Art: Endowed with Life

Who was the first abstract artist?

There are many claimants, from Picabia to the obscure Lithuanian Ciurlionis. But if one angles the question a little and asks who was the first painter to produce a major life's work from systematic abstraction, there is only one answer: Wassily Kandinsky, who was born in Moscow more than a century ago, in 1866, and died in France in 1944.

"I really believe," Kandinsky wrote toward the end of his life, "that I am the first and only artist to throw not just the 'subject' out of my paintings,...

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