Running at the Lenbachhaus in Munich, southern Germany until February 22, the exhibition includes 95 paintings from all the major periods of Kandinksky’s work between 1907 and 1942, from the “Blue Rider” period through to Bauhaus and his final decade in France.
From Munich the retrospective will be on show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris from April to August 2009 before ending its journey at the Guggenheim Museum in New York from September 2009 until January 2010.
The three venues already house the three largest collections of works by Kandinsky, one of abstract painting’s founding fathers, and this is the first time ever that all three collections have been brought together in one show.
“Visitors will be able to see Kandinsky’s revolutionary development toward radically new forms of art unfold before their eyes,” organisers promise. “There is no doubt that Kandinsky is one of the last great utopian avant-garde artists and a key figure in modernist art.”
Kandinsky was born in December 1866 to a wealthy Moscow family and his life looked set to follow a conventional path with studies in law and economics and a post as assistant lecturer at Moscow’s law faculty from 1893.
But three years later Kandinsky moved to Munich to study painting, travelling around Europe and north Africa and painting in the Alps before co-forming the “Blauer Reiter” (“Blue Rider”) group together with Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter and others in 1911.
With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Kandinsky moved first to Switzerland and then back to his native Moscow. Following the Russian revolution in 1917 he remained in Russia but in 1922 returned to Germany. Back in Germany Kandinsky was appointed to the Bauhaus in Weimar by Walter Gropius, the school’s founder, taking a job teaching mural painting alongside other artists like Paul Klee and Johannes Itten.
In 1929 he became a German citizen – one of three different nationalities he held during his life along with Russian and French – but the rise to power of the Nazis and their closure of the “degenerate” Bauhaus in 1933 forced Kandinsky to move to France.
Paris saw the third and final phase of his career and despite the war and the German occupation his works came to light in small exhibitions. In 1939 he became a French citizen and died in Neuilly-sur-Seine outside Paris in 1944.
According to Alfred Pacquement, director of the Pompidou Centre, it was thanks to Kandinsky’s widow Nina, his second wife whom he married in 1917 when he was 51 and she was 20, that it acquired such a large collection.
“Kandinsky spent the last 10 years of his life in Paris and from all his work his Paris period was one of the most important, and the last,” Pacquement told AFP. “His widow Nina remained in Paris … the Pompidou Centre opened in 1977 and the year before Nina Kandinsky made a gift of around 30 works that form the core of our collection.”
And when she died in 1980 – murdered at 84 in her chalet in a Swiss ski resort – she left the remainder to the Paris venue.
Works donated by the other woman in his life, Münter, with whom Kandinsky travelled extensively and who owned a house in the foothills of the Alps where they both painted before World War I, form the core of the Lenbachhaus’s collection.