Lyrical abstraction

John Hoyland, Lebanon, 2007. John Hoyland (1934–2011), was one of England's leading abstract painters.[1]

Lyrical abstraction is either of two related but distinct trends in Post-war Modernist painting:

European Abstraction Lyrique born in Paris, the French art critic Jean José Marchand being credited with coining its name in 1947, considered as a component of (Tachisme) when the name of this movement was coined in 1951 by Pierre Guéguen and Charles Estienne the author of L'Art à Paris 1945–1966, and American Lyrical Abstraction a movement described by Larry Aldrich (the founder of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield Connecticut) in 1969.[2][3]

A third definition is the usage as a descriptive term. It is a descriptive term characterizing a type of abstract painting related to Abstract Expressionism; in use since the 1940s. Many well known abstract expressionist painters like Arshile Gorky seen in context have been characterized as doing a type of painting described as lyrical abstraction.[4][5]


The original common use refers to the tendency attributed to paintings in Europe during the post-1945 period and as a way of describing several artists (mostly in France) with painters like Wols, Gérard Schneider and Hans Hartung from Germany or Georges Mathieu, etc., whose works related to characteristics of contemporary American abstract expressionism. At the time (late 1940s), Paul Jenkins, Norman Bluhm, Sam Francis, Jules Olitski, Joan Mitchell, Ellsworth Kelly and numerous other American artists were, as well, living and working in Paris and other European cities. With the exception of Kelly, all of those artists developed their versions of painterly abstraction that has been characterized at times as lyrical abstraction, tachisme, color field, Nuagisme and abstract expressionism.

The art movement Abstraction lyrique was born in Paris after the war. At that time, the artistic life in Paris, which had been devastated by the Occupation and Collaboration, resumed with numerous artists exhibited again as soon as the Liberation of Paris in mid-1944. According to the new abstraction forms that characterised some artists, the movement was named by the art critic, Jean José Marchand, and the painter, Georges Mathieu, in 1947. Some art critics also looked at this movement as an attempt to restore the image of artistic Paris, which had held the rank of capital of the arts until the war. Lyrical abstraction also represented a competition between the School of Paris and the new New York School of Abstract Expressionism painting represented above all since 1946 by Jackson Pollock, then Willem de Kooning or Mark Rothko, which were also promoted by the American authorities from the early 1950s.

Lyrical abstraction was opposed not only to the Cubist and Surrealist movements that preceded it, but also to geometric abstraction (or "cold abstraction"). Lyrical abstraction was, in some ways, the first to apply the lessons of Wassily Kandinsky, considered one of the fathers of abstraction. For the artists, lyrical abstraction represented an opening to personal expression.

Finally, in the late 1960s (partially as a response to minimal art, and the dogmatic interpretations by some to Greenbergian and Juddian formalism), many painters re-introduced painterly options into their works and the Whitney Museum and several other museums and institutions at the time formally named and identified the movement and uncompromising return to painterly abstraction as 'lyrical abstraction'.