Discoveries in 20th Century Expressionism

Have you ever seen these abstract works of art before? These pieces are all from the Yale University Art Gallery. Have a look!

Piede Vicentino (Vicentine Foot), from the series Codex Coner

The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States, a joint initiative of the Trustees of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection and the National Gallery of Art, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute for Museum and Library Services

From the exhibition Many Things Placed Here and There: The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery:

Though Herbert Vogel knew Michael Goldberg from the 1950s New York art scene, the Vogels did not begin acquiring Goldberg’s work until the 1970s, at which point the couple bought work directly from the art­ist’s studio in the Bowery. Goldberg experimented with dynamic gesture, vibrant color, and emotionally charged abstraction, all defining characteristics of Abstract Expressionism, which swept through New York after the Second World War. In Piede Vicentino, broad, bold brushstrokes and strong diagonals infuse the work with pervasive energy. The title of the series from which this work comes is taken from an early sixteenth-century album created by a Florentine architect, and famously copied by Michelangelo, that illustrates details of Roman buildings.



Hedda Sterne

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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
Full-size image not available for download. Please contactRights and Reproductions.
Artist: Hedda Sterne, American, born Romania, 1910–2011


ca. 1953

Oil on canvas (30 3/8 in) diameter

Gift of Susan Morse Hilles
Hedda Sterne fled to New York in 1941 after narrowly escaping a massacre of Romanian Jews in Bucharest. In the 1950s, the artist depicted her new surroundings in various abstract paintings. In these canvases, the structure, speed, and motion of the city are invoked in abstract, overlapping forms that seem to be in continuous movement. Here, the dynamic lines of the painting are enhanced by the round (tondo) format of the painting. Paintings like these demonstrate the active role that Sterne played in the dissemination of Abstract Expressionism. Indeed, in 1950 Life magazine named Sterne one of the best artists under age thirty-six, recognizing her innovative style. (Many publications had wrongly listed her birth year as 1916, an error she only corrected much later.)

Merzbild mit Regenbogen (Merz Picture With Rainbow)


Mixed media on plywood

156.528 x 121.285 x 26.67 cm (61 5/8 x 47 3/4 x 10 1/2 in.)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection

Kurt Schwitters coined the term Merz in 1919 to describe his assemblages of urban debris and everyday materials. He derived the title of his invention from the German word for commerce, kommerz. In Merzbild mit Regenbogen, raw wood and a wheel spoke project from a canvas painted with a rainbow, embodying Schwitters’s belief in the artistic viability of both materials designed to be of aesthetic interest and those that are not. He created deliberate confusion between painted shadows and those cast by three-dimensional objects, prompting viewers to question boundaries between the illusionistic and the real.

Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
Full-size image not available for download. Please contactRights and Reproductions.
Artist: Willem de Kooning, American, born the Netherlands, 1904–1997

Waves #1



Plate:  (42 15/16 x 28 3/4 in.),
Katharine Ordway Fund
In 1960, on a visit to the Bay Area, Willem de Kooning, in completely impromptu and unpremeditated circumstances, made two huge lithographs, which in retrospect can be seen as harbingers of the so-called American print renaissance that transformed the history of printmaking in this country. De Kooning had never made a lithograph, but at the print studios of the University of California, Berkeley, the artist was left alone with two lithographic stones, each nearly four feet high. Standing over the stones, using a mop as his drawing implement, in less than an hour de Kooning created two explosive images—this and another, called Waves II—that embody not just the artist’s forceful gestures of that afternoon but also the immediacy and spontaneity that epitomize Abstract
Expressionism. Each lithograph was printed in fewer than ten impressions.
Culture: American
Period: 20th century
Classification: Works on Paper – Prints
Bibliography: John Elderfield et al., De Kooning: A Retrospective, ed. David Frankel, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2011), 328, pl. 116.





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