Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The two Kandinskys

Avi Ohry
Tel Aviv, Israel

Wassily Kandinsky depicted with his Composition 8 (1923). Source.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) was a Russian painter, art theorist, co-founder of the “Blue Rider” art movement, pioneer of abstract painting,1 and part of the Fauvism and Bauhaus of Weimar movements. Neuroscientists regard him “as one of the most prominent examples of a synesthetic artist.”2

Kandinsky postulated a fundamental synesthesia between color and form or shapes.3,4 He (and others) also related cross-modal correspondence with “the inherent belongingness between two different senses: … pitch and color.”5 Scientists and artists debate “whether synesthesia can contribute to an artist’s ability, whether it is a driving force or a mere idiosyncratic quirk, and whether fundamentally it is a distinct condition or an unusual form of normal perception.”5

Another member of the Kandinsky family was Wassily’s second cousin Victor Kandinsky (1849–1889).6,7 He studied medicine in Moscow and became a general practitioner. He experienced his first depression with hallucinations while a physician in the Russo-Turkish War, and he was treated at a naval hospital. In 1876 he had a psychotic attack, was hospitalized, and was discharged from the army. He became a psychiatrist, published a book based on his own psychotic experiences, and finally diagnosed his “melancholia” as paranoid schizophrenia. He worked as a psychiatrist but was hospitalized many times and died in a mental asylum.

Kandinsky described the psychopathological symptoms included in the term “mental automatism” (telepathy, reading and broadcasting thoughts, enforced speaking, and enforced motor movements), a syndrome later called the Kandinsky-Clerambault syndrome8 or confabulatory disorder.7 Kandinsky contributed to general psychiatry in three main areas: psychopathology, psychiatric classification, and forensic psychiatry.8 Clérambault (1872–1934) was a French psychiatrist, painter, and photographer.


  1. Braun DI, Doerschner K. Kandinsky or Me? How Free Is the Eye of the Beholder in Abstract Art? Iperception. 2019 Sep 4;10(5):2041669519867973.
  2. Just DKC. Was Kandinsky a Synesthete? Examining His Writings and Other Evidence. Multisens Res. 2017 Jan 1;30(3-5):447-460.
  3. Jacobsen T. Kandinsky’s questionnaire revisited: fundamental correspondence of basic colors and forms? Percept Mot Skills. 2002 Dec;95(3 Pt 1):903-13.
  4. Makin AD, Wuerger SM. The IAT shows no evidence for Kandinsky’s color-shape associations. Front Psychol. 2013 Sep 11;4:616.
  5. Mulvenna CM. Synesthesia, the arts and creativity: a neurological connection. Front Neurol Neurosci. 2007;22:206-222
  6. Engmann B. On the origins of the concept of ‘latent schizophrenia’ in Russian psychiatry. Hist Psychiatry. 2022 Jun;33(2):230-235
  7. [Acute paraphrenic states in the clinical presentation of attack-like schizophrenia]. Zh Nevrol Psikhiatr Im S S Korsakova. 2015;115 (11 Pt 2):49-56. In Russian.
  8. Lerner V, Witztum E. Victor Kandinsky, M.D., 1849-1889. Am J Psychiatry. 2006 Feb;163(2):209.

AVI OHRY, MD, is married with two daughters. He is Emeritus Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Tel Aviv University, the former director of Rehabilitation Medicine at Reuth Medical and Rehabilitation Center in Tel Aviv, and a member of The Lancet‘s Commission on Medicine & the Holocaust. He conducts award-winning research in neurological rehabilitation, bioethics, medical humanities and history, and on long-term effects of disability and captivity. He plays the drums with three jazz bands.

Spring 2024



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