Olga's Gallery

Olga's Gallery

May 05, 2003
Dear Friends of Art,

We have prepared a collection of paintings by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky alongside with his biography. We would like to devote this newsletter to some aspects of the artist's private life, which were not reflected in his bio.

Three Wives of Wassily Kandinsky

Kandinsky came into art relatively late, at the age of thirty, and quite unexpectedly for everyone around him. Brushing aside his academic career he left Russia for Germany taking only his wife, Anna Chimyakina, with him. Anna, who was also Kandinsky's cousin, was not an ordinary person for her time – she was one of the first women-students of the Moscow University, where Kandinsky was a lecturer. We can't say that she did not like art. But to love art and to be married to a painter are absolutely different things. Anna, who had married a man of the respectable profession of a lawyer, was not enthusiastic at the prospect of bohemian surroundings. Though reluctantly, she still followed her husband to Munich, only to leave him seven years later and to give him an official divorce in 1911.

By that time there was another woman in his life – a German painter named Gabriele Münter. They got acquainted in 1901, when Gabriele enlisted as an art student in the newly opened Phalanx Art school. State art academies did not admit women-students at the time. The school existed for only a year and had to close, but Gabriele remained with Kandinsky as his student and as an intimate friend. When in 1904 Kandinsky split with his wife, they started to live together. It was a very bold action for a young woman of the beginning of the 20th century – she openly lived with a married man as his wife. And though it was more or less acceptable in bohemian circles, it was quite inappropriate among the bourgeois that they both came from.

At that time it did not matter for them, they were both in love. Portrait as a genre is not present in his heritage, but Kandinsky made only one exception: for Gabriele. Her portrait of 1905 shows a big-eyed woman, not exactly a beauty with a massive nose and a small chin, thin lips and high forehead. Was she a woman an artist could dream of? She was an artist herself, both brave an ambitious, but still a woman, sensitive, understanding and loving. Unfortunately for her, her passionate love to Kandinsky would make her unhappy for many years.

In 1904 they started traveling throughout Europe and Northern Africa, settling back in Munich in 1908. Gabriele bought a country house in Murnau, in the Bavarian Alps, where they spent their summer months; the house was also intended as the home to which the artist couple would retire in their old age. Kandinsky had simple furniture made for the interior, some of which he decorated himself with stylized flowers and riders on galloping horses.

Though officially Kandinsky's student, Gabriele had her own vision and style in painting, which very much probably influenced his style and vision for a time and might be a reason of his irritation with her.  In time their relations became more and more complicated, one day he would ask Gabriele to marry him, another day he would insist on their immediate separation.

What happens to people's love, and where it goes, who can say? While she was an admiring student she seemed an inspiring muse to him. When she became more independent, developing her own painting style, and refusing to follow his, and quite probably influencing his own style, she began to irritate him. The beginning of the WWI was a good pretext for him to break relations with Gabriele. First leaving Germany together, Kandinsky soon returned to Moscow, while Gabriele had to go back to Munich. They corresponded, she wrote a lot of letters to him. Their final meeting took place in Stockholm in December 1915. It was to be the last time they saw each other, although their correspondence continued for another year. Gabriele could not suppress the painful and destructive passion for the man, although for him she was already the past.

In September 1916 Kandinsky, aged 50, had a new love affair, which ended by marriage in February 1917. The news of his marriage was such a shock for Gabriele that she could not paint for several years. But time heals and she recovered, and returned to painting and, we hope, lived happily ever after, forgiving, if not forgetting, her genius's betrayal. All her life Gabriele praised Kandinsky, while he never mentioned her or her work. This only strengthens our suspicions that he as a painter owes much to her.

As for Kandinsky, he was happy in his new marriage. At last he found the woman he had dreamed of.  Who was she? One Nina Nikolayevna Andreevskaya, a young Russian. Though a recent story, there is a lot of unknown in it. Even Nina's birth date. She never mentioned it, it's only known, from her own words, that she was 27 years younger than her husband. According to her own memoirs she was the daughter of a general (researchers failed to find a general Nikolai Andreevsky among 1248 generals, aged 40-90, listed in the Russian army in the late 1890s – early 1900s). According to some Russian researchers she was the daughter of one captain Andreevsky, who was killed in the Russo-Japanese war in 1905. Later, being already the wife and then the widow of a famous man, Nina was very much anxious to create a legend about herself. Some biographers insist that Kandinsky married a simple housemaid. Not quite improbable. There were a lot of intellectual friends around him, did he need another intellectual at home? Once he had an intellectual wife and an intellectual girlfriend. Quite enough. But from her very first days outside Russia, Nina insisted that she was from a good family. "Good" meant, if not nobility, then at least intelligentsia, otherwise she might not be admitted in Russian emigrant circles, which at that time were all "good" families.

How did Kandinsky and Nina meet? If we follow Nina's legend, then first by phone; she called him on behalf of a friend to deliver a message and her "voice made a deep impression on" him. He even executed a watercolor "To the Unknown Voice", which, according to Nina, was devoted to her voice.

In February 1917 Kandinsky, now aged 51, married the much younger Nina. "Our marriage marked the start of spring in the autumn of his life. We fell in love at first sight, and for that reason we were never apart for one day," wrote Nina Kandinsky in her memoirs. They left for Finland for their honeymoon but had to return soon because of the revolution in Russia. Their first and only son, Vsevolod, was born the same year; the little boy died in 1920 during the Civil war in Russia, unable to survive undernourishment and some infectious disease.

In December 1921 Kandinsky and Nina set off for Berlin, leaving hungry and ruined Russia behind. Abroad Nina shared Kandinsky's life completely, "never separating for a day", never standing out, always in the shade of her genius husband.

When the artist died in December 1944, his widow was his only heiress. She founded the Kandinsky Fund for studying, exhibiting and preserving his works. The biggest part of the Fund she later contributed to the Centre of Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Nina never remarried again. But being very rich, she was always surrounded by young men of the gigolo sort and she liked that. She also loved jewelry, bought it eagerly, and had a big collection. In 1983 she was killed in Switzerland in her villa, and maybe the collection played a fatal role in that. The murderers were never apprehended. Nina was buried in Paris and soon forgotten. Her memoirs are interesting, but should be read very critically, as they are full of Hollywood style fairy-tales.

Beside the collection of Wassily Kandinsky we invite you to see the very small collection of Gabriele Münter's works: images of her works are difficult to find and we can offer you only a few.

We would be glad to receive your opinions and comments on our newsletters. Please write to webmaster@abcgallery.com

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