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Art Through Time: A Global View

Cosmology and Belief Art: The Garden of Love (Improvisation Number 27)

» Wassily Kandinsky (French, born Russia, 1866–1944)

The Garden of Love (Improvisation Number 27)

The Garden of Love (Improvisation Number 27)
Artist / Origin: Wassily Kandinsky (French, born Russia, 1866–1944)
Region: Europe
Date: 1912
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 47 3/8 in. (120.3 cm.), W: 55 1/4 in. (140.3 cm.)
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alfred Stieglitz Collection © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Believing that an engagement with the spiritual could ennoble his artwork, in the early twentieth century Wassily Kandinsky began turning away from the idea that art should convey a faithful likeness of things in nature.

Instead, he sought to reveal the “soul” of his subjects, which did not rely on outward appearance. With his established goal being the communication of inner essences, Kandinsky created works that were increasingly abstract. He explained his perspective clearly in a 1911 treatise that he titled Concerning the Spiritual in ArtThe Garden of Love was painted the following year.

By calling this painting The Garden of Love, Kandinsky makes a clear reference to the Garden of Eden. However, his interest in the spiritual was too broad for a strictly literal interpretation of a bible story. While a shining sun is identifiable at the center of the canvas, very little else in the scene is recognizable. Rather than depicting human figures and animals, Kandinsky merely suggests them. Rough sketches of couples, for instance, meld into single shapes, attesting to Kandinsky’s belief that the idea of the Garden of Love could be expressed without explicit representation of the physical world.

Ultimately, Kandinsky wanted his art to be able to communicate on its own terms, independent of naturalistic signs. He looked to lines and color as the foundations of this visual “language” that he likened to that of music, which expressed pure emotion free of representation. Kandinsky’s interest in the connection between art and music is revealed in the titles of his paintings, which often describe the works as musical forms. The Garden of Love, for instance, was alternately called Improvisation 27.

Expert Perspective:
Vitaly Komar, Artist

“The pioneers of modern art, for example, Kandinsky, pioneer of abstract art, they considered themselves as revolutionaries which destroyed the old culture and bringing the completely new innovation and the belief in progress, etc. But Kandinsky himself published a book on spirituality in art. It’s very important. I see now many spiritual things, spiritual enjoyment, spiritual beauty in many abstract painters of the fifties. It’s not just destruction of the tradition; it’s leading back to the roots in some way.

For example, if somebody making abstract expression today, they working together with Kandinsky, with de Kooning. This is collaboration. We are a family and all people is a family. When we establish the connection with our roots we must understand that thousands and thousands of years, people was searching for spirituality. They tried to resolve this mystery of these things. And that’s, that’s not just dialogue. It’s a search of connection with people who were before us.”

Additional Resources

Gamwell, Lynn. Exploring the Invisible: Art, Science, and the Spiritual.Foreword by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Harrison, Charles, et al. Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century. New Haven and London: Yale University Press and the Open University, 1993.

Friedel, Helmut, and Annegret Hoberg. Kandinsky. New York: Prestel, 2008.

Lindsay, Kenneth C., and Peter Vergo, eds. Kandinsky: Complete Writings On Art. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1994.

“Wassily Kandinsky: The Garden of Love (Improvisation Number 27) (49.70.1).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/11/eue/ho_49.70.1.htm (October 2006).

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Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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