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One of the great innovators, the most influential and best-loved modernists of European abstraction, Vasily Kandinsky (Russia/France, 1866–1944) broke new ground in painting during the first decades of the 20th century. In his influential treatise, On the spiritual in art, published in 1911, he wrote about art’s potential to ‘stand alone’, with imagery independent of the natural world. The development of a new subject matter based solely on the artist’s ‘inner necessity’ would occupy him for the rest of his life.

For Kandinsky, whose art reshaped the trajectory of 20th-century painting, colour was the channel for the direct expression of the spirit; beyond language, beyond conscious comprehension.

‘Colour directly influences the soul’, he wrote.

‘Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul!’

Kandinsky’s love of colours hinged on their always being ready to submit into new combinations, to mix with each other, creating unending successions of new worlds. Here we find a multitude of new worlds in works by contemporary artists drawn from across our collection, all of whom share with Kandinsky a belief in the power of colour and of abstraction; a belief that, ‘the harmonies of colour and form... are the joy of this world’.