The Evolution of Kandinsky’s Colour Theory and Spiritualism in Art

Making vibrations in the soul

Christopher P Jones
6 min readFeb 23

Movement I (1935) by Wassily Kandinsky. Mixed media on canvas. 116 × 89 cm. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia. Image source WikiArt

Christopher P Jones is the author of How to Read Paintings, an examination of art’s most enthralling images and their meanings.

The artist Wassily Kandinsky was obsessed with colour.

He ardently believed that through his colour-drenched abstract paintings, everyday reality could be transcended, giving access to a higher, immaterial order of experience.

In 1896, he relocated from his native Moscow to the city of Munich — a vibrant hub of artistic and scientific discourse. He steadily made a name for himself as an innovative figure in the avant-garde art world, alongside fellow artists like Franz Marc, Alexej von Jawlensky and Paul Klee. Together, they championed the concept of art as a fusion of word, picture and sound.

Later in 1911, Kandinsky published Concerning the Spiritual in Art, his key text for understanding his theories on colour, in which he wrote: “Generally speaking, colour directly influences the soul.”

The Spiritual Connotation of Colour

Composition V (1911) by Wassily Kandinsky. Oil on canvas. 190 × 275 cm. Private collection. Image source WikiArt

According to Kandinsky, colour has an intense spiritual connotation and awakes within the viewer’s emotions rooted in the soul. He explained that “to a sensitive soul, the effect of colours is deeper and intensely moving. They produce a corresponding spiritual vibration…”

His colour theory centred around two related contrasts: warm versus cool and light versus dark.

For Kandinsky, yellow and blue represented warm and cool respectively. He believed that yellow tones move towards the viewer, expanding and leading outward from the canvas, whereas blue moves away from the viewer, receding and shrinking into the picture.

He captured the idea in his description:

“If two circles are drawn and painted respectively…