Post Impressionism as practiced by Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne had an enormous impact on 20th-century art and led to the advent of 20th-century abstraction. The heritage of painters like Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Seurat was essential for the development of modern art. At the beginning of the 20th century Henri Matisse and several other young artists including the pre-cubist Georges Braque, André Derain, Raoul Dufy and Maurice de Vlaminck revolutionized the Paris art world with "wild", multi-colored, expressive landscapes and figure paintings that the critics called Fauvism. With his expressive use of color and his free and imaginative drawing Henri Matisse comes very close to pure abstraction in French Window at Collioure (1914), View of Notre-Dame (1914), and The Yellow Curtain from 1915. The raw language of color as developed by the Fauves directly influenced another pioneer of abstraction, Wassily Kandinsky.
Although Cubism ultimately depends upon subject matter, it became, along with Fauvism, the art movement that directly opened the door to abstraction in the 20th century. Pablo Picasso made his first cubist paintings based on Cézanne's idea that all depiction of nature can be reduced to three solids: cube, sphere and cone. With the painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), Picasso dramatically created a new and radical picture depicting a raw and primitive brothel scene with five prostitutes, violently painted women, reminiscent of African tribal masks and his own new Cubist inventions. Analytic cubism was jointly developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, from about 1908 through 1912. Analytic cubism, the first clear manifestation of cubism, was followed by Synthetic cubism, practiced by Braque, Picasso, Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, Albert Gleizes, Marcel Duchamp and others into the 1920s. Synthetic cubism is characterized by the introduction of different textures, surfaces, collage elements, papier collé and a large variety of merged subject matter. The collage artists like Kurt Schwitters and Man Ray and others taking the clue from Cubism were instrumental to the development of the movement called Dada.
, Amorpha, Fugue en deux couleurs
(Fugue in Two Colors
), 1912, oil on canvas, 210 x 200 cm, Narodni Galerie, Prague. Published in Au Salon d'Automne "Les Indépendants"
1912, Exhibited at the 1912 Salon d'Automne, Paris.
Robert Delaunay, 1912, Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif)
, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 37.5 cm, Tate Modern
The Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published the Manifesto of Futurism in 1909, which later inspired artists such as Carlo Carra in Painting of Sounds, Noises and Smells and Umberto Boccioni Train in Motion, 1911, to a further stage of abstraction that would, along with Cubism, profoundly influenced art movements throughout Europe.
During the 1912 Salon de la Section d'Or, where František Kupka exhibited the abstract painting Amorpha, Fugue en deux couleurs (Fugue in Two Colors) (1912), the poet Guillaume Apollinaire named the work of several artists including Robert Delaunay, Orphism. He defined it as, "the art of painting new structures out of elements that have not been borrowed from the visual sphere, but had been created entirely by the artist...it is a pure art."
Since the turn of the century, cultural connections between artists of the major European cities had become extremely active as they strove to create an art form equal to the high aspirations of modernism. Ideas were able to cross-fertilize by means of artist's books, exhibitions and manifestos so that many sources were open to experimentation and discussion, and formed a basis for a diversity of modes of abstraction. The following extract from The World Backwards gives some impression of the inter-connectedness of culture at the time: "David Burliuk's knowledge of modern art movements must have been extremely up-to-date, for the second Knave of Diamonds exhibition, held in January 1912 (in Moscow) included not only paintings sent from Munich, but some members of the German Die Brücke group, while from Paris came work by Robert Delaunay, Henri Matisse and Fernand Léger, as well as Picasso. During the Spring David Burliuk gave two lectures on cubism and planned a polemical publication, which the Knave of Diamonds was to finance. He went abroad in May and came back determined to rival the almanac Der Blaue Reiter which had emerged from the printers while he was in Germany".
From 1909 to 1913 many experimental works in the search for this 'pure art' had been created by a number of artists: Francis Picabia painted Caoutchouc, 1909, The Spring, 1912, Dances at the Spring and The Procession, Seville, 1912; Wassily Kandinsky painted Untitled (First Abstract Watercolor), 1913, Improvisation 21A, the Impression series, and Picture with a Circle (1911); František Kupka had painted the Orphist works, Discs of Newton (Study for Fugue in Two Colors), 1912 and Amorpha, Fugue en deux couleurs (Fugue in Two Colors), 1912; Robert Delaunay painted a series entitled Simultaneous Windows and Formes Circulaires, Soleil n°2 (1912–13); Léopold Survage created Colored Rhythm (Study for the film), 1913; Piet Mondrian, painted Tableau No. 1 and Composition No. 11, 1913.
And the search continued: The Rayist (Luchizm) drawings of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, used lines like rays of light to make a construction. Kasimir Malevich completed his first entirely abstract work, the Suprematist, Black Square, in 1915. Another of the Suprematist group' Liubov Popova, created the Architectonic Constructions and Spatial Force Constructions between 1916 and 1921. Piet Mondrian was evolving his abstract language, of horizontal and vertical lines with rectangles of color, between 1915 and 1919, Neo-Plasticism was the aesthetic which Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg and other in the group De Stijl intended to reshape the environment of the future.