Characteristics of Art Informel, Style of European Abstract Expressionism.

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For Rudd (1963)
Museum of Modern Art, New York

By Sam Francis.

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see: Abstract Paintings: Top 100.
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see: Abstract Art Movements.

Tachisme (Late 1940s, 1950s)

A sub-variant of the wider Art Informel style - one of the most important modern art movements in Europe during the post-World War II period - Tachisme was a blotchy form of gestural painting, a European variant of "action-painting."

Definition & Characteristics of Tachisme

The term Tachisme (tachism) describes a style of abstract painting characterized by the use of spots, blotches or stains of colour (tache is French for spot or splash). Popular during the late 1940s and 1950s, this style of abstract art is part of (and to this extent synonymous with) the broader movement of Art Informel: the only difference is that Tachisme is focused exclusively on the type of expressive gesture used by the artist. The word Tachisme was first used to describe this modern form of gesturalism by the art critic Pierre Gueguen in 1951. His description was then widely promoted by the French critic Michel Tapie in his book Un art autre (1952). However, it had been used as early as 1889 by Felix Feneon to describe the Impressionist painting technique, and then in 1909 by the designer and theorist Maurice Denis (1870-1943) to refer to the Fauvist school of French painting.

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European Abstract Expressionism

As a style of expressionistic non-representational painting, Tachisme falls under the huge and rather vague umbrella of Abstract Expressionism. The latter being essentially an American movement, European abstract painters preferred the term Art Informel to describe their own version of abstract expressionism. Tachisme is a sub-species of Art Informel. It remains largely a French school and Tachist paintings are typically more subtle and sensual than those of the American school, which can be less polished in comparison.

A Non-Geometric Type of Abstraction

The larger postwar movement known as Art Informel - of which Tachisme is a part - is best translated as "art without predefined form or structure". A reaction against geometric abstraction, it is a type of gestural abstract painting which allows for a more intuitive and active approach to painting. Tachisme is essentially that type of gesturalism characterized by spontaneous brushwork, splotches and blobs of paint, or calligraphic style markings or scribblings. Tachist painters often apply their pigments direct from the tube.

Similar Styles & Terminology

Rather confusingly, despite some minor differences, there appears to be little to separate Tachisme from Art Autre (other art), Lyrical Abstraction, and Art Informel, all of which are sometimes used interchangeably, or to highlight the intricacies of theory rather than any visible difference. Tachism is also related to the European COBRA art group, and the Japanese Gutai group.

Tachist Artists

Important exponents of Tachisme, most either French or based in France, include: Jean Fautrier (1898-1964), Georges Mathieu (1921-2012), the German-born but Paris-based Wols (Alfred, Otto, Wolfgang, Schulze) (1913-51), Jean Dubuffet (1901-85), and the Paris-based American painter Sam Francis (1923-94). Other Tachist artists included the American Mark Tobey (1890-1976), best-known for his calligraphic paintings; the British St Ives School painter Patrick Heron (1920-99); the Frenchman Pierre Soulages (b.1919) and the Belgian Henri Michaux (1899-1984).

Tachist Paintings

Sam Francis
Painting (1957) Tate Collection, London.
Around the Blues (1962) Tate Collection, London.
For Rudd (1963)Museum of Modern Art, New York

Jean Dubuffet
The Exemplary Life of the Soil (Texturology LXIII) (1958) Tate, London.

Works by Tachist painters can be seen in some of the best art museums in Europe. For details, see: Art Museums in Europe.

For earlier forms of expressionism, see: Expressionist Paintings.

Note: For developments among American abstract expressionists, during the period 1955-65, read about Post-Painterly Abstraction, and its individual schools such as Colour Field Painting (involving Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler and others), and Hard-Edge Painting (Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella and others).

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