Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Landscape with Red Spots

The title of Tate Modern’s new exhibition Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction indicates the direction in which we are encouraged to read his paintings. For example, after seeing some colourful works depicting Murnau in the Bavarian Alps, we arrive at Landscape with Red Spots (1913), a more abstract work that retains elements of the landscape at Murnau but no longer explicitly refers to it. Stopping before the referent disappears altogether and looking back at Kandinsky’s early paintings we see landscapes infused with Russia’s folklore and Asiatic culture (a fashionable concern, but Kandinsky had actually studied the Komi people in his brief period as an anthropologist in 1889). In mood these earlier works recall turn of the century symbolist landscapes. However, to get a sense of how far Kandinsky had already travelled one might compare his Boat Trip (1910) with Nesterov’s Silence (1903) (one of the most memorable paintings in the National Gallery’s recent ‘Russian landscape in he age of Tolstoy’ exhibition). Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Nesterov (1862-1942) were almost exact contemporaries but took different paths.

Mikhail Nesterov, Silence (1903)
(Kandinsky's painting are still in copyright)

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