Kandinsky is one of my favorite artists, but the reason that he ended up in this book was the correlation between math, formula, and art. I’ve always loved abstract and non-objective art–it was one of my favorite periods in art history to study; I spent several years as a docent for the Muscarelle Museum and the Denver Art Museum, working to make modern art accessible to the public.
Kandinsky didn’t start out to be an artist–born in Moscow in 1866 to a wealthy family, he studied law at Moscow University and ultimately became a law professor. He had always loved making art; he recalled in later years that when he was a child working with a drawing coach, “drawing and a little bit later painting lifted me out of the reality”. His early art consistently focused on very specific color combinations, where “each color lives by its mysterious life”. He noted two events that changed his life work from that of law to painting: Visiting an exhibition of French Impressionists in 1895 (particularly the work “Haystacks” by Monet); and seeing Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin” at the Bolshoi Theatre.
Kandinsky founded several artist groups, including the Phalanx and the Blue Rider group; he was also associated with the Bauhaus, first in Weimar and then in Dessau, until it was closed down by the Nazis in 1932. His work consistently examines the play between color, line and figure, and those works–his Compositions from the 1920’s (particularly Composition VIII from 1923) were the perfect paintings to use for Rebecca’s coded information. The Nazis hated art by Kandinsky and his associates, and sought to eliminate as much of the “degenerate” art they could find. As such, it makes perfect sense that the codes were hidden under a layer of paint depicting bucolic landscapes and idealized towns and villages. Unfortunately, as it happened in the art gallery where Rebecca worked, many paintings were destroyed and a portion of that history has been lost.
Some information for this article is courtesy of wassilykandinsky.net, which is a wonderful resource for the artists work, life, and associates.
If you’re interested in reading/learning more about Kandinsky, the Blue Rider, and the Bauhaus, the Guggenheim has a great site related to their Kandinsky Research Project.
Amazon and Barnes & Noble also have a lot of great books on Kandinsky, including “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”, and “Klee and Kandinsky”. There are also a number of good books on the Bauhaus.