Towards the end of the Bauhaus period in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Kandinsky’s style began to shift. During its final years, the school moved from Weimar to Dessau, changing the atmosphere and some of the elements that characterized the Bauhaus. It was no longer a place where “the old-fashioned craft lived on in rejuvenated form,” but instead had become a place where “a new kind of industrial designer was being trained.” Architecture became one of the main focuses instead of the essentials of art, such as color and line. Political tensions had also reached the Bauhaus. Students had to sign a declaration that stated they would not cause trouble in the political sense, showing that the Bauhaus was in an uncertain state. The beginning of the 1930s saw the rise of political developments threatening the school. As this transition was occurring, Kandinsky’s paintings changed to be “noticeably warmer than his work in Weimar.” It is interesting that he changed in this way, because a time of political conflict usually signifies a colder, harsher type of painting. Kandinsky seems to be showing that he is not being affected by all of this conflict. During this time, Kandinsky’s works changed to show simpler images while still using color and lines as the main spotlight.
Completed in 1931, this painting is tempera and oil on cardboard. When looking at the painting, the bold color blocks and shapes seem to be randomly placed. However, all of the colors and lines fit together to make perfect ninety degree angles, creating a very balanced work. The assortment of shapes are spaced out enough to balance the painting as well. There are no harsh lines or colors, adding to the peaceful tone of the work. It is a relatively small work, being less than a square meter. The title, Slow Release, describes the work perfectly. In a letter Kandinsky once wrote, he commented that his “titles are supposed to make [his] paintings uninteresting, boring.” The elements of the work are still themes that Kandinsky commonly used, such as using colors and lines to come up with a specific image.
The colors in this work differ from many other works Kandinsky created because they do not bleed out of the lines or change in shade. Each block is a specific color, creating a rectangle or square enclosed in a black line. The Bauhaus had taken on a focus on architecture during this time, and Kandinsky appears to be mimicking that in his artwork. Instead of the exact primary shades of red, yellow, and blue, the colors have a more pastel appearance. Purple, green, light blue and dark yellow are just some of the colors that are used. The softer appearance of color makes the image less harsh than some of Kandinsky’s works. Also, instead of making certain shapes pop out at the viewer, the colors blend everything together, making each shape equal. Similar to the works Kandinsky was creating when the Bauhaus was first started, this image does not tell a story. It is simply shapes and color.
The shapes that Kandinsky used are not the typical shapes that he taught at the Bauhaus. His course on basic forms taught the idea of using squares, circles, and triangles that correspond to certain colors is not related in this work. There is a trapezoid containing orange and shades of yellow, a white circle, and a football shape containing multiple colors. It does not appear that there is a specific reason for these shapes other than to provide balance to the works. They are flat and do not show any type of depth. The black horizontal lines suggest a peaceful state. Using these nontraditional shapes also signifies a change in the Bauhaus, and especially in Kandinsky.
The end of the Bauhaus signified a shift in the way Kandinsky painted. As a theme of architecture took over the Bauhaus, his paintings because more block like and took on a look of organized abstraction. Political tensions during this time did not seem to affect Kandinsky’s work. If anything, it encouraged him to keep painting and to keep Bauhaus themes alive for as long as he could .
Wassily Kandinsky, Slow Release, tempera and oil on cardboard, 1931, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France.
Weber, Nicholas Fox, The Bauhaus Group: Six Masters of Modernism. New Haven, Conn: YaleUniversity Press, 2011.
Whitford, Frank. Bauhaus. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1984.