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Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism is a form of abstract art that arose in America in the 1940s and 1950s and spread across the world. Its two broad groupings include 'action painters' such as Jackson Pollock, whose splashes and gestures reflected their inner impulses, and 'colour field' painters like Mark Rothko, whose images aimed to stimulate religious or spiritual contemplation.


Abstract art is art that does not aim to represent aspects of the visible world. Many abstract artists believe beauty lies in pure patterns of form, colour and line. Although all art has some abstract elements, Abstract art became popular in the very early twentieth century for philosophical and revolutionary reasons.


Aestheticism is the term given to a style of painting and decorative art popular in the 1870s and 1880s, which popularised the concept of 'art for art's sake'. Partly inspired by the arts of Japan and ancient Greece, the Aesthetic Movement wanted art to be the equivalent of music, providing pure pleasure without the need to tell a story. James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Albert Moore were leading figures.

Art Deco

Art Deco was a decorative style, most popular in the 1920s and 1930s, which had some influence on painters. It succeeded Art Nouveau but was more geometric and hard-edged. It was influenced by Cubism in painting, ancient Egyptian and Aztec art, as well as modern industrial design such as that of cars and ships.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau, French for 'new art', was a decorative style of the 1890s and early 1900s characterised by flowing lines and a 'whiplash' motif. Although its effect on painters was limited, artists including Gustav Klimt, Walter Crane and Charles Rennie Mackintosh adapted it for decorative paintings.

The Barbizon School

The Barbizon School was a group of landscape painters who, from the 1840s, were attracted to the wooded landscape and people of the Forest of Fontainebleau. Inspired by the examples of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Théodore Rousseau, their leader, they were attracted by the unspoilt countryside and the simple life of the peasants.


Baroque was the dominant style of seventeenth-century art in Europe, particularly for portraits and other figure subjects. Typical features include dramatic compositions, a strong sense of depth and movement, contrasts of light and shade, an emphasis on colour rather than outline, and on texture rather than smoothness. The works of Peter Paul Rubens and his pupil Anthony van Dyck are good examples.

British Impressionism

British Impressionism developed in the UK from about 1880 but only became a widely acceptable style in the early 1900s. It was influenced by French Impressionism and the less radical Barbizon School. Philip Wilson Steer, Walter Richard Sickert and Henry Herbert La Thangue were among its chief early proponents; George Clausen and John Singer Sargent were among its most successful.


Caravaggism is a style named after the influential Italian artist Caravaggio. He used strong lighting effects, realistic figures based on models, and simple but dramatic compositions to illustrate religious stories. Seventeenth-century artists in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, such as Jusepe de Ribera and Georges de la Tour, were particularly influenced by his approach.


A caricature exaggerates the features of an individual or a type, usually to make fun of them. In painting, the caricatures of William Hogarth, Francisco Goya and George Grosz are the best known, but more familiar are popular prints by artists such as Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray.

Celtic Revival

The Celtic Revival sought to revive the culture of Celtic regions such as Ireland and Scotland. In the visual arts, it drew its subjects from Celtic literature, history and mythology. David Gauld, Stewart Carmichael, David Simpson Foggie, Alec Grieve and others – a group of artists working in Scotland around 1890–1920 – are most closely connected with the movement in Britain.


Constructivism is a style of pure abstract art originating in Russia around 1915, originally using materials of the modern industrial world to create geometric sculptures. Inspired by Naum Gabo, British artists such as Ben Nicholson and Kenneth Martin later made paintings of geometric shapes and pure, flat colours. The British version is sometimes called Constructionism.


Cubism, developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque around 1910 and followed by Juan Gris and Fernand Léger among others, influenced the whole of modern art. Partly inspired by African sculpture and the later work of Paul Cézanne, it broke down the visual world into geometric forms, combined different viewpoints and reduced colours to ranges of browns and greys. Cubism led the way to Abstract art.


Dada was an international movement founded in Zurich in 1915 during the First World War. It was in part a reaction against the butchery of the war and set out to destroy the traditional artistic values of the society that had caused it. Its leading proponents were Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia and Kurt Schwitters.

Early Renaissance

The Early Renaissance usually refers to the period of art in Tuscany, Italy, in the fifteenth century when the characteristics of Renaissance art first appeared. These included increased naturalism and solidity of forms, the discovery of linear perspective and the use of oil paints. Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca, Andrea Mantegna and Sandro Botticelli are among its many masters.


Expressionism developed in the first decades of the twentieth century among artists who focussed on the spiritual aspects of art and on personal emotion. It was especially significant in Germany. Line, form and colour were used for the purpose of expression, not representation. Forerunners include Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch.


Fauvism is the name given to the style of Henri Matisse and the group of artists around him, including André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, around 1905. A critic had called them 'les fauves' (the wild beasts). Their bright colours and expressive brushstrokes developed from the work of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and other Post-Impressionists.

French Impressionists

The French Impressionists were a group of artists united by their rejection by the academic art establishment. Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley were at the core: landscape painters who worked in the open to capture their visual experiences directly. They were also influenced by scientific theories about optics to use bright, unmixed colours and broken brushstrokes.

French Realists

The French Realist movement in painting was created by Gustave Courbet in the mid-nineteenth century. He focused on real people, ordinary landscapes and rural activities, depicted with a concern for social and political issues. The French Realist movement later influenced Édouard Manet, the father of French Impressionism.


Futurism was a revolutionary Italian art movement, launched by the nationalistic poet Marinetti in 1909. It rejected tradition and worshipped modern technology, especially the noise, speed and fragmentation of urban life, which artists like Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini attempted to portray on canvas.

Glasgow Style

The Glasgow Style is the highly distinctive form of Art Nouveau developed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his circle in Glasgow in the 1890s. His group included his wife Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh, Herbert MacNair and Frances MacDonald. They drew inspiration from Continental Art Nouveau, the Celtic Revival and the Arts and Crafts movement.

High Renaissance

The High Renaissance covers the later part of the Renaissance period in Italy, in the early decades of the sixteenth century. In this period, realism reached a height in the work of Michelangelo, idealism in the work of Raphael and the marriage of science and art in the work of Leonardo da Vinci. Jacopo Tintoretto and Titian were important in Venice.


Impressionism intended to capture the artist's immediate impression of the subject. From the 1870s, French painters such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley began to exhibit what were seen as unfinished and unrefined paintings. These were often of day-to-day activities and suburban landscapes, including modern features such as factory chimneys and railways.


Kinetic art depends on motion for its effects. Movement is either produced mechanically by motors, as in kinetic art pioneer Naum Gabo's Standing Wave, or by exploiting the natural movement of air.

Kitchen Sink

Kitchen Sink was the name given to the style of four British painters, John Bratby, Derrick Greaves, Edward Middleditch and Jack Smith, who in the 1950s celebrated the everyday life of ordinary people. Among other subjects, they depicted the cluttered rooms and activities of working-class families, including their messy kitchens and overgrown gardens.


Mannerism is a style of art that developed from the High Renaissance in the early to mid-sixteenth century. Its features are hard to describe but include a rejection of the perfection and idealization of artists such as Raphael and Leonardo, in favour of the more expressive, stylized, exaggerated forms of artists including Michelangelo, El Greco, Pontormo and Parmigianino.


Minimalism is an extreme movement within abstract art that developed in the mid-1960s. It focussed on the basic elements of art: colour (such as black and white), form (the line and the square, for example), and material (raw canvas, bare metal or stone). The paintings of Agnes Martin, Frank Stella and Alan Charlton are good examples.


Neoclassicism was the revival of the values of the classical art of Greece and Rome. The new interest arose in the mid-eighteenth century following the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and reached a peak in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In painting, its simplicity and grandeur is often associated with heroism, liberty and democracy.


Neo-Impressionism was the style of those artists such as Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and, at times, Camille Pissarro, who used the technique of Pointillism (also called Divisionism), painting in small discrete dots of pure colour. This was intended to enhance contrasts of colour and tone and was developed by Seurat in the 1880s.

Northern Renaissance

The Northern Renaissance was the form the Renaissance took in northern Europe, particularly in Germany, the Low Countries and France in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A notable characteristic is extreme realism, for example in the work of Jan van Eyck, Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein the younger.

Op Art

Op Art is an abbreviation of 'Optical Art'. It refers to a style of abstract painting, mainly of the 1960s, which used strong patterns and contrasts of colour and tone to create visual effects, such as movement and vibration. Best known is the work of Victor Vasarely and of Bridget Riley.


Orientalism was the fashion for paintings of Middle Eastern and North African subjects that followed Western Europe's growing colonial and political power in those regions in the nineteenth century. The approach of artists and patrons varied from the sensitivity of Eugène Delacroix and John Frederick Lewis to the frequent eroticism of Jean-Léon Gérôme, Frederick Goodall and many more minor artists.


Orphism was a brief but distinct movement within Cubism around 1912 that emphasised the emotional energy and poetic qualities of colour. Artists who were part of this tendency included Robert Delaunay, František Kupka and the Duchamp brothers, some of whose works were among the first purely abstract paintings.


Photorealism, or Superrealism, is the attempt to paint photographically precise recreations of real life, whether through the use of photos, or by meticulous observation and techniques. Like Pop Art, this was a reaction against abstraction and minimalism and it celebrated mundane objects and scenes. The works of Clive Head, Michael Leonard and John Salt are good examples.


Pointillism, the technique of painting in small discrete dots of pure colour, was developed by the French Post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat in the 1880s. He was interested in scientific theories of colour: how colours were blended in the eye and could be enhanced by contrasts of colour and tone. Seurat preferred to call it Divisionism and it is also known as Neo-Impressionism.

Pop Art

Pop Art arose in the late 1950s and 1960s and was concerned with mass-produced goods and popular culture. In part it was a reaction against what was seen as highbrow abstract art. Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney and Allen Jones were leading British pop artists; from the USA, the work of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns is most familiar.


Post-Impressionism describes the work of the generation of French painters who followed the Impressionists from the 1880s, particularly Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Georges Seurat. Each had their own individual and personal style, which moved on from the realism of Impressionism.


Pre-Raphaelitism, the style popularised by the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood from 1848, was a reaction to the academic traditions that saw Raphael as the ideal artist. It treated serious subjects with intensity and extreme realism. Early members included William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. Its later phase, seen in the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, has a more mystical nature.


Mass-produced utilitarian objects which the artist uses to make works of art by placing them in an artistic context. The term is applied particularly to certain works of Marcel Duchamp, who pioneered the practice.


The Renaissance, French for 'rebirth', refers to the period in European art between about 1400 and 1550. This period saw renewed interest in classical art, literature and learning, as well as changes in society such as urbanisation and the rise of aristocratic patrons. These influenced changes in artistic style, including greater realism in portraiture and perspective, and a wider range of subject matter.


Rococo, was a pretty, decorative style of the early to mid-eighteenth century, particularly associated with French art, including painters such as François Boucher, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Jean-Antoine Watteau. In Britain, portrait painters including Thomas Gainsborough, Francis Hayman and William Hogarth were affected by Rococo's light touch.


Romanticism was a movement in art and literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that emphasised personal experience, feeling and emotion, particularly in response to nature. Eugène Delacroix, although he rejected the term, was the leading French Romantic painter. John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner are the best-known British Romantic artists of the period.

Social Realism

Social Realism is defined by choice of subject matter rather than style. Powerful images began to be used by painters in the mid-nineteenth century to affect the viewers' feelings and bring social problems to public attention. Some of the work of Thomas Faed, Richard Redgrave, Frank Holl, Luke Fildes and the early Pre-Raphaelites can be called Social Realism.


Suprematism was the name that the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich gave to his abstract paintings of the period 1915–c.1927. Malevich combined an interest in Folk art with Cubism and developed a radical approach in which he wanted to express the 'supremacy of pure feelings' in the simplest of geometrical forms and colours. These paintings include some made purely in black or white.


Surrealism attempted to depict the irrational world of dreams and the subconscious. André Breton, its founder, launched the movement in 1924 in Paris, and was influenced by the theories of Freud. Salvador Dalí and René Magritte painted dream-like subjects in painstaking detail. Max Ernst and Joan Miró used collage and the effects of chance to create new realities, leading on to Abstract Expressionism.


Symbolism was a movement in the arts, at its strongest in the 1880s and 1890s, which sought to reintroduce poetic and visionary feeling into painting. This was in contrast to the realism that dominated much late nineteenth-century painting. Some of the work of Paul Gauguin, George Frederick Watts and Edward Burne-Jones can be called Symbolist.


The Vorticists were a short-lived group of British artists formed in 1914 by Percy Wyndham Lewis. They were inspired by machines, the urban environment and the stylistic examples of Cubism and Italian Futurism to create aggressive, hard-edged, fragmented, geometrical landscapes, portraits and other subjects.