 x 49.5 cm). The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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In Gray (Im Grau), 1919

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). In Gray (Im Grau), 1919. Oil on canvas. 50 3/4 x 69 1/4 in. (129 x 176 cm). Bequest of Nina Kandinsky, 1981. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Courtesy Centre Pompidou, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Paris

19
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Red Spot II (Roter Fleck II), 1921

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Red Spot II (Roter Fleck II), 1921. Oil on canvas. 53 15/16 x 71 1/4 in. (137 x 181 cm). Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
20
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Blue Segment (Blaues Segment), 1921

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Blue Segment (Blaues Segment), 1921. Oil on canvas. 47 1/2 x 55 1/8 in. (120.6 x 140.1 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection 49.1181. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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Black Grid (Schwarzer Raster), 1922

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Black Grid (Schwarzer Raster), 1922. Oil on canvas. 37 3/4 x 41 11/16 in. (96 x 106 cm). Bequest of Nina Kandinsky, 1981. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Gérard Blot, courtesy Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, diffusion RMN

22
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White Cross (Weißes Kreuz), January-June 1922

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). White Cross (Weißes Kreuz), January-June 1922. Oil on canvas. 39 9/16 x 43 1/2 in. (100.5 x 110.6 cm). Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice 76.2553.34. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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In the Black Square (Im schwarzen Viereck), June 1923

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). In the Black Square (Im schwarzen Viereck), June 1923. Oil on canvas. 38 3/8 x 36 5/8 in. (97.5 x 93 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift 37.254. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
24
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Composition VIII (Komposition VIII), July 1923

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Composition VIII (Komposition VIII), July 1923. Oil on canvas. 55 1/8 x 79 1/8 in. (140 x 201 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift 37.262. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
25
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Several Circles (Einige Kreise), January-February 1926

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Several Circles (Einige Kreise), January-February 1926. Oil on canvas. 55 1/4 x 55 3/8 in. (140.3 x 140.7 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift 41.283. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
26
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Succession, April 1935

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Succession, April 1935. Oil on canvas. 31 7/8 x 39 5/16 in. (81 x 100 cm). The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
27
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Movement I (Mouvement I), 1935

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Movement I (Mouvement I), 1935. Mixed media on canvas. 45 11/16 x 35 in. (116 x 89 cm). Bequest of Nina Kandinsky, 1981. The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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Dominant Curve (Courbe dominante), April 1936

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Dominant Curve (Courbe dominante), April 1936. Oil on canvas. 50 7/8 x 76 1/2 in. (129.4 x 194.2 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection 45.989. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
29
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Composition IX, 1936

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Composition IX, 1936. Oil on canvas. 44 5/8 x 76 3/4 in. (113.5 x 195 cm). Government purchase and attribution, 1939. Centre Pompidou, Musée national d'art moderne, Paris. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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Thirty (Trente), 1937

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Thirty (Trente), 1937. Oil on canvas. 31 7/8 x 39 5/16 in. (81 x 100 cm). Gift of Nina Kandinsky, 1976. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Philippe Migeat, courtesy Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, diffusion RMN

31
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Grouping (Groupement), 1937

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Grouping (Groupement), 1937. Oil on canvas. 57 7/16 x 34 5/8 in. (146 x 88 cm). Moderna Museet, Stockholm. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
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Various Parts (Parties diverses), February 1940

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Various Parts (Parties diverses), February 1940. Oil on canvas. 35 x 45 5/8 in. (89 x 116 cm). Gabriele Münter and Johannes Eichner-Stiftung, Munich. On deposit at the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Courtesy Gabriele Münter and Johannes Eichner-Stiftung, Munich

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Sky Blue (Bleu de ciel), March 1940

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Sky Blue (Bleu de ciel), March 1940. Oil on canvas. 39 5/16 x 28 3/4 in. (100 x 73 cm). Gift of Nina Kandinsky, 1976. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Philippe Migeat, courtesy Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, diffusion RMN

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Reciprocal Accords (Accord Réciproque), 1942

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944) Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Reciprocal Accords (Accord Réciproque), 1942. Oil and lacquer on canvas. 44 7/8 x 57 7/16 in. (114 x 146 cm). Gift of Nina Kandinsky, 1976. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris. © 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Photo: Georges Meguerditchian, courtesy Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, diffusion RMN

35
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Irene Guggenheim, Vasily Kandinsky, Hilla Rebay, and Solomon R. Guggenheim

Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Centre Pompidou, Paris; used with permission
Dessau, Germany, July 1930 Irene Guggenheim, Vasily Kandinsky, Hilla Rebay, and Solomon R. Guggenheim, Dessau, Germany, July 1930. Hilla von Rebay Foundation Archive. M0007. Photo: Nina Kandinsky, courtesy Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Centre Pompidou, Paris. Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Centre Pompidou, Paris