Abstract Art


Abstract Art

Abstract artists were less concerned with psychological expression.

Rather, they were interested in design and composition.

Beginning in the Twentieth-century (ca. 1910) three major abstract art movements happened:

Cubism: “the subject is broken apart and reassembled in an abstract form, emphasizing geometric shapes” (Brommer 603). o Invented by Pablo Picasso and joined by Georges Braque o When did it begin? 1907 o Inspiration? Cezanne’s concept of breaking up the surface into squarish brush strokes and the use of multiple perspectives all at once.

Futurism: abstract art that emphasizes lines of force or dynamism of each object. (Boccioni, Stella) o Invented by Umberto Boccioni o Where did it begin? Italy

De Stijl: Dutch for “The Style”. “Complete reliance on design and the elimination of all feeling and emotion” (Brommer 471).

o Invented by Piet Mondrian o Where did it begin? Netherlands

Pablo Picasso

(1881-1974) born in Spain, moved to Paris at 19 yrs old.

The Cubist movement began with his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907. The interplay of geometric shapes within this painting led to Cubism, which was given its name by critics who couldn’t look past the hard edges and geometric shapes.

Cubist Beginnings

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907

The painting is translated as The Maids of Avignon.

It includes five nude women with a small still life.

Early sketches reveal that Picasso had originally included more figures in the scene. The extra figures were removed as the relationship between shapes and colour became more important.

Geometric African masks influenced the development of Picasso’s cubism: o He repainted two of the faces to include mask-like features o He repainted the entire surface to incorporate the sharp angles into the figures and the background

Cubist Development

Picasso began working with Georges Braque to develop true cubism:

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Characteristics: o Monochromatic hues o Small, crisp surfaces o Features are broken apart and reassembled in a geometric manner. o Images are still recognizable

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, 1910

Portrait of an art dealer is a great example of this stage of cubism.

Post World War I

Picasso’s cubist style changed again:

Use of bright colour returns

Flat shapes fit together like a jigsaw puzzle

Distinct images and figures are recognizable again

Three Musicians, 1921

A Harlequin from Italian comedic theatre on a violin, a Pierrot on a clarinet and a Franciscan monk on a zither play music together

Post 1917 (trip to Italy)

Picasso’s style changed again after he saw the works of Giotto and Piero della



Monumental figures

Flat symbolic figures


Guernica, 1937

Commissioned for the Spanish Republican government to exhibit at the Paris

Expo 1937.

It is a protest painting to bring awareness.

Guernica, which was a centre of resistance in the Spanish Civil War, was

 bombed by German and Italian war planes who were supporting General

Franco’s Spanish Nationalist Forces.

Symbolism in painting: o Flat, distorted symbolic figures are used to depict the extreme suffering o Destruction is shown in the flaming building and some crumbling walls (the rest of the chaos is depicted through the figures) o A screaming mother rushes from a burning house with her arms in the air o A mother wails as she holds her dead child o The bull, representing human irrationality (in Spain), reviews the scene. His tail doubles as smoke. o The horse may represent Spain’s torment. The horse has been impaled and has a large gash in his side. o Some figures are filled with texture that simulates the newspaper articles, which describe the tragedies. o A broken sword symbolizes the defeat of the people o A flower grows out of the handle of the sword representing that hope is still alive.

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o Light bulb represents technological innovation and the bombing. It is also in the shape of an eye possibly alluding to a greater force looking over the scene. o The lantern is right beside it to possibly represent hope.

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Umberto Boccioni


Boccioni was the leader of Italian Futurism. The movement was short-lived ; it ended with his accidental death during World War I.


In painting: combines angular facets of Cubism with tilting planes to create a sense of chaos and movement.

Most accomplished pieces are sculpture.

Forms seem to be shaped by rushing air to replicate the sense of movement and force.

Creates abstract forms to produce a human-like result in vibrant movement.

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913

A male’s consecutive movements are captured in this one sculpture, as he

 appears to charge by.

It is inspired by Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912

This sculpture depicts Boccioni’s belief that “‘motion and light destroy the materiality of bodies’” (Brommer 470)

Joseph Stella


Stella moved to the U.S. from Italy at 25 years old. He returned to Italy during

Futurism’s development. His stay in American influenced his choice of subject matter, New York City.



Interlocking space, light, form and colour

Glorification of industrialization

Symmetrical balance around a central axis

Brooklyn Bridge, 1918-1920

Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras, 1913-14

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Piet Mondrian


Mondrian is the inventor of De Stijl. He moved through Realism,

Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Cubism before he began to flatten his forms and reduce them to linear patterns.


Restricts design to vertical and horizontal black lines

Uses primary colours (red, blue and yellow) plus black, white and gray.

Eliminates any possibility of representation

No centre of interest

Diagonal Composition, 1921

One of about 20 paintings that are squares intended to stand on one corner.

Primary colours are organized around an invisible central axis

No centre of interest (the composition is to be taken in all at once)

Each square is a different size

Each line is a different width to create rhythm.

Each white is a different value of very light gray to create a sense of depth.

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