Abstract Paintings

History of Abstract Paintings

Abstract paintings emerged from the late 19th century and early 20th century modernist movements against traditional academic painting in Europe. Most artists until this turning point painted according to Classical Realism methods, using realistic perspective, shading, and other techniques to create recognizable scenes and subject matter. Many modern artists who sought to create art for art’s sake, without referring to objects in the real world, instead turned to abstract canvas paintings. This was believed to be a “pure art” with subjects invented by the artists as opposed to being taken from the world. Abstract art emphasizes a work’s formal qualities over its representational subject matter, leading artists to experiment with different techniques such as using vivid yet arbitrary colors, creating new shapes, and rejecting realistic three-dimensional perspective. These approaches to abstract art paintings spanned across several movements, including German Expressionism, Orphism, Suprematism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism.

Abstract Paintings Techniques

Many artists experimented with colors in their abstract canvas paintings. German Expressionism, for example, was characterized by its vivid palette and their correspondence to human feelings. Wassily Kandinsky, a well-known German Expressionist, believed art should function like music, expressing inner emotion without representing the real world. Fauvism depicted objects with intense arbitrary color, while Orphism was characterized by bright patches of color rather than a figurative subject. The rejection of three-dimensional perspective was also crucial to abstract art paintings. Cubism, with its flattened perspective of objects, paved the way for pure abstract painting in this sense. Russian Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich furthered this flatness by placing flat colorful shapes on pure white backgrounds in his works, and De Stijl painter Piet Mondrian painted flat grids in red, blue, yellow, white, and black. Surrealist painters, who were concerned with tapping into the subconscious, created biomorphic shapes and organic lines, channeling the imaginative drawings of a child. Abstract expressionists approach abstract paintings by experimenting with gesture. These works were called action paintings because they served as a document of the painters’ literal actions, be it walking around the canvas dripping paint a la Pollock or revealing the aggressive brushstrokes of Willem de Kooning. As with other abstract movements, these painters emphasized color and how the work corresponds with their own inner emotions over shape or form.

Artists Known For Abstract Paintings

Wassily Kandinsky, famous for his color theory and attaching emotions to his vividly colored paintings, is often considered to be the first true abstractionist. Works like his “Composition VII” (1913) and “On White II” (1923) are composed of a slew of overlapping, vibrant shapes and lines. Henri Matisse was a famous Fauvist, and works like his “The Green Stripe” (1905) exemplify the movement’s characteristic style. The work is a portrait of his wife with green and yellow skin on a multicolored background.  Famous Orphism painters include Robert Delaunay, whose “Simultaneous Windows on the City” (1912) and “The First Disk” (1912-1913) consist of multiple patches or segments of various colors. Georgia O’Keeffe is well-known for her colorful, closely cropped abstract flower paintings. Kazimir Malevich’s “Suprematist Construction” (1916), Piet Mondrian’s gridded “Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow” (1930), and Joan Miro’s biomorphic “The Kiss” (1924) demonstrate three different approaches to geometric abstraction. Famous abstract expressionist works include Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings like “Number 1A (1948)” (1948) and the gestural brushwork of Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning in their respective works “Painting No. 2” (1954) and  “Woman 1” (1950-1952). Other famous abstract painters include Paul Klee, Francis Picabia, Fernand Léger, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Clyfford Still, Helen Frankenthaler, and Lee Krasner. Abstract painters associated with the later Minimalism movement include Ad Reinhardt, Agnes Martin, and Frank Stella.