Kandinsky BY Helmut Friedel, Annegret Hoberg. Prestel USA. Hardcover, 320 pages. $185.

The cover of Kandinsky

As a retrospective of the work of Wassily Kandinsky makes its way from Munich to Paris to New York over the course of this year—roughly tracing the artist’s own westward path during his lifetime—fortunate viewers will experience one of the greatest concentrations of his art. Much as previous shows have presented piecemeal considerations of his body of work, so have publications tended toward examinations limited to certain media or particular periods. But to see the evolution of his painting is to witness the birth of a modernist master: early figurative canvases mixing French Impressionism and Fauvism with Russian folktales; the lithe Blaue Reiter tonal abstractions; the intense musicality of his prewar “Improvisations”; the crowded, moody compositions of the war years spent in Russia; the cool geometry of the Bauhaus era; and the organic, often protozoan forms from his last decade in Paris. Helmut Friedel and Annegret Hoberg’s oversize volume documents each of these turns in thoroughgoing texts by a group of expert contributors and in three hundred sumptuous color images. This slipcased volume also includes Kleine Welten (Small Worlds), a series of black-and-white and color woodcuts, lithographs, and etchings, originally printed by the Bauhaus in 1922 in a limited edition and reproduced here as a separate, facsimile portfolio. These dozen images, made about halfway through Kandinsky’s career, mark a transitional moment in the development of his abstraction: no longer based on natural forms, yet not yet the pure shapes and lines of later years. Kandinsky saw each composition as an individual environment, a unique experience—a reminder, perhaps, that in small gestures larger worlds are born.