Vasily Kandinsky (French, born Russia, 18661944)
Oil on canvas; 47 3/8 x 55 1/4 in. (120.3 x 140.3 cm)
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.70.1)
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
The Russian-born artist Vasily Kandinsky moved to Munich to study painting in 1896. There, he became one of the founding members of Der Blaue Reiter ("The Blue Rider"), a loose association of artists formed in 1911 to promote a new art, one that would reject the materialist world in favor of the world of emotion and the spirit. The following year, when he painted The Garden of Love, Kandinsky also published his influential book, On the Spiritual in Art. In accordance with his belief in the primacy of the inner, spiritual world, Kandinsky's art was abstract, meant to express our preconscious selves, before the intervention of reason. By dematerializing the external appearance of his subject, without eliminating all visual reference to it, he could reveal the subject's essence. Kandinsky often used musical terminology to describe his work, and in the subtitle of this painting, the word improvisation suggests "a largely unconscious, spontaneous expression of inner character, the nonmaterial nature."
The specific source for the imagery in The Garden of Love is most likely the biblical story of Paradise and the Garden of Eden, one of several Old and New Testament themes addressed by the artist. The imaginary landscape revolves around a large yellow sun in the center of the composition, which pulses with rays of red. The garden is occupied by three abstract pairs of embracing figures: a reclining couple above the sun, another at the lower right, and a third, smaller pair seated at the left. Surrounding them are several animalscertainly a snake and perhaps a grazing horse and sleeping dog. Kandinsky, who was a master watercolorist, successfully achieved a similar effect in this oil painting.
The Garden of Love has had an illustrious exhibition history. Shortly after its completion, it was included in the important Blaue Reiter exhibition held at Herwarth Walden's newly opened Der Sturm gallery in Berlin (1912), and in 1913 it was Kandinsky's single entry in the Armory Show (New York), where Alfred Stieglitz saw it and promptly purchased it for his personal collection.