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Kandinsky and Abstraction: The Role of the Hidden Image

IN AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL STATEMENT published in 1919, Vasily Kandinsky claimed he painted his first abstract work in 1911.1 However, in his essays written before the First World War, he made no mention of abstract works before the middle of 1913.2 No wonder then that one of Kandinsky’s biographers, when faced with describing the paintings of the period 1911–1913, wrote in 1924: “One thinks one sees in the works from 1911–1913 vegetables, meteorological forms, remnants of trees, water, fog, but by careful concentration one is able to make these figments of our imagination disappear.”3 This expression of uneasiness about the seeming presence of images in Kandinsky’s works betrays the conflict many have felt when seeking to establish a clear cut-off date for Kandinsky’s excursion into abstraction. Kandinsky’s remarks of 1919 have been used to support the misconception that the imagery,

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