Horse and rider motif by Vasily Kandinsky

Vasily Kandinsky’s use of the horse-and-rider motif symbolized his crusade against conventional aesthetic values and his dream of a better, more spiritual future through the transformative powers of art. In 1911 Kandinsky together with his friend, Frantsem Mark, an artist, established a group called Blue Rider (Blaue Reiter). Despite of its brief existence, ‘The Blue Rider’ had a major influence on the entire German painting. According to the artist, "the accent was made on revealing associative properties of color, line and composition".

"Blue Mountain", 1909

In 1909, the year he completed Blue Mountain, Kandinsky painted no less than seven other canvases with images of riders. In that year his style became increasingly abstract and expressionistic and his thematic concerns shifted from the portrayal of natural events to apocalyptic narratives. By 1910 many of the artist’s abstract canvases shared a common literary source, the Revelation of Saint John the Divine; the rider came to signify the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who will bring epic destruction after which the world will be redeemed.

"Composition II"

"Improvisation 28"

In both Sketch for Composition II and Improvisation 28 (second version) Kandinsky depicted—through highly schematized means—cataclysmic events on one side of the canvas and the paradise of spiritual salvation on the other. In the latter painting, for instance, images of a boat and waves (signaling the global deluge), a serpent, and, perhaps, cannons emerge on the left, while an embracing couple, shining sun, and celebratory candles appear on the right.

"Improvisation 3"

Improvisation 3 might have come out the Middle Ages, but the tell-tale sign here is the rearing horse, which is pale blue-green. This is the color of the fourth horse in the Seven Seals of the Apocalypse, the Revelation to Saint John the Divine.

"Lyrical" (Rider on Horse), 1911 

For ‘Lyrical (Rider on Horse)' Wassily Kandinsky has depicted a horse and rider using minimal lines and patches of colour to create the impression of speed. This painting was produced in 1911 during Kandinsky's experiments with Fauvism, an early 20th century art movement in which modern artists emphasised the painterly qualities of their artworks and used non-naturalistic colours often applied directly from the tube.

"Improvisation No. 20" 1911

In "Improvisation No. 20" you can trace the outlines of the riders on the backs of the ghostly and almost completely abstract horses. ‘Improvisation No. 20’ was one of Kandinsky’s last pictures, in which you can still distinguish the contours and forms of real, though distorted, objects. After that there will come a time for pure abstraction.

For Kandinsky, painting was inseparable from music. It is not definitively known whether the artist had synesthesia, as experts are still in two minds on that. However, Kandinsky’s contemporaries, like the artist himself, claimed that he was really able "to hear" colors and "to see" sounds. It was not by accident that the artist called his abstract works "improvisations" and "compositions", the words that were applied to musical works.

Kandinsky said, "Color is the key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many chords. The artist is the hand that, by touching this or that key, sets the soul vibrating automatically." Amazingly, as we look at his "Improvisation No. 20", in which a sense of rapid movement is created only with the help of bright color spots and black contours, the whole orchestra begins unwittingly to sound in our heads.



Guggenheim foundation

The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts