Abstracting From Expressionism

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has staged an exhibition about the development of Expressionism in art (June 8 through September 14, 2014). Starting with the Post-Impressionist era, the exhibit tracks the changes in artists’ outlooks and the works they produced. The focus of Expressionism is on the subjective outlook, an aspect of art that began manifesting with the Impressionist artists.

Stretching Impressionism

"Flowering Plum Tree" (after Hiroshige) by Vincent van Gogh

“Flowering Plum Tree” (after Hiroshige) by Vincent van Gogh

One of the first artists to move on from the effects of Impressionism was Vincent van Gogh. He was much affected by what he saw in the Impressionists, but as he worked on his own pieces, he more and more followed his own visual impulses. This led to the development of his distinctive style of painting.

"Antibes - Morning" by Paul Signac

“Antibes – Morning” by Paul Signac

The iconoclastic approaches of the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists like van Gogh led other artists to strike out in new directions, exploring possibilities in painting. Georges Seurat and Paul Signac began exploring the possibilities of color as they developed Pointillism. Their works became less traditionally representational, although the subjects were still easily recognizable.

Freedom in Expression

"Landscape at Collioure" by Henri Matisse

“Landscape at Collioure” by Henri Matisse

Signac in turn inspired Henri Matisse, who stretched his exploration of color and form. For a time, Matisse’s work fell in with the trend of Fauvism. The name of that style of painting is French for “the wild beasts.” The painters so classified where considered to be wild in their work by more traditional critics. The artists themselves felt that painterly qualities should have more importance in the work than an adherence to realistic values. With each step forward into the 20th century, abstract impulses grew stronger.

"Nightfall in St. Cloud" by Gabriele Munter

“Nightfall in St. Cloud” by Gabriele Munter

The freedom of style that Matisse demonstrated influenced other painters. Looser brush strokes and bolder colors became part of the painter’s vocabulary of Gabrielle Münter. Her work embodies aspects of the Expressionist outlook, with stylistic distortion that focuses on evoking moods rather than being strictly representational. Münter’s work shows broad strokes that suggest the sweep of the landscape she painted. Expressionism of this type continued the movement toward greater and greater explicit abstraction in the works of other artists.

"Stables" by Franz Marc

“Stables” by Franz Marc

Franz Marc’s work followed many of the same directions as Münter’s, although with different details in the choices. He liked to work in strong primary color, with simplistic shapes reminiscent of the choices the Cubists made.

He let an emotional stream flow through his work, to the extent that he developed a personal “color vocabulary” for his works, centered on the primary colors. He wanted the emotional purpose or meaning to be clear to the viewer. He used blue to convey spirituality and masculinity, while feminine joy was represented in yellows, and red for him meant the force of violence.

Marc’s work demonstrates the growing inclination toward abstraction. The desire to focus on the essence of some particular found in nature underlies the work of many abstract artists. Diana Hobson’s works are unmistakably abstract in their presentation, for she has passed by the impulse to even suggest the representational shapes of her subjects. But even in a work such as “Softer – For a Plum Branch” carries the implication of the sense of color under a snow of blossom.

"Softer - For a Plum Branch" by Diana Hobson

“Softer – For a Plum Branch” by Diana Hobson

Hobson’s many works force a changed awareness of subjects through her energetic abstractions. They can be seen at her Venice studio on Abbot Kinney.


“Flowering Plum Tree” (after Hiroshige), by Vincent van Gogh, 1887. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Used here under Fair Use Practices for instruction.

“Antibes – Morning”, by Paul Signac, 1914, National Museum, Warsaw, Poland. Used here under Fair Use Practices for instruction.

“Landscape at Collioure”, by Henri Matisse, 1905, collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Used here under Fair Use Practices for instruction.

“Nightfall in St. Cloud”, by Gabriele Münter, 1906, Brooklyn Museum. Used here under Fair Use Practices for instruction.

“Stables”, by Franz Marc, 1913; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, photo by the Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource NY. Used here under Fair Use Practices for instruction.

“Softer – For a Plum Branch”, by Diana Hobson, 1985. Used with permission.


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