Famous Abstract Expressionism Paintings You Should Know


Clyfford Still PH-261, 1962.


Abstract Expressionism is an art movement.

Abstract expressionism is a post–World War II art movement in American painting, developed in New York City in the 1940s.

“Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.” — Jackson Pollock.

Art movement.

An art movement is a tendency or style in art with a specific common philosophy or goal, followed by a group of artists during a specific period of time, (usually a few months, years, or decades).

The term Abstract Expressionism involves a wide variety of American 20th-century art movements in abstract art.

Also known as The New York School, this movement includes large painted canvases, sculptures, and other media as well.

It was the first genuinely American movement to get international influence and put New York at the centre of the art world, which was occupied by Paris.

It had been first used in Germany in 1919 in the magazine Der Sturm, regarding German Expressionism.

In the United States, Alfred Barr was the first to use this term in 1929 in relation to works by Wassily Kandinsky.

Alfred Hamilton Barr Jr. (January 28, 1902 — August 15, 1981) was an American art historian and the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

  • Dates: 1940s and 1950s

  • New York

  • Keywords of the movement: action painting, colour field painting, New York School, emotional expression, spontaneity, sublime, spirituality, gestural mark-making.

  • Artists: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Lee Krasner, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombly, Ad Reinhardt…

The most famous Abstract Expressionist.Willem de Kooning. He adopted the abstract technique while never letting go of the human form in his work. He’s one of the most well-known and esteemed abstract expressionists.

Types of Abstract Expressionism.



Abstract Expressionism has two tendencies: action painters and colour field painters.

Action painters.

The term ‘action painting’ is associated with Abstract Expressionism, describing a highly dynamic and spontaneous application of vigorous brushstrokes and the effects of dripping and spilling paint onto the canvas.

  • The action painters were led by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, who worked in a spontaneous improvisatory manner often using large brushes to make sweeping gestural marks. …

The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through” — Jackson Pollock.

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock. She Wolf. 1943. Oil, gouache, and plaster on canvas, 41 7/8 x 67" (106.4 x 170.2 cm).



Jackson Pollock. She Wolf. 1943. Oil, gouache, and plaster on canvas, 41 7/8

x 67" (106.4 x 170.2 cm).

Willem de Kooning. He adopted the abstract technique while never letting go of the human form in his work. He’s one of the most well-known and esteemed abstract expressionists.

Types of Abstract Expressionism.

Abstract Expressionism has two tendencies: action painters and color field painters.

Action painters.

The term ‘action painting’ is associated with Abstract Expressionism, describing a highly dynamic and spontaneous application of vigorous brushstrokes and the effects of dripping and spilling paint onto the canvas.

  • The action painters were led by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, who worked in a spontaneous improvisatory manner often using large brushes to make sweeping gestural marks. …

The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through” — Jackson Pollock.





Willem de Kooning, Excavation, 1950. Courtesy Art Institute of Chicago.

Willem de Kooning’s Excavation was his largest painting up to that date and shows De Kooning’s expressive brushwork and organization of space into different sliding planes.

The artist took inspiration from an image of women working in a rice field in the 1949 Neorealist film Riso Amaro by Giuseppe de Santis.

The tension between abstraction and figuration is evident here, in the calligraphic lines which seem to define anatomical parts.

De Kooning’s painting process of painting is intensive layers he makes for months until he achieved the desired effect.

Willem de Kooning, Excavation, 1950. Courtesy Art Institute of Chicago. field painters.

Color field painters.

Mark Rothko.

Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals (1958–1960).

The Seagram Murals shows the desire of the colour field painters to achieve spiritual transcendence and to bring an intensely emotional experience.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Seagram Murals), 1958. Rothko.



Mark Rothko, Untitled (Seagram Murals), 1958. Courtesy Tate.

Barnett Newman.

Onement I (1948)


Onement I (1948). For Newman.

Onement I, was his artistic breakthrough.

It was the first time for the artist to use a vertical band to define the spatial structure of his work. This vertical band, become Newman’s signature mark.

The thick, irregular band both divides and unites the composition.

He saw his compositions as forms of expressions of the experience of being alive.

Clyfford Still.


Still is considered one of the most important color field painters.

His non-figurative paintings are also non-objective and concerned with mix different colors and surfaces in a variety of formations.

Clyfford Still, PH-972, 1959, oil on canvas, 112 x 155 in. Museum, Denver, CO.


Clyfford Still, PH-972, 1959, oil on canvas, 112 x 155 in. Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO.

Iconic Artwork of Abstract Expressionism

  • Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948.

Number 1, 1948 is a masterpiece of the “drip,” or pouring, technique, the radical method that Pollock contributed to Abstract Expressionism.

Pollock pour paint across the surface. He moved around a huge canvas laid on the floor. The result is a piece mostly dark and chaotic.


Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948. Courtesy of Jackson-Polock.org


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