by A Kladov
Gerhard Richter: The Painter Without a Brush
Still from Gerhard Richter: The Painter Without a Brush

Abstract art has evolved over the years. Its origins date back to the late 19th Century. This genre has evolved in a variety of ways. It can be categorized hundreds of times and still be classified as Abstract art. It includes styles such as Colour Field, Abstract Expressionism, or Lyrical Abstraction.

The power of abstract art has also influenced contemporary artwork, and it still commands a large market share in commercial galleries and auction houses. Prominent and well-known abstract artists have been inspired by this genre till the present, making this genre stay alive for the future.

This article contains 15 abstract artworks that have had and continue to significantly impact the genre.

Wassily Kandinsky Composition, X 1939

Composition X, Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky, Composition X, 1939

Wassily Kandinsky is credited as an early proponent of Abstract Painting. He was also a Russian artist and art theorist. He had a huge impact on the art world, especially on abstract art. 

He co-founded Phalanx in the early 1960s and The New Group of Artists later. He also staged exhibitions throughout his career. Over the course of his career, he produced more than 600 pieces, and a 1913 oil painting reached his record price at auction of $41.6m in 2017.

Despite his impressive track record, he is most known for 'Composition X.' This work was the last in a lifelong series of "Compositions" that he had created.

He wanted to bring his exploration into form and expression to a conclusion. Critics have argued that he has used black sparingly up until this point in his work, and this piece is both an evocation of the cosmos and a dark foreshadowing of his nearing death.

Piet Mondrian Composition 2 in Red, Yellow, and Blue (1930)

Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow, Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow, 1930

Piet Mondrian experienced a subtle shift in his practice with 'Composition 2 in Red, Yellow, and Blue'. Mondrian, aiming for complete abstraction, believed that 'Neo-Plasticism,' also known as plastic arts, could express universal purity. Mondrian sought harmony in his work and wrote extensively on compositional harmony. He also scrutinized the placement of colors, sizes of shapes, and the qualities of surfaces to achieve the so-called "stillness" in his pieces.

You've likely seen this painting at some point during your life. The painting became an icon in the second half of the 20th century and is a popular motif today. Mondrian's work is a masterful example of balance. The bold lines contrast the large red square. The tiny yellow rectangle emerges from the bottom. And the red meets the blue. It is clear that these simple colored shapes are more than they appear.

Joan Miro Peinture - Etoile Bleue (1927)

Peinture (Etoile Bleue), Joan Miro
Joan Miro, Peinture (Etoile Bleue), 1927

Despite being known as a surrealist, "Peinture" (Etoile Bleue) was Miro’s transition from figurative to abstract art. For example, 'Peinture' (Etoile Bleue), which was the top-selling piece at the Sotheby's Evening Sale of unique Impressionist & Modern Art held in London, sold for 23.5 million USD, a record price and a threefold increase over the previous five-year period.

Miro considered this painting to be his most important work. The scorching blue used in this painting can be seen in many of Miro's future works, and it even influenced painters like Mark Rothko or Yves Klein.

Ben Nicholson OM, 1934 (Relief), 1934

1934 relief, Ben Nicholson
Ben Nicholson, 1934 relief, 1934

Ben Nicholson was inspired by how abstract paintings could represent space. Ben Nicholson, inspired by Post-Impressionism, Cubism, and abstract work, began experimenting with and creating his abstract reliefs. Nicholson painted these geometric abstract sculptures white to give them a handmade quality.

Piet Mondrian, who was then his lover, and Barbara Hepworth are two of its major influences. The rapid change from abstract painting to these reliefs can likely be attributed to his meeting with Mondrian in 1934 and being heavily influenced by other abstractionists like Joan Miro and Alexander Calder.

Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952

Convergence, Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952

Jackson Pollock produced 363 paintings in the 44 years that he lived. His drip technique is his most notable feature, but many of the dynamic paintings he created have left their mark on the art world.

"Convergence" is at the top of this list. This painting represents a significant and new movement in art history due to the freedom of speech and expression it represents. Through this painting, Pollock expressed his thoughts on the communist threat and the Cold War with Russia. It was described as "everything America stood for in a mess but deep package."

In 1964, the jigsaw company released "Convergence" as a 340-piece puzzle and marketed it as the "world's most challenging puzzle". It was purchased by thousands of Americans, highlighting Pollock's influence on the United States.

Helen Frankenthaler: Mountains and Sea (1952)

Mountains and Sea, Helen Frankenthaler
Helen Frankenthaler, Mountains and Sea, 1952

Helen Frankenthaler 'Mountains and Sea" is a work that sits at the intersection of Abstract Expressionism and color-field paintings. It was the first piece of work Frankenthaler created with her 'soak stain' technique. Frankenthaler used this technique to thin down her paint using turpentine, kerosene, or other liquids. The fluid was then absorbed by her unprimed canvas. The stain left behind would give her work a feeling of movement.

Frankenthaler was inspired by Jackson Pollock’s black and white paintings in a New York gallery. She then embraced a more liberated approach to her work. Abstracts with a shifting, almost transparent feeling create illusions for the viewer. Her flowing and light works contrasted the heavy impasto techniques that were popular at the time, and she influenced many other artists.

Mark Rothko White Center (Yellow and Pink on Rose) (1950)

White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko, White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950

Mark Rothko is a household name in the world of abstract painting. He has produced numerous works that have gained recognition. "White Center (Yellow on Rose with Pink, Lavender, and Yellow)was the source of his mainstream fame. It was sold by Sotheby's in May 2007, on behalf of David Rockefeller, to the Royal Family Qatar for $72.84 million, breaking the auction record for the most expensive work of post-war art.

In 1950, Rothko started dividing his canvas into horizontal bands of colors. This made them appear to be floating above the color field they were placed on. In this period, Rothko achieved a variety of moods and emotions through subtle variations. "White Center (Yellow on Rose, Pink, and Lavender)" is a good example.

Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting 599, 1986

Abstract Painting 599, Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting 599, 1986

Gerhard Richter, a multidisciplinary German artist, has created Abstract Art, Photographs, and Photorealistic Paintings. His works are also regarded as some of the most valuable contemporary German art of our time.

Notably, Abstract Painting 599 is one of Richter's favorite paintings. It was later sold to an anonymous buyer for $46,000,000 in 2015, making it Richter's highest-priced painting.

Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic (1965-1967)

Elegy to the Spanish Republic 108, Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic 108, 1965-1967

Robert Motherwell, who was 21 years old when the Spanish Civil War began, was deeply affected by its atrocities in the following years. In response, he created a series of over 200 paintings. The "Elegy to the Spanish Republic" series is a collection of memorials of human suffering. It also features abstract and vivid poetic symbols of the relentless cycles of life and death.

Motherwell said that the Elegies combined the Spanish black of death and the white contrast. The black is the Spanish death color, with the white contrasting it.

Cy Twombly Leda & the Swan (1962)

Leda and the Swan, Cy Twombly
Cy Twombly, Leda and the Swan, 1962

"Leda and The Swan", which had not been seen for over 30 years, was the most anticipated painting of 2017 when it went up for auction. It sold for $52 million. Cy Twombly was deeply inspired by his time spent in Rome and had a general affinity for events from classical antiquity. He created Roman mythology-related paintings.

This title refers to a Roman myth in which Jupiter, transformed into a Swan, tries to seduce Leda. Leda would give birth to Helen. Twombly used mixed media to thrash around his canvas instead of depicting a conventional female figure in a relationship with a Swan (as was done by Michelangelo and Leonardo). Twombly does not depict Jupiter but rather embodies it. He uses his own practice to create this utterly encapsulating piece.

Juin-Octobre by Zao Wou-Ki, Created in 1985

Juin-Octobre, Zao Wou-Ki
Zao Wou-Ki, Juin-Octobre, 1985

Zao Wou Ki's abstract paintings have experienced a resurgence in popularity over the past few decades. He is one of the few Chinese artists who has achieved global recognition. Zao Wou-Ki's "Juin Octobre 1985" was expected to sell at Sotheby's Modern Art Evening Sale in September 2018. It was later sold for 65 million USD.

This rare monumental triptych was sponsored and commissioned by architect and famous figure I.M. Pei for Raffles City, Singapore. Zao and Pei became close friends, and their friendship lasted for more than 60 years. This painting was displayed at Raffles Place alongside notable works by artists like Ellsworth Kelley and Kenneth Nolan.

Chu Teh-Chun, Autumn, May 1, 1978

Autumn, May 1, Chu Teh-Chun
Chu Teh-Chun, Autumn, May 1, 1978

Many people consider "Autumn May 1," created by Chu Teh Chun, to be a landmark work, demonstrating Chu's entire transition into abstraction. Chu Teh-Chun's work is notable for its brilliant balance of dark and light.

Chu was one of the "three musketeers", along with Zao Wu-Ki and Wu Guanzhong, who brought Chinese Art to the modern age and earned worldwide fame. In the 1950s, Chu moved to Paris, where he turned from figuration to abstraction. In this transition, Chu combined the classical strokes from Chinese calligraphy and Western color palettes.

This evolution in his art brought him great success and made him the first ethnic Chinese invited to the Academy of Fine Arts of France.

Small Flies & Other Wings by Christine Ay Tjoe

Small Flies and Other Wings, Christine Ay Tjoe
Christine Ay Tjoe, Small Flies and Other Wings, 2013

In 2017, the Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design evening sale had a high estimate for 'Small Flies & Other Wings of $154,120. The hammer price was $1.25m, which is over 700% higher than the estimate.

Ay Tjoe, one of Indonesia's leading artists, exhibits abstract traits in his works. Her inner world, her melancholy struggle, and her pain and joy are all reflected in her work.

Tomoo Gokita Scorn - 2011

Scorn, Tomoo Gokita
Tomoo Gokita, Scorn, 2011

Tomoo Gokita’s abstract paintings are seamlessly merged with the figurative. Scorn', displayed at his first solo museum exhibition in Chiba's Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art back in 2014, was cited as the most impressive painting of the exhibit by many.

This painting is "perfectly balanced between the melancholy seductiveness and the soft gradations grays, reminiscent of an out-of-focus photograph with an obscured facial image (a recurring theme in his paintings)."

We note that he does not use generic abstractions in a painting titled "Kushiyaki Class Reunion". Gokita even went so far as to say that a "straightforward abstract would be embarrassing". His presence as an artist is still strong in the current auction market.

Hilma Af Klint, Altarpiece No1-3 1915

Altarpiece ? 1-3, Hilma Af Klint
Hilma Af Klint, Altarpiece ? 1-3, 1915

We felt that this list would be incomplete if we didn't mention this series by Hilma af Klint, even though it is about the 100 most famous works of art in the past century.

Hilma af Klint, a Swedish artist, never showed her work to anyone during her lifetime. She even asked that it be kept secret until at least 20 years following her death. She was not recognized as an abstract painter during her lifetime, but many now consider her a pioneer, alongside her contemporaries like Wassily Kandinsky. Af Klint, an artist for over 50 years, produced over 1200 paintings and 150 notebooks containing her abstract, spiritual, and philosophical thoughts.

Altarpieces were the perfect final piece for The Paintings of Temple. These works, which are almost abstracts and diagrams, represent Af Klint’s interpretations of the abstract world with its unseen power. Af Klint’s overdue retrospective, which took place at the Museum of Solomon R. Guggenheim in New York between 2018 and 2019, highlighted her artwork from 1906 till 1920.