On the subject of abstraction in art, Rudolph Arnheim wrote, in an article ‘Art Today and Film’ (1965), ‘By renouncing portrayal, the work of art establishes itself clearly as an object possessing an independent existence of its own’. One might say that, in applied art and decoration, abstract forms were always there, but twentieth-century developments in fine art seemed to offer something new. Over 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci encouraged artists to study random stains on walls to see what their imagination might conjure up, such as ‘compositions of landscapes, and of monstrous things.’ Less well known are the abstract watercolours of Mary Gartside (1805) and the chromatograms of Friedlieb Runge (1850).1 In the event, however, the earliest influential abstract art evolved in 1912-13, with Robert Delaunay working in Paris and Wassily Kandinsky working in Munich.
The New York curator Alfred Barr later attempted to clarify the connectedness of early Modern art on the cover of his Cubism and Abstract Art catalogue (MOMA, 1936). In the essay inside, the legacy of Cézanne and Seurat leading into Cubism, which ‘finds its delta in the various geometrical and Constructivist movements,’ is segregated from the legacy of Gauguin and Matisse, leading to the early ‘Abstract Expressionism’ of Kandinsky.2 For me, as a colourist, the division differs.
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