The advent of the 20th century saw a revolution in the art world in which artists moved away from representational art, which aimed to represent a depiction of a visual reality; and towards abstraction, which gave them independence from the visual world. In the strict sense, abstract art bears no trace of anything recognizable in the natural world but the genre is not limited to these works as it saw numerous artists who practiced varying degree of abstraction. Fauvism of Henri Matisse, and Cubism of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, used partial abstraction. These movements were an important precursor to the abstract movements which ultimately dominated the art world in the 20th century. These included Orphism, Suprematism, Neoplasticism, Optical art and most prominently Abstract Expressionism. Know more about the development of abstract art by studying the 10 most famous abstract artists, the movements they were related to, their contribution and their greatest works.

 

Robert Delaunay
Robert Delaunay

#10 Robert Delaunay

Nationality: French

Lifespan: 12 April 1885 – 25 October 1941

The initially works of Robert Delaunay were Neo-Impressionist but with time he moved towards abstraction. His 1912 work Simultaneous Windows was his last semi figurative work before he began experimenting with complete non-objectivity. His most important contribution to abstract art was co-founding the Orphism art movement, an offshoot of Cubism which focused on pure abstraction and bright colors. The movement aimed to dispense recognizable subject matter and thus played a key role in the development of abstract art. Delaunay’s abstract paintings were based on the optical characteristics of brilliant colors that were so dynamic they would function as the form. By being the leader and most famous figure of Orphism, Delaunay is ranked among the most influential abstract artists.

Abstract Masterpiece: Rhythm, Joy of Life (1930)

Rhythm, Joy of Life (1930)
Rhythm, Joy of Life (1930) – Robert Delaunay

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

Hommage to Blériot (1914)

Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon (1913)

 

Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir Malevich

#9 Kazimir Malevich

Nationality: Russian

Lifespan: February 23, 1878 – May 15, 1935

Geometric abstraction is a form of abstract art based on the use of geometric forms. Kazimir Malevich was the founder of the art movement known as Suprematism, which focused on basic geometric forms, such as circles, squares, lines, and rectangles, and the use of limited range of colors. He is thus a pioneer of geometric abstract art. His 1915 Suprematist painting Black Square is one of the most famous and influential works in the history of abstract art. Malevich was also an art theoretician and wrote the book The World as Non-Objectivity, which outlined his suprematist theories. He was a key figure in the development of total abstraction and reducing a painting to its geometric essence.

Abstract Masterpiece: Black Square (1915)

The Black Square (1915)
The Black Square (1915) – Kazimir Malevich

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

White on White (1918)

Suprematist Composition (1916)

 

Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning

#8 Willem de Kooning

Nationality: Dutch-American

Lifespan: April 24, 1904 – March 19, 1997

Abstract Expressionism was a post World War II art movement which was the first specifically American movement to gain international prominence and one of the most influential movements in abstract art. It incorporated a variety of styles and emphasized on conveying strong emotional or expressive content through abstraction. Willem de Kooning was one of the most prominent Abstract Expressionists who specialized in distorting figure painting to the level of abstraction and blending various styles to create impressive canvases. He also created sculptures in his late career. De Kooning’s paintings have regularly sold for record prices. His Woman III was sold for $137.5 million in 2006, the second highest price at the time, and in 2015, his Interchange was sold for $300 million, which remains the highest price paid for a painting as of July 2017.

Abstract Masterpiece: Woman I (1952)

Woman I (1952)
Woman I (1952) – Willem de Kooning

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

Interchange (1955)

Woman III (1953)

 

Victor Vasarely
Victor Vasarely

#7 Victor Vasarely

Nationality: Hungarian–French

Lifespan: April 9, 1906 – March 15, 1997

Op art, a short form for optical art, in a genre in abstract art in which the artist creates an optical illusion through precise manipulation of patterns, shapes and colors. It usually consists of non-representational geometric shapes, most often creating an illusion of movement. After initially working as a graphic designer and a poster artist, Victor Vasarely eventually became one of the founders and the most famous figure of the Op art movement, among the most influential movements in abstract art. Op art not only influenced the art world but also spread to other areas including architecture, computer aided design, animation and fashion. Vasarely’s painting Zebra (1937) is considered one of the earliest examples of OP art. He went on to create some of the movement’s most renowned works in both painting and sculpture. Victor Vasarely is known as the “Father of Op Art”.

Abstract Masterpiece: Zebra (1937)

Zebra (1937)
Zebra (1937) – Victor Vasarely

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

Vega-Nor

Vonal Stri

 

Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder

#6 Alexander Calder

Nationality: American

Lifespan: July 22, 1898 – November 11, 1976

One of the most influential sculptors of the twentieth century and perhaps the most acclaimed abstract sculptor, Alexander Calder is famous for his invention of the mobile, an abstract sculpture that moves in response to touch or air currents by taking advantage of the principle of equilibrium. In addition to mobiles, Calder made static sculpture called stabiles, wire sculptures, toys, theatrical sets, paintings in oil and gouache, and even jewelry and numerous household objects. Calder also created monumental sculptures including .125 for JFK Airport in New York City in 1957, Spirale for UNESCO in Paris the following year and his largest sculpture El Sol Rojo in 1968 outside the Aztec Stadium for the New Mexico Summer Olympic Games. Two months after his death in November 1976, Alexander Calder was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Abstract Masterpiece: Flamingo (1974)

Flamingo (1974)
Flamingo (1974) – Alexander Calder

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

Lobster Trap and Fish Tail (1939)

Arc of Petals (1941)

 

Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko

#5 Mark Rothko

Nationality: Russian-American

Lifespan: September 25, 1903 – February 25, 1970

Mark Rothko, or Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz, belonged to a Russian Jewish family which immigrated to the United States when he was a child. He moved through a number of styles in his artistic career including Surrealism before he developed his own signature style. Rothko is considered a pioneer of Color Field painting, a style within Abstract Expressionism in which color is the main subject itself. Though Rothko is regarded as one of the leading abstract artists, he insisted that he was not an abstractionist as his primary focus was discovering mysticism and esoteric aspects of colors and its combinations. Painting was a method of spiritual expression for Rothko and many viewers have broken down in tears in front of his works. Despite his statement, the contribution of Rothko to Abstract Expressionism is monumental.

Abstract Masterpiece: Orange, Red, Yellow (1961)

Orange, Red, Yellow (1961)
Orange, Red, Yellow (1961) – Mark Rothko

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

Untitled (Black on Grey) (1970)

No. 10 (1950)

 

Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe

#4 Georgia O’Keeffe

Nationality: American

Lifespan: November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986

American Modernism was an artistic and cultural movement which peaked between the two World Wars. It was marked by a deliberate departure from tradition and use of innovative forms of expression. Georgia O’Keeffe became the leading figure in American Modernism by challenging the boundaries of artistic style with her paintings, which combined abstraction and representation. She is most famous for her dramatically large, sensual close-up of flowers which essentially made them into abstract works. Georgia O’Keeffe is not only the most famous female abstract artist but also one of the most influential figures of 20th century art. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.

Abstract Masterpiece: Black Iris III (1926)

Black Iris III (1926) - Georgia O’Keeffe
Black Iris III (1926) – Georgia O’Keeffe

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

Red Canna (1924)

Blue and Green Music (1921)

 

Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian

#3 Piet Mondrian

Nationality: Dutch

Lifespan: March 7, 1872 – February 1, 1944

Piet Mondrian began as a conventional artist, and experimented with Luminism and Cubism, before becoming the most influential contributor to the De Stijl art movement which advocated pure abstraction by a reduction to the essentials of form and color. He coined the term neoplasticism for his abstract art in which he only used the straight line, the three primary colors, and the neutrals of black, white and gray. Mondrian is considered an important leader in the development of abstract art. His work inspired two influential movements, the German Bauhaus movement which focused on simplified lines and color theory; and New York’s Minimalism which was based on geometric forms and a narrow color palette.

Abstract Masterpiece: Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942–43)

Broadway Boogie-Woogie - Piet Mondrian
Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1943) – Piet Mondrian

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue (1937–42)

Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow (1930)

 

Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock

#2 Jackson Pollock

Nationality: American

Lifespan: January 28, 1912 – August 11, 1956

Drip painting is a form of abstract art in which paint is dripped or poured onto the canvas, rather than being carefully applied. Jackson Pollock is the most famous practitioner of drip painting to the extent that he was dubbed “Jack the Dripper” by TIME magazine. Pollock’s technique of pouring and dripping paint popularized the term action painting, a method in which the physical act of painting itself is an essential aspect of the finished work. His most famous works include Blue Poles, which was purchased by the National Gallery of Australia in 1973 for A$1.3 million, a then world record for a contemporary American painting; and No. 5, 1948, which created the world record for the highest price paid for a painting when it was sold for a price of $140 million. Jackson Pollock is not only the most famous Abstract Expressionist artist but also one of the leading figures of 20th century art.

Abstract Masterpiece: Number 5, 1948

Number 5, 1948 - Jackson Pollock
Number 5, 1948 – Jackson Pollock

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

Number 11, 1952 (Blue Poles)

One: Number 31, 1950

 

Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky

#1 Wassily Kandinsky

Nationality: Russian

Lifespan: December 16,1866 – December 13, 1944

Initially a teacher of law and economics, Wassily Kandinsky gave up his promising career to pursue his interests in art. He rose to prominence in the 1910s to become one of the leading figures in modern art. Kandinsky is a pioneer of abstract art and he painted some of the earliest works in the genre including what is known as the First Abstract Watercolour. Music, being abstract in nature, was an inherent part of his art and he named some of his spontaneous works as “improvisations” and elaborate ones as “compositions”. Apart from being a painter, Kandinsky was also a prominent art theorist whose books had an enormous and profound influence on future artists. For his tremendous contribution in moving the art world away from representational traditions and towards abstraction, Wassily Kandinsky is considered by many as the “Father of Abstract Art”.

Abstract Masterpiece: Composition VII (1913)

Composition VII (1913) - Kandinsky Wassily
Composition VII (1913) – Wassily Kandinsky

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

On White II (1923)

Farbstudie Quadrate (1913)

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