Over the past 100 years, Abstract Art has become an important part of the art world. Despite being a relatively new form of expression, there have been many famous abstract paintings from a wide range of artists that have had an impact. The genre itself has many sub-genres, such as Abstract Expressionism, Lyrical Abstraction, Colour Field, Post-Painterly Abstraction, and even Minimalism.
Abstract Art emerged as artists wanted to showcase their skills and create visually arresting pieces that didn’t follow any set rules or guidelines. These paintings aren’t bound by the constraints of reality and often involve wild colors, shapes, and objects being painted on canvas.
Wassily Kandinsky is often credited as the man who invented Abstract Art in 1910 with his Untitled (First Abstract Watercolor) painting. Since then there have been hundreds of artists crafting abstract artworks and developing new styles and techniques, resulting in some amazing pieces of art.
In this article, we’ve collected 12 of the most famous abstract paintings in the world that have been instrumental in the growth of Abstract Art.
12 of the Most Famous Abstract Paintings in the World
1. Wassily Kandinsky – Untitled (First Abstract Watercolor), 1910
You can’t write about Abstract Art without starting things off with Wassily Kandinsky’s Untitled (First Abstract Watercolor). Universally acclaimed as the painting that kick-started the genre, it’s one of the most iconic pieces of art ever created. Nicknamed the “father of Abstract Art,” Kandinsky wanted to break free from the limitations and restrictions of painting real-life images.
To fulfill his vision, the Russian painter used vibrant colors and smeared the paint on the canvas, giving it a unique look. Using watercolors, it took Kandinsky just three days to complete this painting. While not for everyone, he saw his art as an expression of his emotions and not just random splotches of paint.
Over the course of his life, Kandinsky produced over 600 works, with his most creative time coming between 1910 and 1914. Incredibly he didn’t start painting until he was 30, also dabbling as an art theorist and teacher. He will go down as one of the greatest artists of all time.
2. Hilma af Klint – No. 7, Adulthood, 1907
Hilma af Klint isn’t always given the credit she deserves when it comes to Abstract Art. Many of the Swedish artist and mystic’s paintings pre-date those of her male peers. She was part of a group known as “The Five” who would perform seances in hopes of getting in touch with a higher power. Many of her paintings represent her spiritual ideas and aspects of life through a religious eye.
No.7, Adulthood is one of af Klint’s most recognized works. Measuring ten feet high and eight feet wide, the massive creation was first painted on paper and then stuck onto a canvas. Part of af Klint’s The Ten Largest series, this incredible painting comprises organic forms as interpreted by af Klint, with lots of yellow, green, and red. It’s meant to represent adulthood in full bloom and is currently on display in the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
3. Piet Mondrian – Tableau I, 1921
This eye-catching abstract painting from Piet Mondrian features sections of color divided by black borders. Heavily influenced by cubism, Mondrain’s work was meticulously planned, with the Dutch painter using geometric blocks and primary colors to represent his thoughts on canvas. The black borders help enhance the different shapes while the primary colors refer to creating something from basic ideas.
Many of Mondrian’s paintings after Tableau I contained the same design, with Composition with Red Blue and Yellow another of his most well-known works. He became a poster boy for Abstract Art and even came up with his own philosophy called neoplasticism (also known as De Stijl).
If you need any more convincing of Piet Mondrain’s impact on the world, look no further than Australian rock act Silverchair. The popular band’s final album, Young Modern, features 3D cover artwork paying homage to Mondrian’s paintings.
4. Kazimir Malevich – Black Square, 1915
Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich is another major player who had a big impact on the Abstract Art scene. While his art covers many different styles, he became fascinated with abstract paintings and began producing them at a rapid rate. Arguably his most famous piece is Black Square from 1915.
Considered one of the most important works of Suprematism, a movement Malevich helped created, this painting is regarded as one of the seminal works of modern art. Malevich replicated this painting several times, ending up with four variants during his lifetime.
To be honest, there isn’t much to it, with the painting looking like a black square with white cracks, but as Kazimir Malevich explained, Black Square is “the experience of pure non-objectivity in the white emptiness of a liberated nothing.” Interesting.
5. Joan Miro – La mancha roja (The red spot), 1925
From the point of view of someone who doesn’t know a lot about art, this painting looks like someone has accidentally spilled red paint on an original artwork. But according to artist Joan Miro, this abstract piece of art is actually based on human subconscious feelings and the things he sees in his head.
The Spanish artist’s collection of works is often hard to define as he draws inspiration from a wide range of sources. He never put a label on his work, instead wanting people to come up with their own interpretations.
Writing about La mancha roja (The red spot), Ideel Art explained; “He said that he came home to his tiny home, hungry and exhausted, and painted the images he saw in his head. La mancha roja (The red spot) straddles the thin line between anthropomorphic figuration, dreamlike totems, and pure abstraction. Something childlike, yet horrible, lurks within the image. With this body of work, Miro flung open the door to the hidden iconography of our nightmares and dreams.”
6. Mark Rothko – White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose), 1950
Anyone with a passing interest in Abstract Act will recognize the name Mark Rothko. He’s responsible for some of the most famous abstract paintings in the world. The Russian artist had a prolific career as a painter, often using color to convey human emotions on canvas. He specialized in something known as color field painting, whereby an artist uses large areas of color in their work.
Rothko really got a boost in popularity in 2007 when his painting White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose) was sold to the Royal family of Qatar for an insane $72.84 million, which at that time was the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction.
This painting features Mark Rothko’s signature style, with several layered blocks of color creating the distinctive technique he mastered. One of his earlier works, White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose) helped inform Rothko’s style that would evolve greatly over the years before his suicide in 1970 at the age of 66.
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7. Helen Frankenthaler – Mountains and Sea, 1952
Abstract painter Helen Frankenthaler is another woman who had a great impact on the Abstract Art scene. She was a major part of the post-war American expressionist movement and worked in the color field style of painting. She also came up with the “soak-stain” process, whereby she would pour turpentine-thinned paint onto her canvas. This gave her pieces a different texture and look than other artists.
Her most influential abstract painting is Mountains and Sea, which was painted when she was just 23 years old. Inspired by the Nova Scotia coastline, this painting has lots of blues and greens that come together to form Frankenthaler’s memory of the area. At first dismissed by critics, the painting has become one of Frankenthaler’s most famous abstract paintings and is notable for being her first painting crafted using the “soak-strain” technique.
8. Jackson Pollock – Convergence, 1952
Jackson Pollock divided art critics throughout his career. Not one to adhere to rules or regulations, he came up with his own way of painting, most notable the “drip technique.” This involves dripping or pouring paint on a canvas, with Pollock exclusively working in this medium during much of his career.
Although only in this mortal world for 44 years (he died in a car crash), Pollock painted 363 dynamic paintings that sell for incredible sums of money. Convergence is one of the abstract art painting pieces Pollock is most known for. It’s a rainbow of colors with distinct red, blue, white, and black splashes of paint on the canvas.
One of his biggest creations, coming in at eight feet tall and 13 feet wide, Convergence expresses Pollock’s fear of communism and has been described as “everything that American stood for all wrapped up in a messy but deep package.”
Its popularity escalated in 1964 when a 340-piece jigsaw of the oil painting was produced, furthering Pollock’s success as an artist and his crossover appeal in 20th-century pop culture.
9. Paul Klee – Twittering Machine, 1922
Swiss-German painter Paul Klee came up around the same time as Wassily Kandinsky. The two were both part of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter and shared many of the same interests. While Kandinsky got the early plaudits, Klee soon found himself just as revered, with much of his work also having a humorous component.
Twittering Machine (Die Zwitscher-Maschine) is one of Klee’s standout compositions. It depicts a flock of birds sitting on a hand crank and is merging sight and sound on canvas. There are many different interpretations of this painting, with some seeing it as dark and depressing while others find it to be a beacon of hope and an investigation into the connection between nature and machines.
Whatever you take from Twittering Machine, there is no doubting it’s an incredible piece of art. It’s just one of over 9,000 works produced by Klee and was declared “degenerate art” by Adolf Hitler in 1933. The Nazis sold it to an art dealer in 1939 and the painting now sits proudly in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
10. Pablo Picasso – The Weeping Woman, 1937
When it comes to Abstract Art, look no further than Pablo Picasso. The Spanish master is one of the great artists of the 20th century, going as far as to co-found the Cubist movement. His style continued to change over the years as he experimented with different genres of Abstract Art, from neoclassical style to Surrealism.
When it comes to Picasso, there are dozens of paintings that could make this list, but the one that comes immediately to mind is The Weeping Woman. While you can see the face of a woman crying in the painting, Picasso uses abstract shapes and bright colors to create the image.
There are several versions of The Weeping Woman, with this one currently on display in the Tate Modern in London. It is said to be a portrait of photographer and artist Dora Maar, who was also Picasso’s lover.
11. Ben Nicholson – June 1937, 1937
As the title of this artwork suggests, it was painted sometime in June of 1937 by Ben Nicholson. The English painter combined abstract design with European influences into his own signature style, resulting in some memorizing paintings.
June 1937 was inspired by a visit to Piet Mondrian’s Paris studio in 1934. Upon seeing Mondrain’s work, he wrote, “[T]he thing I remembered most was the feeling of light … The feeling in his studio must have been not unlike the feeling in one of those hermit’s caves where lions used to go to have thorns taken out of their paws.”
Nicholson became infatuated with his simple yet emotional pieces and painted similar art using rectangle shapes, primary colors, and shades of blue, grey, and white. June 1937, with its strict shapes and alluring color scheme, is one of the highlights of his work.
12. Bridget Riley – Nataraja, 1993
Bridget Riley is the only artist on this list who is still alive. The 91-year-old resides in Cornwall, England, and Vaucluse in France and still continues to paint and create. Many of her most famous abstract paintings feature geometric shapes and bold colors. Her early work was primarily black and white and often fell into the sub-category of Op-Art. This genre of art consists of black and white abstract creations that are also optical illusions. While these pieces were a success for Riley, when she began using color it opened her up to a whole new audience.
During the 80s, after a trip to Egypt, Riley began using vertical and diagonal stripes as part of her compositions. This climaxed in her famous piece, Nataraja, in 1993. Currently on display in Australia, this dazzling painting is divided into diagonal areas with a multitude of colors. It’s easy to get lost in this painting, with 20 shades of each color used.