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The Cover
September 15, 2004

Untitled Improvisation III

Author Affiliations

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(11):1274. doi:10.1001/jama.292.11.1274

The Russian painter and printmaker Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) is generally acknowledged as the "inventor" of abstract art. More accurate, perhaps, would be to say that the art already existed but that he was the first to recognize what he was seeing and to name it. He himself recounts the story of that fateful evening in 1908. Returning to his studio after a sketching trip, and deep in thought, he opened the door only to be struck by a work on his easel that he did not recognize. He could discern in it no subject, no objects, nothing but patches of color. And yet the work, as he saw it, was so beautiful that it was beyond words. Only when he went closer to examine it did he realize it was one of his own paintings that had accidentally been placed on its side. The experience confirmed what he had dimly realized more than a decade earlier when he had happened upon a Monet Haystack at an exhibit of the French Impressionists in Moscow: paintings need neither subject nor model. In fact, they did not even need titles except to distinguish one from another.