A variety of artistic styles and genres were exhibited during the 19th century’s Abstract Art period. Abstract art was born from the desire of artists to create works of art that are not constrained by real-life references and exist independently of them. As a result, famous abstract art pieces represented the multiple changes occurring in society, technology, and science.
As a form of art, abstract art emerged from the desire of artists to create work unrelated to and unconstrained by visual references to the outside world. Abstract art represents the freedom from the restrictions of reality and the idea of drawing or painting imaginary content. The genre’s name evokes the idea of being detached or abstracted from something, which was a driving force behind the first abstract painters.
Many different types of abstract paintings can be developed using existing visual references or deviate completely from a literal representation of the world. It is a genre that expresses emotions through colors, shapes, and gestural marks, giving this genre a unique aesthetic effect. The purpose of this article is to examine 60 famous abstract paintings to discover what makes them so noteworthy. So, see below to find the stories behind 60 famous abstract art in history.
60 Famous Abstract Art
1. The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
When people hear the word starry night, they might think that they picture a night sky with many stars, which is precisely what the title implies. Van Gogh wanted to paint something beyond just a night sky filled with stars. He wanted to paint something that was entirely out of this world. There is something truly magical about this work of art.
2. Mountains and Sea by Helen Frankenthaler, 1952
Lyrical abstraction, as opposed to geometric abstraction and minimalism, is an art that represents a return to personal expression. The iconic abstract artist Helen Frankenthaler is a leading exponent of lyrical abstraction. She is best known for her painting Mountains and Sea, a prime example of the lyrical abstraction, and her first professionally exhibited painting. Her soak-stain technique produced luminous colors in this painting produced by pouring paint thinned with turpentine over the canvas, which appears to blend with the canvas.
3. Untitled by Wassily Kandinsky, 1910
The painter Wassily Kandinsky decided to liberate his works of art from their subject matter bonds in 1920. In the following years, abstract art was born after the painting Untitled (First Abstract Watercolor) was completed. The piece is characterized by vibrant colors and large smears that extend beyond the limits of figurative art, making it the first abstract painting ever made. Kandinsky considered colors a way of expressing emotion rather than describing reality in his famous abstract art.
4. Full Fathom Five by Jackson Pollock, 1947
The paintings and sculptures of the New York School presented a much more vivid concept to the world than the paintings of the abstract painter Ben Nicholson on the other side of the Atlantic. One of the greatest abstract painters of all time, Jackson Pollock used an original method to explore the subconscious via energetic colors and a range of media. This abstract artwork introduced a new level of texture to abstract painting by using oil paint drips on the canvas and items from the artist’s studio to depict the post-war anxiety.
5. Composition VII by Wassily Kandinsky, 1913
Kandinsky uses black to depict the outlines of an object or subject, but he also uses color to convey a feeling of depth. Rather than painting, Kandinsky composes his paintings, making him more of a composer than a painter. Colors do not have any inherent meaning. Colors are meaningless unless in combination with each other. Flowing from one color to another is the Kandinsky method. If the color blue is placed next to green, a completely different feeling is created than when the color is placed next to the red. In this case, the canvas is composed of colors and textures.
6. Senecio by Paul Klee, 1922
An elderly face is divided into four rectangles by Klee’s adaptation of the human head. Hence, the title pays homage to the artist-performer Senecio, which depicts flat geometric squares within a circle like a mask or patches on a harlequin. Triangles above the left eye and curved lines above the right eye appear as if the eyebrow is raised. The simple graphical elements in the painting are “set in motion by an energy from the artist’s mind” when lines, ambiguous shapes, and space are used. This is a characteristic of Klee’s artistry.
7. Composition I by Theo Van Doesburg, 1916
In the early 1920s, van Doesburg developed his concept of Elementarism in conjunction with Piet Mondrian, and it represented a dynamic development. The mutual recognition of the necessity for art to advance beyond easel painting and their ideological belief that such an art could shape the world led both of these pioneers to form their aesthetic, which they called ‘de Stijl’ (“the Style” for a while). In their own way, they attempted to develop a practical blueprint for conceptualizing the world as made up of forms that would give visual expression to their shared philosophical viewpoint. They believed that a pictorial representation of these fundamental principles reduced to their simplest elements – line, color, space – could ultimately lead to none other than the realization of the unity of all life upon earth.
8. Rhythm by Robert Delaunay, 1912
The circles in Delaunay’s work are characterized by simultaneous contrasts in color. Unlike traditional paintings, these works call attention to the non-objective realm rather than the external world. Although there are references to the sun, moon, and planets, they do not appear directly in Relief; Rhythms. On a white background are circles of bright red and blue hues that seem to float in space. It resulted from Delaunay’s commitment to studying how colors interact with rays of light, prisms, and the halos created in any light bulb.
9. Colors for a Large Wall by Ellsworth Kelly, 1951
During the height of Abstract Expressionism, Ellsworth Kelly exhibited multi-paneled, monochromatic paintings in the 1950s. In contrast to Pollock and De Kooning, his art differed in style and temperament. In spite of having moved to Paris in 1948, he still played an outcast role during the rise of the New York School, both physically and figuratively. Still, Kelly’s work attracted significant critical acclaim. In contrast to earlier Abstract Expressionists, he explored form and color in a purely formal manner. The art Kelly created set the tone for many of the art styles that followed, including Minimalism, Hard-edge painting, Color Fields, and even Pop art.
10. The Black Square by Kazimir Malevich, 1915
Late in the 19th century, Malevich founded a movement called Suprematism that focused on geometric forms and a limited palette of colors. As a result, he is considered to be the father of geometric abstract art. As a result of its historical significance, the Black Square is often called the “zero point” of painting. In this work, Malevich did not give anything pictorial space, but he took it away. The theme of the Western tradition has been the subject of body experience since Renaissance times. It is one of the most famous paintings of the 20th century and is considered abstract art.
11. Orange, Red, Yellow by Mark Rothko, 1961
Color Field is a genre of painting that Rothko pioneered. It is a style within Abstract Expressionism that puts the essence of color as the main subject. He is best known for his symmetrical rectangles painted in two to three complementary colors arranged symmetrically across his canvases. Orange, Red, Yellow is a work that has been hailed as the most powerful of his pieces.
12. Abstraktes Bild 599 by Gerhard Richter, 1986
The German artist Gerhard Richter is often referred to as the greatest living artist. It is impossible to categorize his art under a single genre because he has created many different works. Richter’s Abstrakte Bilder series is his most acclaimed work. Abstract Bild was the artist’s first painting in 1976. Many other similar works followed in the following 20 years. Richter builds up multiple non-representational layers of painting in his abstract paintings. In the beginning, he brushes broad swaths of primary colors onto the canvas. He develops the paintings in stages, based on his reactions to and observations of the picture as it unfolds.
13. Movement in Squares by Bridget Riley, 1961
Optical art is a type of abstract art in which the artist manipulates shapes, patterns, and colors to create an optical illusion. Since the 1960s, Bridget Riley has been one of the most prominent British artists after Victor Vasarely. This painting shows a checkerboard whose design distorts and accelerates and creates the impression of depth and motion as it approaches the center. In addition to being Bridget Riley’s most famous work, Movement in Squares may be the most well-known work of optical art.
14. The Twittering Machine by Paul Klee, 1922
German artist Paul Klee inherited many similarities from his contemporaries, Wassily Kandinsky. They were both members of Der Blaue Reiter, a German Expressionist group. Their artistic development was heavily affected by musical cultures and visual arts. Klee’s Twittering Machine is the most famous of his representations of sound. This illustration was created with watercolor, ink, and oils by Klee.
15. La mancha roja by Joan Miro, 1925
La red spot, painted by Joan Miro, resides somewhere between Abstract art and Surrealism. It is both playful and childlike at the same time. This artist, who never considered himself an abstract painter, painted only what occurred to him in his head during an otherwise exhausting day. Our dreams and visions entered our canvas with the painting La mancha roja (The red spot) from 1925, which was inspired by human subconscious feelings.
16. Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 by Robert Motherwell, 1971
Robert Motherwell’s energetic, aggressive masterpieces began a new stage in abstract art’s development in the 1970s. The stoic strength and strange anxiety of his paintings were simultaneously communicated through his simple brushstrokes. It is considered one of the most famous abstract art as it contains a strong vitality that makes one feel as if the paint might explode off the canvas and into the room.
17. Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian, 1942-43
Mondrian’s name is synonymous with modern art, and it immediately conjures up squares with primary colors set within strong black lines. Mondrian’s landscapes in the Netherlands are influenced by Post-Impressionism and Seurat and Van Gogh. He was an early modernist with paintings influenced by post-impressionists. He became increasingly abstract in his work by 1913 as a result of a desire to attain spiritual communion with the divine. But his style wasn’t fully established until 1920–21.
18. Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying by Kazimir Malevich, 1915
Kazimir Malevich’s suprematist compositions were created just a few years after Kandinsky renounced representational painting. With pieces such as Black Square (also from 1915) and Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918), he rapidly became radically reductive in his painted realism, which featured geometric shapes floating over white backgrounds. After the death of Lenin in 1924, however, Stalin rose to power and labeled abstract art as bourgeois decadence. As a result, Malevich returned to figurative art after a campaign of repression.
19. Tableau I by Piet Mondrian, 1921
This series of paintings is far more than merely a formal exercise as Mondrian painstakingly sought and achieved a refined and harmonious balance. In other words, the canvases were a microcosm of the ideal world he envisioned.
20. Relief by Ben Nicholson, 1934
Ben Nicholson began his explorations of painting during the turbulent period between two world wars, making him one of the most significant painters of English Abstraction. During the aftermath of the First World War, while the world was entering the Second World War, abstraction was a major force in art as more painters used it as a means to find purity and innocence within the human race. This monochromatic (white relief) oil on carved board painting by Ben Nicholson was inspired by a combination of abstract art, constructivism, and concrete art.
21. Small Flies and Other Wings by Christine Ay Tjoe, 2013
22. Autumn by Chu Teh-Chun, 1978
23. Leda and the Swan by Cy Twombly, 1962
24. Abstract Painting 599 by Gerhard Richter, 1986
25. Convergence by Jackson Pollock, 1952
26. Composition X by Wassily Kandinsky, 1939
27. Che Guevara by Gheorghe Virtosu, 2015
28. Modern Pollination by Gheorghe Virtosu, 2016
29. Alien by Gheorghe Virtosu, 2016
30. Albert Einstein by Gheorghe Virtosu, 2017
31. Rain Landscape by Wassily Kandinsky, 1911
32. Hardy Plants by Paul Klee, 1934
33. Black Lines by Vasily Kandinsky, 1913
34. Painterly Architectonic by Lyubov Popova, 1917
35. Couplet IV by Brice Marden, 1988-89
36. Untitled by Joan Mitchell, 1992
37. Number 5 by Jackson Pollock, 1948
38. Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock, 1952
39. Blue II by Joan Miro, 1961
40. Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose by Mark Rothko, 1950
41. Death and Fire by Paul Klee, 1940
42. No.7, Adulthood by Hilma af Klint, 1907
43. Abstract Painting 726 by Gerhard Richter, 1990
44. Black Iris by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1926
45. The Cyclist by Natalia Goncharova, 1913
46. Harmony Squares with Concentric Rings by Wassily Kandinsky, 1913
47. Two Heads by Karel Appel, 1953
48. Villa Borghese by Willem de Kooning, 1960
49. Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle) by Wassily Kandinsky, 1913
50. Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif) by Robert Delaunay, 1912
51. False Start by Jasper Johns, 1959
52. The Dove, No. 1 by Hilma af Klint, 1915
53. Clown by Paul Klee, 1929
54. Circular Forms by Robert Delaunay, 1930
55. Blue and Black by Lee Krasner, 1951-1953
56. Composition VIII by Wassily Kandinsky, 1923
57. Excavation by Willem de Kooning, 1950
58. Untitled by Zao Wou-Ki, 1969
59. Bracket by Joan Mitchell, 1989
60. Four Darks in Red by Mark Rothko, 1958
Abstract art has developed tremendously over the years, and many artists have chosen to explore this genre while remaining non-representational. Abstract Art, a movement that existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, set itself apart from traditional representation art by claiming that it bore no resemblance to the natural world. The emergence of abstract art can be traced to artists creating artwork based entirely on references from nowhere, to the point where they become detached from reality entirely. Abstract Art existed as a medium evoking the notion of being completely abstract from something real in the early 20th century.