The Moderns--5

[ Kandinsky and Chagall ]
Tchaikovsky--"Piano Concerto #1" < >
Stravinsky--"Rite of Spring" < >
Stravinsky--"Firebird" < >

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) fled Russia and joined Klee at the Bauhaus; one of the primary influences on his painting was music, which he always claimed was an art form superior to painting. He wrote "' The violins, the deep tones of the basses, and especially the wind instruments...embodied for me all the power.... I saw all my colors in my mind; they stood before my eyes.'" He particularly loved Wagner's Tristan and Isolde with its themes of "undying love and spiritual transformation." He admired the compositions of Aleksander Scriabin and his researches toward "establishing a table of equivalencies between tones in color and music...." He formed a life long friendship with Arnold Schoenberg and acknowledged his artistic debt to Schoenberg's Theory of Harmony. Art historians, such as Janson, comment on Kandinsky's frequent reference to music. He was one of the first practitioners of what came to be known as abstract art. The artist grappled in his writings, such as Reminiscences and On the Spiritual in Art, to articulate his vision.

Farbstudie Quadrate (1913)

In addition to music, color fascinated Kandinsky, as it did many of his contemporaries in abstract art. "Color...had a deep and vital meaning for him...though he later turned to the invention of geometric or linear images..." (Palmer 632). He participated in the "antirationalist or vitalistic philosophies of the period" (632).

Accent en Rose (1926)?


Kandinsky called upon painters to free themselves from the material world and affirmed "the power of art to speak to the intellect and intuition...without the...familiar objects of the material world" (Witt 408). He thought of himself as a pioneer, knowing that future artists would " on color harmonies as musicians play on the harmonies of the scale" (408). He seems to embrace the "buzzing, booming confusion of Einstein's universe in which all matter is energy" (408).

Kandinsky "abandoned representation altogether." (Janson 517) He also moved, literally and figuratively, beyond the Fauvists, joining a group known as "The Blue Horseman" or "Blue Rider" in Munich. There, he used "rainbow colors and the free dynamic brushwork of the...Fauves... [but]...he created a completely non-objective style" (Janson 517-518). In short, he eliminated all "resemblance to the physical world." (518). Kandinsky's Blue Circle and Quiet Harmony illustrate the directions in which he led modern art.

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Adam and Eve (1912)
Born Jewish and poor in tsarist Russia, Marc Chagall went to Paris to study in 1910, a Paris alive with artistic ferment and creativity; there he met and was influenced by the trends (Cubism) and artists such as the Fauvists and Picasso; he returned to Russia in 1914.

The Birthday (1915)

Chagall's work "...weaves dreamlike memories of Russian folk tales Jewish proverbs, and the Russian countryside into...[a]...glowing vision" (Janson 526). The influence on Chagall of the Fauvists and of Cubism are evident. On his return to Russia, he worked in the Jewish theatre until 1923 when he went first to Berlin and then to Paris. "Colour governed his compositions, calling up chimerical processions of memory where reality and the imaginary are woven into a single legend..." (Harden, Artchive). Though he spent a few years in New York, the remainder of his career he spent in France, where "commissions poured in" (Harden, Artchive).

White Crucifixion (1938)

Chagall painted White Crucifixion in 1938, possibly, art historians speculate, in response to the horrific Kristallnacht violence of November, 1938, when Jewish homes, synagogues, cemeteries, businesses were vandalized and individuals attacked all across Germany. Karl Plank comments on how the painting depicts the crucified Christ draped in a prayer shawl, emphasizing with heavy irony the Jewishness of Jesus Christ. Note the details of the powerful work--the destruction, the refugees, the man (lower left) fleeing with a Torah. Plank continues, the"...juxtaposition of the crucifixion and the immediacy of Jewish suffering creates an intense interplay of religious expectation and historical reality...." Chagall and his wife fled France in 1941; they went to New York, but returned to France after the war.

In Yellow Crucifixion, painted in 1943, Chagall again emphasizes the Jewishness of Jesus Christ, seen in the phylacteries, prayer shawl, and oversized Torah. Again, the eye is drawn to the agony and suffering of Europe's Jews. Jeremy Popkin comments that Chagall's wartime trilogy influenced Chaim Potok in the construction of his 1972 novel, My Name is Asher Lev.

image source < >
In December, 2009, the London Jewish Museum of Art acquired at auction a previously unknown Chagall work from 1945 that reveals how the Holocaust tormented Chagall. In the Painting, Apocalypse in Lilac, Capriccio, the crucified Christ, as suggested by Karl Plank above, becomes "a metaphor for persecuted Jewry" (Kennedy C1). Like White Crucifixion, it is brutal and disturbing, completely unlike the whimsical folk art of Chagall's youth. This painting completes what some call Chagall's wartime trilogy comprising Yellow Crucifixion and White Crucifixion.

< >


Return to Top

Return to Table of Contents


Kennedy, Randy. "Small Museum Captures a Rare Chagall." The New York Times. January 2, 2010.
Online available. < >

Plank, Karl. "Broken Continuities: 'Night' and 'White Crucifixion." Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Online available. < >

Popkin, Jeremy. "Marc Chagall's 'Yellow Crucifixion': A History Project." Online Available.
< >