Abstract Art Movements
Periods, Schools: Cubism, De Stijl, Action Painting.


Abstract Art Movements (c.1870-2000)


Origins & Precursor Movements
The Greatest Abstract Art Movements

Other Resources

- Greatest Abstract Painters
- Abstract Paintings: Top 100
- Abstract Sculpture (1900-2000)
- Abstract Sculptors: Top 70 (1900-2000)



Abstract art, the opposite to representational art, encompasses a diverse variety of general styles, ranging from the purist geometric abstraction and minimalism, thru gesturalism and action-painting, to organic abstraction, colour field painting and word art. Known somewhat confusingly by several different names - such as, "non-figurative", "non-objective art", "non-representational", or "concrete art" - abstract art blossomed in the 20th century, thanks to the pioneering efforts of artists like Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Georges Braque (1882-1963), Theo Van Doesburg (1883-1931), Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) and Joan Miro (1893-1983).



The following list of abstract art movements is not exhaustive, but all major schools are included, from 1890s Art Nouveau to 1980s Postmodernist styles.

Origins & Precursor Movements

JMW Turner (1775-1851)
Some of his expressionist landscapes dissolve into almost total abstraction.
Realism to Impressionism (1830-1900)
How Realism led to Impressionism and ultimately abstraction.
Claude Monet's late Water-Lily paintings and James McNeill Whistler's 'Nocturnes' are also early forms of abstract art.
The influential colourist masterpiece The Talisman (1888) by Paul Serusier, heralds the growing mood in favour of non-representational art.
Art Nouveau (c.1890-1914)
An important precursor because of its style of decorative abstraction, derived from Celtic Art style curvilinear interlace, spirals, and knot patterns, notably employed in book-covers, textile, wallpaper designs by William Morris, Arthur Mackmurdo, and others.
German Expressionism (1905-14)
Kandinsky's expressionist pictures painted during his membership of Der Blaue Reiter come close to abstraction, as do works by his colleague Franz Marc (1880-1916). Meanwhile, in Paris, Henri Matisse, Maurice de Vlaminck and others launched Fauvism. Like their predecessor Impressionism, these two movements further undermine the academic tradition of classical realism.


The Greatest Abstract Movements

Cubism (1908-14)
Invented by Picasso and Braque, developed by Juan Gris, Fernand Leger and others. Divided into: Proto-Cubist Painting (pre-1908); Analytical Cubism (1908-12); Synthetic Cubism (1912-14). These three movements initiated abstraction in 20th century painting.

Futurism (1909-14)
This was a semi-abstract style of Italian painting founded by Marinetti, and pioneered by Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), Carlo Carra (1881-1966), Gino Severini (1883-1966) and Luigi Russolo (1885-1947). Russian Futurism (c.1912-14) was developed by David Burlyuk (1882-1967) and Vladimir Mayakovsky. See also: Knave of Diamonds group (1910-17) and Donkey's Tail group (1911-12).

Orphism (c.1910-13)
Also called Simultanism or Orphic Cubism, it was founded by Robert Delaunay and his wife Sonia Delaunay-Terk.

Rayonism (1912-14)
Also called Luchism or Rayism, this style was founded by Mikhail Larionov and his lifelong companion Natalya Goncharova.

Armory Show (New York, 1913)
A hugely important public exhibition of modern art which introduced Cubism and other styles of avant-garde art to America.

Vorticism (1913-14)
British Cubist-Futurist movement founded by Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957). For other British styles, see Art Movements, Periods, Schools (from about 100 BCE).

Synchromism (c.1913-18)
A style of painting, similar to Orphism, which was launched in 1913 by the American painters, Morgan Russell and Stanton MacDonald-Wright.

Suprematism (c.1913-18)
Founded by Kasimir Malevich, the first great pioneer of non-objective art based exclusively on geometric abstraction.

Constructivism (c.1919-1932)
Founded by Vladimir Tatlin, the leading members of this design movement included Alexander Rodchenko, Lyubov Popova, and El Lissitzky.

De Stijl (1917-31)
A Dutch art & design group founded by Theo van Doesburg; its leading members included Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck, Georges Vantongerloo and Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart. To begin with, De Stijl advocated Mondrian's austere artistic theory of geometric abstraction, known as Neo-Plasticism, before adopting a more relaxed system known as Elementarism. Theo Van Doesburg later became the first to use the term Concrete Art. He also founded the group Abstraction-Creation.

Bauhaus Design School (1919-33)
The Staatliches Bauhaus was a German school of design founded in Weimar by Walter Gropius, which taught a fusion of architecture, art and crafts.

Surrealism (Launched 1924)
Abstract surrealism was exemplified by Jean Arp, Joan Miro, Francis Picabia, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst and Andre Masson. Semi-abstract surrealism was personnified by Salvador Dali; wholly abstract by Joan Miro and Yves Tanguy.

Biomorphic/Organic Abstraction (Flourished 1930s)
Biomorphic sculpture was exemplified by the work of Jean Arp, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore; Biomorphic painting by Joan Miro, Yves Tanguy and the Armenian-American Arshile Gorky. See also Georgia O'Keeffe's entrancing work Black Abstraction (1927, Metropolitan Museum).


Degenerate Art (1933-45)
Nearly all abstract paintings by German artists and others, were labelled "Entartete kunst" (degenerate art) by the Nazis and banned. This persuaded many painters and sculptors to seek sanctuary in America.

St Ives School (fl. 1939-75)
Avant-garde centre of abstract painting and sculpture, led by Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo.

Abstract Expressionism (c.1947-1965)
By 1945 the centre of modern art had shifted to America, where the major new trend was the New York School of abstract expressionist painting. Early examples include: Pasiphae (1943, Metropolitan Museum of Art) by Jackson Pollock and Seated Woman (1944, Metropolitan Museum of Art) by Willem de Kooning.

The school embraced several different styles including: Action-Painting (see in particular Jackson Pollock's paintings); the vivid Colour Field Painting (in particular, see Mark Rothko's paintings as well as works by Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman); and the gestural painting of Willem De Kooning and others.

Art Informel
This was the European form of Abstract Expressionism. A general style, it had several variants, including: Tachisme, a style of abstract painting characterized by splotches and dabs of colour; Nouveau Realisme, the brainchild of Yves Klein (1928-62) and a sort of offshoot of Tachisme - see also Yves Klein's postmodernist art; the Cobra group which practised the gestural style of American Abstract Expressionism; and lastly Lyrical Abstraction (in French Abstraction Lyrique), a quieter, more harmonious style of Art Informel. Other smaller groups engaged in a similar idiom included Forces Nouvelles, and Art Non Figuratif.

Post-painterly Abstraction (c.1962-1975)
Abstract Expressionism later spawned a number of individual styles under the umbrella of Post-painterly abstraction, an anti-gesturalist trend. The styles embraced by this term include: Hard-Edge Painting (see Ellsworth Kelly and Kenneth Noland); Colour Stain Painting (Helen Frankenthaler); Washington Colour Painters (Morris Louis); Systemic Painting (Josef Albers); and Shaped Canvas (Frank Stella).

Minimalism (fl.Late 1960s, 1970s)
The first big postmodernist art movement, this embraces paintings by outstanding postmodernist artists like Robert Mangold (b.1937), Agnes Martin (1912-2004), Ad Reinhardt (1913-67), Brice Marden (b.1938), and Robert Ryman (b.1930), and a number of avant-garde sculptors.

Op-Art (fl.1960s)
A new and distinct style of geometric abstraction, its hallmark was the use of complex, often monochromatic, geometric patterns. Leading Op-artists included Bridget Riley (b.1931).

This semi-abstract movement of contemporary art is probably best known for artists, such as Howard Hodgkin (b.1932), Georg Baselitz (b.1938), and Anselm Kiefer (b.1945).

Word Art
Embraces word painting and all forms of text-based art. Leading exponents include Robert Indiana (b.1928), On Kawara (1932-2014), Barbara Kruger (b.1945), Christopher Wool (b.1955) among others.

• For more about abstract painting, sculpture and graphic art, see: Homepage.

© visual-arts-cork.com. All rights reserved.