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Anna Moszynska

Term applied in its strictest sense to forms of 20th-century Western art that reject representation and have no starting- or finishing-point in nature. As distinct from processes of abstraction from nature or from objects (a recurring tendency across many cultures and periods that can be traced as far back as Palaeolithic cave painting), abstract art as a conscious aesthetic based on assumptions of self-sufficiency is a wholly modern phenomenon (see Abstraction).

In the late 19th century, and particularly in Symbolist art and literature, attention was refocused from the object to the emotions aroused in the observer in such a way that suggestion and evocation took priority over direct description and explicit analogy. In France especially this tradition contributed to the increased interest in the formal values of paintings, independent of their descriptive function, that prepared the way for abstraction. In his article ‘Définition du néo-traditionnisme’, published in L’Art et critique...


Michael Corris

Term applied to a work of art predominantly of a single colour or tone (for which see Grisaille), or to a type of painting originally associated with the practice of 20th-century avant-garde artists in Russia. The paintings and writings of Malevich, Kazimir and Rodchenko [Rodčenko; Rodtchenko], Aleksandr were responsible for the two principal interpretations of monochrome painting: the transcendental and the materialist. Malevich’s White Square on White (1918; New York, MOMA), generally regarded as the source for 20th-century monochrome painting, was produced in the context of his programme of Suprematism. A fascination with the asceticism of monochromatic painting and its mystical or occult associations can be found in extreme form in the work of Yves Klein and of Anish Kapoor. Rodchenko’s Colour Pure Red, Colour Pure Yellow, Colour Pure Blue (1921; Moscow, priv. col.) established the antithetical position for the monochrome as the radical materialist analysis of painting. Materialist theories value the monochrome as pure painting, because it reduces the art form to its theoretical limit of a single colour uniformly dispersed on a ground. Although such work convinced Rodchenko that painting’s terminus had been reached, varieties of this analytical or formal approach have remained influential and vital to ...


Hans J. Van Miegroet

Type of work in which an arrangement of diverse inanimate objects, including items of food (especially fruit and game), plants and artefacts is depicted. This arrangement is often apparently random and is usually within a domestic setting. The form is normally associated with oil painting, but other media have been used, including mosaics, watercolour, collage and photography. Despite the existence of still-life subjects in pre-Classical, Classical and Renaissance art, the form was recognized as a distinct genre only in the 17th century, when it reached the height of its popularity in western Europe, especially the Netherlands (where many of the conventions of Renaissance and Baroque still-life painting originated), France, Spain and Italy. Until this time, in inventories and theoretical writings, paintings representing foodstuffs, plants and inanimate objects were usually simply named after the items depicted; and even when the existence of a distinct type of painting became recognized there was still diversity in terminology before ‘still-life’ became accepted. In ...