The rise of abstraction is one of the monumental stories of twentieth-century art. With boldness and iconoclastic fervour, artists abandoned narrative, sentiment and the assumption that art had to refer to or relate to the world, in favour of art that focused instead on mark-making and art for art’s sake. A more expressive phase, seen in the work of Henri Matisse in France and the Russian-born Wassily Kandinsky in Germany, gave way to an increasingly geometric and hard-edged aesthetic during the 1910s.
On the brink of revolutionary change, Russian artists such as Kasimir Malevich made radical departures from the past, attempting to restart the course of art through pure abstraction. No less revolutionary, the de Stijl group in the Netherlands, which included the painter Theo van Doesburg and the architect Gerrit Rietveld, sought a world of art and design based on pure abstraction, where every form was reduced to the essentials of form and colour. And in the hands of photographers like Albert Renger-Patzsch, photography came to be regarded as the perfect medium for a new world of pure form.