Emily Christensen - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Emily Christensen

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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.


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




“The Tunisian Sources of Wassily Kandinsky’s ‘Improvisation on Mahogany'”, The Burlington Magazine, 1374 (2017), 714-719

“’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)

Conference Papers

“Ambivalent Images: Wassily Kandinsky’s Abstract-Orientalist Paintings”, at Wassily Kandinsky: Synthesis of Arts, Synthesis of Cultures conference, Moscow State University, December 2016

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

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