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Lyrical Abstraction Movement

Lyrical abstraction first developed in Europe as a response to geometric abstraction and its systematic treatment of pictorial forms. Vassily Kandinsky can be considered the pioneer of lyrical abstraction with his “improvisations." However, this term was actually first established in 1947 by French painter, Georges Mathieu, who used it to refer to paintings intended to highlight artists' expressiveness and personal feelings.  Like Surrealism, lyrical abstraction shares its spontaneity in expression, whilst its gestural painting style is reminiscent of abstract expressionism.

George Mathieu was at the heart of two exhibitions in Paris that were crucial in the development of lyrical abstraction.The first exhibition took place at the Palais du Luxembourg, and revealed a wide range of painters from Jean-Paul Riopelle and George Mathieu to Pablo Picasso and Hans Hartung. It was during this exhibition that the term 'lyrical abstraction' was first coined, and intended to communicate an art form that favoured expression and gestural painting.  

George Mathieu a French painter and one of the fathers of lyrical abstraction, Matthieu created his works through an expressive vocabulary similar to that of calligraphy. He became well-known for his creation of large-scale paintings in front of an audience, exploring art as a performance; a concept already seen in Jackson Pollock's all-over paintings. In 1956, Mathieu created a 12-metre-long canvas called Hommage aux poètes du monde entier  (tribute to the poets of the world) at the Sarah-Bernardt theatre in just twenty minutes. The spontaneity of his painting style can also be seen in his almost entirely monochrome piece, Les Capétiens partout ! (Capetians everywhere!). 

Jean Paul Riopelle is an abstract Canadian expressionist best known for his non-figurative landscapes. He joined the lyrical abstraction movement after participating in one of George Mathieu's exhibitions. Riopelle worked predominantly with freshly squeezed paint, which he would liberally apply with a palette knife to produce dense and large-scale mosaics. His diverse work was inspired by Jackson Pollock's all-over paintings. 

Nicolas de Staël

A unique artist who met a tragic end, Nicolas de Staël occupies a unique place in post-war art. Overcoming the "abstraction-figuration" conflict that characterised the art world at the time, he was met with both controversy and adoration. He quickly found fame on an international level, garnering interest from a continuously increasing audience. In his work, Nice, the city is depicted through juxtaposing squares and blocks of colour.  

Hans Hartung 

One of the most important figures in abstract art, Hartung was also the father of 'Tachism', a term derived from the French word 'tache' (stain). It was a French style of abstract painting, introduced by critic, Charles Estienne, which used dabs and splashes of colour. One of Hartung's most famous paintings, Untitled, is particularly striking due to its use of monochrome lines. 

Lyrical abstraction is a movement that believes wholeheartedly in the power of the artist's gesture. Discover the contemporary artists on Artsper who place emotion and expression at the core of their pieces!  

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