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With its undulating colored ovals traversed by animated brushstrokes, Black Lines is among the first of Kandinsky’s truly nonobjective paintings. The network of thin, agitated lines indicates a graphic, two-dimensional sensibility, while the floating, vibrantly hued forms suggest various spatial depths.
By 1913 Kandinsky’s aesthetic theories and aspirations were well developed. He valued painterly abstraction as the most effective stylistic means through which to reveal hidden aspects of the empirical world, express subjective realities, aspire to the metaphysical, and offer a regenerative vision of the future. Kandinsky wanted the evocative power of carefully chosen and dynamically interrelated colors, shapes, and lines to elicit specific responses from viewers of his canvases. The inner vision of an artist, he believed, could thereby be translated into a universally accessible statement.
He realized, however, that it would be necessary to develop such a style slowly in order to foster public acceptance and comprehension. Therefore, in most of his work from this period he retained fragments of recognizable imagery. “We are still firmly bound to the outward appearance of nature and must draw forms from it,” he wrote in his essay “Picture with the White Edge,” but suggested that there existed a hidden pictorial construction that would “emerge unnoticed from the picture and [would thus be] less suited to the eye than the soul.” Painting with White Border, for instance, was explained by Kandinsky as a response to “those . . . extremely powerful impressions I had experienced in Moscow—or more correctly, of Moscow itself.” To illustrate the spirit of the city, Kandinsky included an extremely abbreviated image of a Russian troika driven by a trio of horses (the three diagonal black lines in the upper-left portion of the canvas). The mass of swirling colors and lines in the center has been convincingly interpreted as the figure of a lance-bearing St. George on horseback, an allusion to Moscow’s tsarist tradition (the state seal of Peter the Great included an emblem of the saint). Small Pleasures is filled with veiled imagery of the Last Judgment, as in many of his paintings, but its title suggests other readings. In an essay on the work, Kandinsky wrote that his goal “was to let . . . [himself] go and scatter a heap of small pleasures upon the canvas.”