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The Art of JAMA |

Houses at Murnau  Wassily Kandinsky

Thomas B. Cole, MD, MPH
JAMA. 2013;310(18):1898-1899. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.5405.
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The most interesting feature of Houses at Murnau, by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), is not the row of toy-like houses along the hillside but the grassy hill itself, or more specifically the color field under the arc of the hill. Kandinsky often used color as a compositional element. In his youth, when he visited churches near Moscow, the shimmering colors of their interiors made him feel as though he was moving into a painting, and it was this sort of experience that he hoped to re-create. Moving into this painting, the eye takes note of the yellow facades of the buildings and comes to rest on the hill that dominates the foreground. To make the hill appear vibrant and organic, Kandinsky painted squiggles of yellow and green over a complementary background of burnt orange with flecks of blue shade. Dividing colors into their component hues allowed them to blend optically to create an illusion of movement, as though a gust of wind were bending the grass toward the light and back again. This painting is more representational than much of Kandinsky’s later work. It is easy to identify houses, hills, and a distant lake, but distortion is creeping in. The rooftops of the houses on the left are folded like accordions, and those on the right are writhing and breaking up. The blend of colors on the hill is soothing, but there is tension on the horizon.

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Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Houses at Murnau, 1909, French, born Russia. Oil on cardboard. 49 × 64 cm. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago (http://www.artic.edu/), Chicago, Illinois; bequest of Katharine Kuh, 1994.33. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, New York/ADAGP, Paris, France.

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