Tate brings Kandinskys to UK for first ever show

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The Independent Online

He was a pioneer of abstract art and a major figure in the history of modern painting. But there has never been an exhibition of Wassily Kandinsky's paintings in the UK - until now.

Tomorrow at the Tate Modern 74 works by the Russian artist go on show, charting his career from landscape painter to one of the most important painters of abstraction.

More than 90 per cent of them have never been seen in Britain before and have been lent by galleries in Russia, including the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and the State Tretyakov in Moscow.

Sean Rainbird, the Tate's curator, said: "He's one of those artists who does well on posters so he's very familiar to people. But his paintings are very different things. I would urge people to come. His paintings are very remarkable."

It seemed "completely bizarre" that this was the first exhibition of his paintings - though his works on paper were displayed at the Royal Academy in 1999. "But on another level, he's always in various exhibitions - painters of abstraction, painters of modern art. He's a presence in our lives, but we've never looked at his work in context and in detail," added Mr Rainbird.

Kandinsky was born in 1866 and trained in law. His interest in art was sparked when he turned 30 and saw Haystacks, a Claude Monet painting, at an exhibition in Moscow and attended Richard Wagner's Lohengrin at the Bolshoi Theatre.

The show, Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction, focuses on his works from the beginning of the 20th century up to 1922, when he was arguably at the height of his powers. By this stage he was working in Munich and Murnau in Germany and co-founded the Blue Rider group, an Expressionist movement, with Franz Marc and Alexei Jawlensky.

He was forced to return to Russia when the First World War broke out and was then involved with the artistic activities of the fledgling Soviet State, where his efforts helped create one of the earliest collections of modern art, including his own.

But he quickly fell foul of prevailing sentiments and, regarded by some fellow artists as unacceptably bourgeois, returned to Germany where he joined the Bauhaus school in 1922.

The exhibition shows his move from figurative painting, inspired by folklore scenes in Russia, to an abstract style, where descriptive details were stripped away and elements such as houses or horses were reduced to calligraphic lines and planes of colour.

Two of the highlights, Composition VI and Composition VII, date from 1913 when Kandinsky reached "pure abstraction," just before the outbreak of war, Mr Rainbird said. Kandinsky was also an influential theorist who laid down his theories of painting in writing, most notably in the avant-garde tract Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which the Tate is re-printing in a new edition to coincide with the exhibition.

In return for the generosity of the Russian state and regional collections, the Tate will be lending some of its Whistlers for an exhibition in Russia.

Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction opens at Tate Modern tomorrow and runs until 1 October

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