1910 by Wassily Kandinsky
The State Tretyakov, Moscow
Though Kandinsky spent much time out of Russia, studying and working in Germany before settling in France, he returned there during the First World War, and it was then he painted Lake, in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. What is so wonderful about this painting is not only its Cubist treatment of form, nor the Modernist flare for bright painterly colour, but the strength Kandinsky gives his subject; he creates the lake’s movement and power as imagination takes over the composition. Apart from the three boats in the foreground, which are beautifully simple, the rest of the painting is a blur, a mass of shape and colour that each viewer may decipher as they see fit. The distance the boats sail towards is a tumult of rising colour, a terrific surge of painterly movement, with such energy, such vigour, it has the rising atmosphere of a glorious place one is moving towards. The clarity of the scenery is unimportant as what Kandinsky makes us feel instead is its presence – and an understanding of why the rowers toil. Colour feeds into this intense impression of place: deep blues, lush greens and brilliant yellows, all daubed, barely seeping into one another in their boldness – yet they unite none the less, held together by the shapes that mould their movement. The emphasis on scenery, on naturalism, is reinforced with the tiny depiction of the church on the right; it does not deserve such overwhelming celebration, unlike the mass of rolling hills or mountains at the water’s edge, or indeed the water itself; love of the landscape is sung in a tumult of paint.