Vasily Kandinsky
Russian, 1866–1944
Improvisation No. 30 (Cannons)

Oil on canvas
43 11/16 x 43 13/16 in. (111 x 111.3 cm)
Signed, l.l.: “Kandsky i9i3”
Arthur Jerome Eddy Memorial Collection, 1931.511
© 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Moscow-born Vasily Kandinsky was among the first artists of the 20th century to explore abstraction, a style that replaced representation of the natural world with the study of color and form. Between 1910 and 1914, while living in Munich, Germany, he painted a series of improvisation paintings, which were largely unconscious, spontaneous expressions.

At first, Improvisation 30 (Cannons) appears to be a random assortment of brilliant colors, lines, and shapes. But in the visual chaos, one can discern leaning buildings, a crowd of people, and, in the lower right, a wheeled, blasting cannon. In a letter to Chicago lawyer Arthur Jerome Eddy, who purchased the painting in 1913, Kandinsky explained that "the presence of the cannons in the picture could probably be explained by the constant war talk that has been going on throughout the year." Just one year later, Germany entered World War I. War themes were prevalent in many works of the German Expressionist movement, usually in a more representational style. Chaotic scenes such as Improvisation 30 may also refer to the end of the world as foretold in the Bible.

In his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912), Kandinsky argued that color, like sound, evokes emotions. Along with other formal elements, such as line, shape, and form, color (like music) is a language that communicates to all. His belief in the spiritual power of art was related to his adherence to certain doctrines of theosophy, a cult that promoted deeper spiritual reality through intuition, meditation, and other transcendental states.