Improvisation No. 30 (Cannons)

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Vasily Kandinsky
French, born Russia, 1866–1944

Improvisation No. 30 (Cannons), 1913

Oil on canvas
43 11/16 x 43 13/16 in. (111.0 x 111.3 cm)
signed, l.l.: “Kandsky i9i3”
Arthur Jerome Eddy Memorial Collection, 1931.511

© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

In his seminal 1912 publication Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Vasily Kandinsky advocated an art that could move beyond imitation of the physical world, inspiring, as he put it, "vibrations in the soul." Pioneering abstraction as the richest, most musical form of artistic expression, Kandinsky believed that the physical properties of artworks could stir emotions, and he produced a revolutionary group of increasingly abstract canvases—with titles such as Fugue, Impression, and Improvisation—hoping to bring painting closer to music making.

Kandinsky’s paintings are, in his words, "largely unconscious, spontaneous expressions of inner character, nonmaterial in nature." Although Improvisation No. 30 (Cannons) at first appears to be an almost random assortment of brilliant colors, shapes, and lines, the artist also included leaning buildings, a crowd of people, and a wheeled, smoking cannon. In a letter to the Chicago lawyer Arthur Jerome Eddy, who purchased the painting in 1913 and later bequeathed it to the Art Institute, 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." Eventually, Kandinsky ceased making these references to the material world in his work and wholly devoted himself to pure abstraction.

— Entry, The Essential Guide, 2013, p.254.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

London, Royal Albert Hall, The London Salon of the Allied Artists’ Association, Ltd., July 1913, p. 15, cat. 286.

Chicago, Art Institute, Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of the Late Arthur Jerome Eddy, September 19-October 22, 1922, cat. 36 (color ill.).

Chicago, Art Institute, The Arthur Jerome Eddy Collection of Modern Paintings and Sculpture, December 22, 1931-January 17, 1932, cat. 10 (ill.).

Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, An Exhibition of Literature & Poetry in Painting since 1850, January 24-February 14, 1933, p. 14, cat. 32 (ill.).

Chicago, Art Institute, A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, June 1-November 1, 1933, cat. 777, pl. LXXV (ill.).

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Cubism and Abstract Art, March 2-April 19, 1936, cat. 103, fig. 52 (ill.).

Rochester, N.Y., Memorial Art Gallery, Exhibition, November 1-30, 1938.

Cleveland Museum of Art, Expressionism and Related Movements, January 26-February 28, 1939, no cat.

New York, Nierendorf Gallery, Kandinsky, March 1941, cat. 3.

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Art in Progress: A Survey Prepared for the Fifteenth Anniversary of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, May-September 1944, no cat. no., pp. 48 (ill.), 221.

New York, Museum of Non-Objective Painting, In Memory of Wassily Kandinsky, March 15-May 15, 1945, cat. 23.

Milwaukee, Art Institute, Exhibition, 1945.

Chicago, Arts Club, Wassily Kandinsky Memorial Exhibition, November 1945, cat. 48.

Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute Department of Fine Arts, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), April 11-May 12, 1946, cat. 7.

Denver Art Museum, The Modern Artist and His World, March 6-April 27, 1949, no cat. no., p. 11.

Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, The Winterbotham Collection of 20th Century European Paintings (Texas State Fair), October 8-November 6, 1949.

Chicago, Merchandise Mart, Good Design: An Exhibition of Home Furnishings Selected by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, for the Merchandise Mart, Chicago, January 12-November 1, 1950.

New York, Museum of Modern Art, German Art of the Twentieth Century, October 1-December 8, 1957, cat. 65 (ill.); traveled to St. Louis, City Art Museum, January 8-February 24, 1958.

Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, The Logic of Modern Art: An Exhibition Tracing the Evolution of Modern Painting from Cezanne to 1960: Les Fauves, Expressionism, Cubism, Non-objective Painting, Surrealism, Painting since World War II, January 19-February 26, 1961, cat. 26 (ill.).

New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Vasily Kandinsky, 1866-1944: A Retrospective Exhibition, January 15-February 15, 1963, cat. 30 (ill.); traveled to San Francisco Museum of Art, March 1-April 1, 1963; Portland Art Museum, April 15-May 15, 1963; San Antonio, Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, June 1-July 1, 1963; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, July 15-August 25, 1963; Baltimore Museum of Art, September 19-October 20, 1963; Columbus, Ohio, Gallery of Fine Arts, November 5-December 5, 1963; St. Louis, Mo., Washington University Art Gallery, December 22, 1963-January 6, 1964; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, February 5-March 5, 1964; Worcester Art Museum, March 20-April 20, 1964 (New York only).

Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Kandinsky: The Improvisations, April 26-August 2, 1981.

North Carolina Museum of Art, June 1-December 1, 1995.

Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Espressionismo tedesco: arte e società, September 1997-January 1998, cat. 69 (color ill.).

Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, Das XX. Jahrhundert: ein Jahrhundert Kunst in Deutschland, September 4, 1999-January 9, 2000, cat. 197 (color ill.).

London, Tate Modern, Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction, June 22-October 1, 2006, pp. 127, cat. 51 (color ill.), 219; traveled to Basel, Kunstmuseum, October 21, 2006-February 4, 2007.

Munich, Staedtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Kandinsky: Absolute, Abstract, October 25, 2008–February 28, 2009, cat. 36 (ill.).

Publication History

Kandinsky, 1901-1913 (Berlin: Der Sturm, 1913), p. 8 (ill.).

The London Salon of the Allied Artists’ Association, Ltd., exh. cat. (London: Allied Artists’ Association, Ltd., 1913), p. 15, cat. 286.

Eddy, Arthur Jerome, Cubists and Post-Impressionism (Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1914), pp. 124-26, opp. p. 124 (color ill.).

Art Institute of Chicago, Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of the Late Arthur Jerome Eddy, exh. cat. (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1922), cat. 36 (color ill.).

Grohmann, Will, Wassily Kandinsky, Junge Kunst 42 (Leipzig: Klinkhardt & Bierman, 1924), p. 12, n. pag. (ill.).

Kandinsky: Jubiläums-Ausstellung zum 60. Geburtstage, exh. cat. (Berlin: Galerie Neumann & Nierendorf, 1926), p. 9 (ill.).

Art Institute of Chicago, The Arthur Jerome Eddy Collection of Modern Paintings and Sculpture, exh. cat. (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1932), cat. 10 (ill.).

Art Institute of Chicago, Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago Report for the Year 1931 26, 2 (February 1932), p. 23 (ill.).

Bulliet, C. J., “The Eddy Gift to Chicago,” Creative Art 10 (March 1932), pp. 213, 216, 218 (ill.).

Cheney, Sheldon, A Primer of Modern Art (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1932), pp. 161 (ill.), 164-65.

Art Institute of Chicago, Catalogue of a Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, exh. cat. (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1933), cat. 777, pl. LXXV (ill.).

Bulliet, C. J., Art Masterpieces in a Century of Progress Fine Arts Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago: Sterling North of Chicago, 1933), n. pag., ill. 76.

Wadsworth Atheneum, An Exhibition of Literature & Poetry in Painting since 1850, exh. cat. (Hartford: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1933), p. 14, cat. 32 (ill.).

Barr, Jr., Alfred H., et. al., Cubism and Abstract Art, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936), cat. 103, fig. 52 (ill.).

Bulliet, C. J., The Significant Moderns and Their Pictures (New York: Covici, Friede, 1936), pp. 174-75, pl. 240 (ill.).

Logan, Josephine Hancock, Sanity in Art (Chicago: A. Kroch, 1937), p. 115 (ill.).

Milliken, William M., “Expressionism Exhibited,” Art News 37, 20 (February 11, 1939), p. 8.

Cheney, Sheldon, The Story of Modern Art (New York: The Viking Press, 1941), p. 408 (ill.).

Nierendorf Gallery, Kandinsky, exh. cat. (New York: Nierendorf Gallery, 1941), cat. 3.

Museum of Modern Art, Art in Progress: A Survey Prepared for the Fifteenth Anniversary of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1944), no cat. no., pp. 48 (ill.), 221.

Arts Club of Chicago, Wassily Kandinsky Memorial Exhibition, exh. cat. (Chicago: Arts Club of Chicago, 1945), cat. 48.

Rebay, Hilla, ed., In Memory of Wassily Kandinsky, exh. cat. (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1945), cat. 23.

Moholy-Nagy, Laszlo, The New Vision, and Abstract of an Artist (New York: Wittenborn and Company, 1946), p. 38 (ill. 13).

Rebay, Hilla, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), exh. cat. (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Institute, 1946), cat. 7.

Denver Art Museum, The Modern Artist and His World, exh. cat. (Denver: Denver Art Museum, 1949), no cat. no., p. 11.

Denver Art Museum Autumn Quarterly (1949), p. 8 (ill.).

Good Design: An Exhibition of Home Furnishings Selected by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, for the Merchandise Mart, Chicago, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art; Chicago: Merchandise Mart, 1950).

Blanc, Peter, “The Artist and the Atom,” Magazine of Art 44 (April 1951), p. 149 (ill.).

Lindsay, Kenneth C., “The Genesis and Meaning of the Cover Design for the First Blaue Reiter Exhibition Catalogue,” Art Bulletin 35 (March 1953), p. 51.

___, “Mr. Pepper’s Defense of Non-Objective Art,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 12 (December 1953), p. 244.

Haftmann, Werner, et. al., German Art of the Twentieth Century, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art in collaboration with City Art Museum, St. Louis, 1957), cat. 65 (ill.).

Myers, Bernard Samuel, The German Expressionists: A Generation in Revolt (New York: Praeger, 1957), pp. 213 (color ill.), 214-15.

Selz, Peter, German Expressionist Painting (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957), pp. 267-68, pl. 104.

Grohmann, Will, Wassily Kandinsky: Life and Work, trans. Norbert Guterman (New York: H. N. Abrams, 1958), pp. 128-29, 133 (color ill.), 144, 332 (cat. 161).

Art Institute of Chicago, Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Picture Collection (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1961), p. 250, 434 (ill.).

William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, The Logic of Modern Art: An Exhibition Tracing the Evolution of Modern Painting from Cezanne to 1960: Les Fauves, Expressionism, Cubism, Non-objective Painting, Surrealism, Painting since World War II, exh. cat. (Kansas City: William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, 1961), cat. 26 (ill.).

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Vasily Kandinsky, 1866-1944: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat. (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1962), cat. 30 (ill.).

Speyer, A. James, “Twentieth-Century Paintings and Sculpture,” Apollo 84, 55 (September 1966), pp. 224, fig. 3 (ill.), 225.

Sweet, Frederick A., “Great Chicago Collectors,” Apollo 84, 55 (September 1966), p. 196, fig. 20 (ill.).

Messer, Thomas M., “Kandinsky en Amerique,” XXe Siècle 27 (December 1966), p. 113.

Art Institute of Chicago, Instituto de Arte de Chicago: Presentación de Charles C. Cunningham (Buenos Aires: Editorial Codex, S.A., 1967), pp. 14, no. 64 (ill.), 74 (color ill.).

Hamilton, George Heard, Painting and Sculpture in Europe, 1880 to 1940 (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1967), pp. 132-33, pl. 72a (ill.).

Arnason, H. H., History of Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture (New York: H. N. Abrams, 1968), pp. 173, 174 (ill. 318).

Awazu, Norio, “L’Art du Monde,” Klee/Kandinsky, Enzyklopädie der Weltkunst, vol. 20 (Tokyo?: Kawade Shobo, 1968), p. 111, color ill. 52.

Overy, Paul, Kandinsky: The Language of the Eye (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969), pp. 27, pl. 10, 63.

Grohmann, Will, Wassily Kandinsky, The Library of Great Painters, Portfolio Edition (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1971), pp. 6, 14, 15 (ill.).

Speyer, A. James, and Courtney Graham Donnell, Twentieth Century European Painting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 48, no. 2C3.

Washton Long, Rose-Carol, Kandinsky, the Development of an Abstract Style (Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pl. 110, pp. 99-101, 179, note 53.

Carmean, E. A., et. al., Kandinsky: The Improvisations, exh. cat. (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1981).

Roethel, Hans K., and Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, vol. 1 (London: Published for Sotheby Publications by Philip Wilson Publishers, 1982), cat. 452 (ill.), p. 440 (color ill.).

Gordon, Donald E., Expressionism: Art and Idea (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), pp. 153, 235, note 137.

Levin, Gail, Theme & Improvisation: Kandinsky & the American Avant-Garde, 1912-1950, exh. cat. (Dayton Art Institute/Little, Brown, 1992), pp. 15, 55 (fig. 3.1), 82, 83, 84, 85, 91.

Parsons, Thomas, and Iain Gale, Post-impressionism: The Rise of Modern Art (London: Studio Editions, 1992), pp. 260-61, 272 (color pl. 271).

Becks-Malorny, Ulrike, Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944: Aufbruch zur Abstraktion (Köln: B. Taschen, 1993), pp. 103 (color ill.), 106.

Hamilton, George Heard, Painting and Sculpture in Europe, 1880-1940, 6th ed. (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1993), pp. 208, 209 (color ill. 106), 210.

Cork, Richard, A Bitter Truth: Avant Garde and the Great War (New Haven: Yale University Press in association with Barbican Art Gallery, 1994), pp. 18, 19 (color pl. 7).

Ocvirk, Otto G., Art Fundamentals: Theory and Practice, 7th ed. (Madison, Wis. and Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1994).

Fineberg, Jonathan, Mit dem Auge des Kindes : Kinderzeichnung und Moderne Kunst, exh. cat. (München: Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus; Stuttgart: Gerd Hatje, 1995), pp. 69, 71 (color ill. 3.30), 240 (3.30).

Fleming, William, Arts & Ideas, 9th ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1995), pp. 595-60, pl. 20.17 (color ill.).

Barron, Stephanie, and Wolf Dieter Dube, Espressionismo tedesco: arte e società, exh. cat. (Milan: Bompiani, 1997), cat. 69 (color ill.).

Fineberg, Jonathan, The Innocent Eye: Children's Art and the Modern Artist (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 56-57, 61 (color ill. 3.30), 231 (no. 3.30).

Mitchner, E. A., and R. Joanne Tuffs, Century of Change: Europe from 1789 to 1918 (Edmonton: Reidmore Books, 1997).

Benton, Janetta Rebold, and Robert DiYanni, Arts and Culture: An Introduction to the Humanities (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1998).

Ocvirk, Otto G., et al., Art Fundamentals: Theory & Practice, 8th ed. (Boston?: McGraw-Hill, 1998).

Stockley, Michele, Art Investigator (Port Melbourne: Heinemann, 1998).

Hoffer, Charles R., Music Listening Today (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 1999).

Otto, Almut, et. al., Das XX. Jahrhundert: ein Jahrhundert Kunst in Deutschland, exh. cat. (Berlin: Nationalgalerie Berlin, 1999), cat. 197 (color ill.).

Stokstad, Marilyn, Art History, vol. 2 (New York : H.N. Abrams, 1999), pp. 1047, 1048 (color ill. 28-31), 1081.

McGreevy, Linda F., Bitter Witness: Otto Dix and the Great War (New York: P. Lang, 2001), p. 131 (ill.).

Clarke, Jay A., “Neo-Idealism, Expressionism, and the Writing of Art History,” The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 28, 1 (2002), pp. 35, 36 (fig. 11).

Zelanski, Paul, and Mary Pat Fisher, The Art of Seeing (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 2002), p. 478 (color ill. 15.47).

Stein, Lisa, “Summer Art School,” Chicago Tribune (August 15, 2003), Section 7, pp. 1 (ill.), 10.

Fischer, Hartwig, and Sean Rainbird, eds., Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction, exh. cat. (London: Tate, 2006), pp. 127, cat. 51 (color ill.), 219.

Ownership History

Arthur Jerome Eddy (1859-1920), Chicago, probably purchased from the artist; given to the Art Institute, 1931.