Painting of the Day

17 Nov



Circles in a Circle. by Vasily Kandinsky. Oil on Canvas, 1923. Currently not on view in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Notes from

In an entry for a 1950 collection catalogue of the Société Anonyme, the artist Marcel Duchamp wrote: “In tracing his lines with ruler and compass, [Vasily] Kandinsky opened to the spectator a new way of looking at painting . . . a clear transfer of thought on canvas. This has been the real contribution of Kandinsky towards a conception of esthetics.” These laudatory words easily apply to Circles in a Circle, in which geometric forms and subtle color harmonies combine to make an effervescent, abstract composition. Through the Société Anonyme, an art organization led by American collector Katherine Dreier and designed to generate awareness of modern art, Duchamp helped to secure Kandinsky’s first solo exhibition in this country.

Circles in a Circle demonstrates Kandinsky’s distinctive style from the early 1920s, when he began teaching at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, and subsequently moved away from a spontaneous painting style to a geometric composition. In this work, a thick black circle surrounds twenty-six overlapping circles of varying sizes and colors, many of them intersected by straight black lines. Two strobes of blue and yellow extending from the top corners cross toward the center of the piece, changing the colors of the circles where they overlap. Although Circles in a Circle is distinctly different from Kandinsky’s paintings of the beginning years of the twentieth century, it reflects his continued belief that certain colors and shapes signify emotions that can be codified and combined into a whole, reflecting the harmony of the cosmos. For Kandinsky, the circle, the most elementary of forms, had symbolic, cosmic significance. He wrote that “the circle is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the excentric in a single form, and in balance.”1 In a letter of 1931, he described Circles in a Circle as “the first picture of mine to bring the theme of circles to the foreground.”2 Emily Hage, from Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art (2007), p. 136.

My commments: 

This Kandinsky painting is quite different from his earlier works of the 20th century, when he created wild arrangements of color and line and named them like musical compositions. Even so, Kandinsky is still promoting his personal philosophy he called “Theosophy” here. Theosophy, which combines theology and philosophy, aims to achieve spiritual transcendence through art. Non-objective art that gives viewers the basics (swaths of one color, single straightforward lines, basic geometric shapes) was, for Kandinsky, the kind of art that best achieved this goal. 

Kandinsky is an exceedingly interesting artist. He didn’t always paint in the distinctive style he is known for today: early on he created works like this:



Kandinsky reminds me a lot of surrealism, but I guess he isn’t classified as a surrealist because his paintings don’t flow from his subconscious, but from the metaphysical, some other worldly power. While I think that Kandinsky’s paintings certainly could provide one with a spiritual experience, much of modern art also provides a spiritual experience for me. A specific way of going about making paintings is not the only key to making spiritually transcendental paintings; I think the key is to create something that is deeply, rawly, unabashedly expressive of something genuine and sincere on the part of the artist. When artists create works such as these that present humanity naked in the eyes of God, without any obfuscation, that’s when God enters into the painting and transforms us. 

One Response to “Painting of the Day”

  1. tara November 17, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    I dont care for Kadinsky .when will you talk about a Vermeer?

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