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Composition VII by Wassily Kandinsky

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Composition VII by Wassily Kandinsky.

About the Work

Title: Composition VII
Artist : Wassily Kandinsy
Year : 1913
Medium : Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions :  6ft x 10ft
Location : State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Composition VII, 1913 by Wassily Kandinsky image courtesy :

The Secret Behind Composition VII

Composition VII is considered most convincingly, as Kandinsky’s pre-war masterpiece, and one of his most imminent works from the Der Blaue Reiter movement that he had founded along with fellow German Expressionist Franz Marc. At the initial viewing – and to an untrained eye it looks like a series of confused shapes and colours that have come together for no apparent reason.

In truth, it was meticulously planned and worked on before its final rendition. It is documented that it took Kandinsky 4 days and 30 preliminary sketches to his work. He worked with oil paints and water colours, recording images of his works. Composition VII is amongst one of his largest works
measuring 6 ft x 10 ft.

The painting itself is pulsating with life and its dynamism spins out of the canvas drawing in the viewer at once. While on the surface, owing to its non-representational content, the swirl of colours and shapes arrest the eye. The piece depicts chaos. For those who have spent time studying the artwork have drawn several conclusions about it, drawing from multiple apocalyptic motifs that were representative of the war years.

The entire import of Kandinsky’s existentialist belief that humanity was edging towards the end of times is represented in his artwork, which makes it iconic. Also, that spiritual rebirth was the only way to weigh out of the situation that human beings had gotten themselves lined up into. The death and destruction that World War I (1914-18) brought echoed with several artists and thinkers of the times.

In Composition VII, with it’s vortex-like design, has viewers trying to pick up patterns and figures but are greeted with criss-crosses of black lines, surrounded by colour.

Kandinsky was keenly interested in music and often his titles too were devoid of figurative subjects but were named after pieces of music. In this context, Composition VII has been often referred to as ‘operatic’. It was Kandinsky’s belief that art and music and colour were intrinsically linked.

“Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

Wassily Kandinsky

Other Details

The movement termed The Blue Rider was named after one of his bridge artworks from his post impressionism period to the expressionist period. The painting itself was quite different from his later works that made him famous, but the colour blue prevailed. He believed that the colour blue was the closest to spiritualist and in his Composition VII, the apocalypse has bits of blue swirling, signifying the spiritual revival that was impending.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the archive for Artwork in Focus.

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