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The Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky, created Composition VII in 1913. He was living in Munich at the time. This oil on canvas painting measures 200 x 300cm, and currently hangs in the Tretyakov State Gallery in Moscow.
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When he painted Composition VII, he was part of a group called The Blue Rider, which included other artists such as Alexej von Jawlensky and Franz Marc. They argued that abstract art was as valid as representational art, and that art should express spiritual truths. The ideas of The Blue Rider were one of the driving forces of the Expressionist movement. Kandinsky saw his art as linked to music, and used the terms ‘improvisations’ and ‘compositions’ to describe them. He reduced objects to symbols, eventually dispensing with them altogether, using colours and shapes to convey meaning. He believed paintings were a way of conveying spirituality and saw himself as a poet, as well as an artist. Composition VII may appear to be a random choice of shapes and colours, but it was meticulously planned out for several months prior to its final creation, which took Kandinsky four days. Prior to that, he made over 30 sketches, using oil paints and watercolours, carefully photographing each piece as he went along. Composition VII has a vortex-like design, with a central oval that is criss-crossed by black lines, around which a riot of colours and patterns swirl. The eye tries to pick out forms and make sense of them; perhaps the shape in the bottom left is a boat with oars, or we see a bird on a branch near the centre.