Impression III (Concert)

Impression III (Konzert) (1911) by Wassily Kandinsky
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, München Paul Klee © VBK, Vienna, 2010

On January 2, 1911, Kandinsky and other members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München attended a concert featuring works by Arnold Schoenberg. He depicted his first encounter with this music and his subsequent interest in the theories of Schoenberg—with whom he initiated a correspondence—in his painting Impression III (Konzert). Kandinsky used the term impression to describe paintings that reproduce a direct impression of external nature; improvisations, by contrast, are paintings that replicate impressions of an internal nature; and compositions likewise elaborate impressions of an internal nature, but are created more slowly and with greater deliberation.[1] However, sketches for Impression III (Konzert) demonstrate that Kandinsky was not depicting either the particular concert situation he experienced on January 2, 1911, or a particular composition; rather, the picture portrays his overall impression of a musical performance that nonetheless has its origins in the significant experience of the concert and the group’s new musical encounter.

The large black form dominating the painting—though compact and recognizable at the concrete level as a grand piano—seems to float weightlessly. An amorphous yellow patch flows around it, surges into the foreground as the key of the sound or the music, and encircles and penetrates the listeners, who are denoted by dashes of color and hook-shaped lines. The audience is attracted in turn by the dynamic of the black form. In this way, using just a few concrete signs, Kandinsky visualized the effect of the music.