Abstract Expressionism

The years of World War II marked a turning point in modern art history. The orientation of American artists to the stylistic development in the European art centres – in particular Paris – gave way to an increasing emancipation in the 1940s and 1950s. New York became the centre of a self-confident art scene, finding completely new, radical means of communication with Abstract Expressionism. Since the 1940s, it has also been summarised under the term ‘New York School’.

The attribution is reminiscent of the ‘École de Paris’ and references the fact that the art being created in New York took on an artistic guiding function in its colourfulness and vitality and sent groundbreaking impulses across to Europe. 

Abstract Expressionism - Table of contents

Abstract Expressionism – Direct, spontaneous, and unfiltered

In Abstract Expressionism, the process of painting becomes the decisive factor with the relative abandonment of the pictorial function. The artist translates his emotions onto the painting ground directly, spontaneously, and unfiltered, with the painterly gesture. The spiritedly applied gestural lines and colour swathes, as exemplified by Jackson Pollock’s Action paintings, issue from a purely subjective sentiment, the confrontation with one’s own fears, visions, and formative experiences. The subconscious and intuition underly the works, whereby they take up the working method of European Surrealism, the ‘écriture automatique’.

Abstract Expressionism and Colour Field Painting

Colour Field Painting emerged from Abstract Expressionism. The boundaries are fluid, so that many artists cannot be clearly assigned to one style. In its purest form, it is characterised by largely homogonous, juxtaposed fields of flat colour applied on large-format picture grounds. 
The colour becomes the only pictorial subject by its simple presence. In contrast to the emotionally loaded treatment of colour of Abstract Expressionism, Colour Field Painting is characterised by an optical calming and uniformity but possesses a comparably impressive presence. 

Abstract Expressionism – Artists

Works by Ashile Gorky, Helen Frankenthaler and Cy Twombly give an insight into the diversity of this significant era. These three artists each occupy decisive junctures in the development of Abstract Expressionism with their unique, pioneering oeuvre. 

Abstract Expressionism – Arshile Gorky

Ashile Gorky (1904-1948) - alongside Hans Hoffmann, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning - is one of the most important representatives of the first generation of the New York School. Gorky, born Vosdanig Manoog Adoian, emigrated to the USA as a teenager to escape the genocide in Armenia. 

Following his artistic interests, he initially trained himself. He settled in New York in 1924, taking on his pseudonym, and studied at the National Academy of Design at the Grand Central School of Art, where he later also taught. He first worked under the stylistic influences of Cézanne and Picasso and took part in a group exhibition of young artists at the Museum of Modern Art as early as 1930. One year later, the Mellon Gallery in Philadelphia presented his first solo exhibition.

From the end of the 1920s, Gorky oriented himself to Cubism; however, the first biomorphic forms inspired by Joan Miró and André Masson can be found in his cubist-like constructions. He became friends with Willem de Kooning, the same age as him, and they shared a studio. The Surrealists André Breton and Roberto Matta also become close friends in the 1940s, inspiring him to his personal abstract-surrealist style. He combined bright flecks of colour, created by dripping and running, with biomorphic forms of delicate lines. His works span a bridge from European art history – which he studied long, and intensively replicated – through Surrealism, and to the gesturally impulsive ductus of Abstract Expressionism. 

Suffering greatly from cancer and the consequences of a car accident, Arshile Gorky took his own life in 1948.

Abstract Expressionism – Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) is the most important trailblazer of Colour Field Painting; her work emerged from Abstract Expressionism and led to a pure work of coloured areas. 

Frankenthaler is assigned to the second generation of the New York School. From 1945 to 1949, she studied at a private art college in Vermont and at the Art Students League of New York and subsequently became a private student of Hans Hofmann, the German-born painter, who with his New York Art School, exerted a considerable influence on the development of Abstract Expressionism and Colour Field Painting. 
Frankenthaler made contact with the first painters of the New York School via the art critic Clement Greenberg. In the early 1950s, she found her own style which followed on from early works by Kandinsky but was significantly influenced by Jackson Pollock. In her personal form of Action Painting, she cultivated a lyrical, less dramatic mode of expression than her male colleagues. Through the soaking of unprimed canvases with thinned paint, the ‘soak stain method’, the artist achieved transparent-like colour fields with organic, abstract elements. Her painting method where colour and painting ground merge into one, was adopted by Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland

In 1958, Frankenthaler married her painting colleague Robert Motherwell

The Jewish Museum New York held her first retrospective in 1960. From the early 1960s, the artist used acrylic instead of oil paint for her painting, giving stronger contours and deeper colours, and also looked at print graphic techniques. Decisive sources of inspiration for her work were impressions of landscape and nature. 
Frankenthaler taught at Yale and Princeton Universities and later worked as a sculptor and stage set designer. 

Abstract Expressionism – Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly (1928-2011) is one of the most famous representatives of Abstract Expressionism, but in his biographical and artistic history, takes on a special role.

Twombly studied at various high schools in Rome/Georgia, Boston, and his hometown of Lexington/Virginia before moving to New York for a fellowship at the Arts Students League where he had loose contact with the representatives of the New York School. He became friends with fellow student Robert Rauschenberg, at whose suggestion he attended courses at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1951 and 1952. There he was taught by Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline.

A travel scholarship enabled Twombly to undertake an extended trip in 1952/53 through Southern Europe and North Africa, at times accompanied by Rauschenberg, and after his return, the artists shared a studio in New York for a short while and exhibited in the Stable Gallery.

Twombly increasingly relocated the focus of his life to Italy, and in 1960, moved with his family to Rome. That same year, the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York held an important solo exhibition. The artist travelled restlessly around the Mediterranean and North Africa in the years that followed, with themes from mythology, literature and natural history dominating his work.

The artist developed an unmistakeable graffiti-like pictorial language. In short, quick action processes, he placed filigree ciphers on the picture ground, reminiscent of lettering, and worked with delicate traces of colour and lineal abstract sketches. In doing so, he combined various techniques and created collages. Alongside his sometimes large-format paintings and drawings, Twombly photographed and developed three-dimensional objects.

Current auctions - Abstract Expressionism

Auction 1211 - Evening Sale - Modern Art

Photography Post War & Contemporary Art Modern Art
Friday 02. 12. 2022, 06:00 pm
Lot 1 - 99
Auction 1211
Auction
Cologne
Friday, December 2, 2022
6 pm

Lot 1 – 99

The auction will be streamed live at www.lempertz.com.
Preview
Cologne
Saturday, November 26, 10 am – 4 pm
Sunday, November 27, 11 am – 4 pm
Monday, November 28 – Thursday, December 1, 10 am – 5.30 pm

Vernissage
Friday, November 25, 6 pm

Berlin (a selection), Poststr. 22
Thursday, November 10, 6 pm – 9 pm
Friday, November 11, 11 am – 5 pm
Saturday, November 12, 11 am – 5 pm

Auction 1212 - Day Sale - Modern Art

Photography Post War & Contemporary Art Modern Art
Saturday 03. 12. 2022, 11:00 am
Lot 100 - 253
Auction 1212
Auction
Cologne
Saturday, December 3, 2022
11 am

The auction room is kept free of germs and viruses by a UVC filter system. The auction will be streamed live at www.lempertz.com.
Preview
Cologne
Saturday, November 26, 10 am – 4 pm
Sunday, November 27, 11 am – 4 pm
Monday, November 28 – Thursday, December 1, 10 am – 5.30 pm

Vernissage
Friday, November 25, 6 pm

Berlin (a selection), Poststr. 22
Thursday, November 10, 6 pm – 9 pm
Friday, November 11, 11 am – 5 pm
Saturday, November 12, 11 am – 5 pm

Our passed Abstract Expressionism-Auctions

Abstract Expressionism-Auctions Prices

A few examples of impressionism prices auctioned in Lempertz auctions:

Abstract Expressionism Auction - Lot Nr. Object Price
Abstract ExpressionismAuction 1200 - Lot 11

Helen Frankenthaler - Untitled

113.400 €
Abstract ExpressionismAuction 1188 - Lot 273

Mark Tobey - Ohne Titel

3.125 €
Abstract ExpressionismAuction 1188 - Lot 275

Mark Tobey - Cadre vert

4.000 €
Abstract ExpressionismAuction 1177 - Lot 3

William Nelson Copley - Untitled

262.500 €
Abstract ExpressionismAuction 1177 - Lot 4

William Nelson Copley - Untitled

137.500 €