Moscow II (1916)  by Wassily Kandinsky

Moscow II


Oil on canvas

20.8 × 15.4" (52.8 × 39.0 cm)

Private collection

“Moscow II” painted by Kandinsky in 1916 is one of the finest paintings of the “Russian period” among those in private collections. The turbulent events that brought the artist back to his motherland awoke his love to his native city which had been kept in his heart during all those years. In 1916 – 1917 Kandinsky paints a few pictures of Moscow inspired by his return.

This kaleidoscopic composition saturated with intense vibrancy of color embodies the beauty and dynamics of Moscow as seen by the artist. “The sun melts all of Moscow into a single piece which sounds like a tuba shaking your soul with its strong hand. No, this uniformity of red is not the best hour of Moscow. It is only the final chord of a symphony elaborating ultimate life in each tone making entire Moscow sound like fortissimo of a giant orchestra. Pink, lilac, white, blue, pistachio green and fire-red houses, churches – each of them like a separate song – violently green grass, the low-pitched tone of trees or snow singing in thousand different voices or alegretto of bare branches and gnarls, the red ring of the Kremlin wall – harsh, steadfast and silent; and above all, like an exultant cry “Alleluia” of that who has forgotten the entire world, the white long well-shaped grave line of the Ivan the Great bell tower. And on its long tense neck craned in its eternal longing for heaven there is the gold head of the dome which among other gold, silver and coloured stars of the domes surrounding it is the Sun of Moscow.”

In his letter to Munter, dated June 4, 1916 Kandinsky writes about his ideas for his new Moscow paintings: “I would like to paint a large landscape: gather separate elements and incorporate them on the canvas. I would blend all of them: weak and strong ones just as the world is a blend of different elements. This painting should be like an orchestra […] at 8 o’clock in the evening I went to Kremlin to see the cathedrals in the way I want to depict them. They unwrapped some new treasures in front of me.” In a few weeks he wrote to her again: “It is gradually evolving in my imagination. What was just a fancy is now taking its physical form. What this idea lacked was depth and sound, very grave, complicated and simple at the same time” (a letter dated September 4, 1916). Then, after two and a half months of working at the canvas, Kandinsky writes: “You know that I cherished a dream to paint a large picture inspired by happiness, joy of life or the Universe. Suddenly, I become aware of the harmony of colours and shapes coming from this world of joy” (a letter dated November 26, 1916).

It is notable that in both paintings, “Moscow I” and “Moscow II”, in the very center we can clearly see a couple wearing traditional Russian clothes with their backs to viewers as if contemplating the magnificent symphony of the capital city together with them.

PS: The painting was sold at Sotheby’s in London on February 3, 2015 for $9.48 million.

More from 1916

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