Emily Christensen

PhD student; Associate Lecturer

Thesis: The influence of “the Orient” on Kandinsky’s early abstract paintings

Supervisor: Dr Gavin Parkinson

My thesis explores the influence of “the Orient” on Wassily Kandinsky’s early abstract paintings from 1909-1913. For Kandinsky, abstraction was never an end in itself: disaffected by the materialism of his society, he sought a spiritual renewal for his audiences, galvanised by abstract art. Figures and objects in his early abstracts were partially but not entirely dissolved, ensuring that his viewers could recognise visual cues signalling spirituality. Many of the works he produced during this period reference “the East” or “the Orient”. Central to my work is an examination of the material Kandinsky produced while on a trip to Tunisia, encompassing sketches, paintings and photographs, in order to establish his personal iconography of Orientalism. In parallel, I am researching the stereotypes of “the Orient” circulating within Munich society at the time – in popular press, advertising, and salon Orientalism, stereotypes that Kandinsky made use of to suit his artistic objectives. My research will examine how themes referencing “the Orient” acted as both a motivating and an enabling factor in his development of abstraction and shaped many of his paintings during this critical period.


Teaching

2021: Fantasies Reframed: Orientalism and its Contexts, Courtauld Summer School, Associate Lecturer

2020-2021: The Female Body in French Art, Courtauld BA2, Associate Lecturer

2020: Lecture, “Munich, centre of the German avantgarde: Kandinsky and the Blaue Reiter”, Courtauld Showcasing Art History programme

2019-2020: Core Methodologies, Courtauld MA, Teaching Assistant

2018-2019: Foundations Block, 19th & 20th century Art, Courtauld BA1, Teaching Assistant


Education

2017 – present: Courtauld Institute of Art, PhD programme: “Refiguring Kandinsky: strategies of Orientalism in Wassily Kandinsky’s experimental abstraction”

2015 – 2016: The Courtauld Institute of Art – Masters in the History of Art: Experiencing Modernism (Distinction)

2014 – 2015: The Courtauld Institute of Art – Graduate Diploma in the History of Art

1997 – 1998: London School of Economics and Political Science – Master of Laws in International Law and Cultural Property Law (with Merit)

1992 – 1996: Australian National University – Bachelor of Laws with Honours

1992 – 1994: Australian National University – Bachelor of Arts majoring in Russian and French


Publications

“Wassily Kandinsky at the exhibition Meisterwerke muhammedanischer Kunst in Munich, 1910: a modernist artist’s interpretation of Persian art”, Manzir Journal, forthcoming

“’Ambivalent Images’: Wassily Kandinsky’s abstract-Orientalist paintings”, Aesthetica Universalis 3 (2018), 52-88 (English language version)

“’Ambivalent Images’: Wassily Kandinsky’s abstract-Orientalist paintings”, Aesthetica Universalis 4 (2018), 109-146 (Russian language version)

“The Tunisian Sources of Kandinsky’s Improvisation on Mahogany”, 159 The Burlington Magazine, (September 2017)

Contributing author, Museums and the Holocaust: Law, Principles and Practice (Institute of Art and Law)


Conferences

Session Co-chair: “Challenging Orientalism: New questions of perception and reception”, Association for Art History Annual Conference (April 2021)

“Wassily Kandinsky at the exhibition Meisterwerke muhammedanischer Kunst in Munich, 1910: a modernist artist’s interpretation of Persian art”, Geometry and Colour: Decoding the Arts of Islam in the West 1880-1945, Kunsthaus Zurich (November 2020)

“Violence and Voyeurism in the Tunisian Photographs of Gabriele Münter and Wassily Kandinsky”, Association for Art History New Voices Conference on Art and Conflict, University of Edinburgh (November 2018)

“Ambivalent images: Wassily Kandinsky’s abstract-Orientalist paintings”, Wassily Kandinsky: Synthesis of Arts, Synthesis of Cultures, Conference at Moscow State University (December 2016)

Citations