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Modern Art Oil Painting Glossary

Abstract Art A style of oil painting that sees form and colour as holding the aesthetic values of art and not the naturalistic portrayal of subject matter. It is sometimes called Concrete Art.

Abstract Expressionsim A form of Abstract Art and Expressionsim which allows the subconscious to express itself. It is freed from the portrayal of everyday subject matter.

Action Painting (Gestura/ism) A spontaneous action by the oil painter to express the subconscious in order to contribute to the personal dynamism of his or her work.

Alla prima An Italian term meaning 'at first'. A technique of painting straight onto the surface without any underpainting or underdrawing

Analytical Cubism A phase of Cubism which sought to analyse nature by breaking down its subject matter, then reconstructing it again. It concentrated on the architecture of interlocking planes rather than on colour.

Bauhaus This was a German school of architecture, design and craftsmanship founded in 1919 and closed in 1933 by the Nazis. It was interested in fusing art with craft and the practicalities of daily life.

Biomorphism A form of Abstract Art which takes living organisms as its subject matter and not geometric shapes.

Blaue Reiter The name given to an influential group of Munich artists, formed in 1911 by Kandinsky, Klee, Macke and Marc.

Die  association of Expressionist-style artists established in Dresden in1905. They were linked by their desire to discover new creative experiences.

Chiaroscuro The balance of light and shade in an oil painting to produce an effect of modelling.

Chronophotography The process of recording figures, animals and objects photographically in motion.

Collage A term taken from the French word coller (to stick). It refers to the practice of pasting various materials onto a surface. It originated with the Cubist artists.

Conceptual Art A term for art in the late 1960s to late 1970s where the idea for a piece of work is more important than the execution and completion of the work.

Constructivism A Russian movement developed from Cubist collage and founded by Vladimir Tatlin. It laid emphasis on the importance of movement in space rather than spatial volume. The movement died out in 1922.

Cubism A radical movement that first introduced the abstract art forms. It started in Paris in 1907 under Picasso and Braque as a reaction against naturalistic art, towards a concentration on form and colour.

Dada The French word for 'rocking horse'. A nihilistic movement which arose in 1915 in disillusionment at the First World War and lasted until 1922. It was anti-art and tended towards the absurd in its desire to shock and scandalize.

De Stijl Originally a Dutch magazine (1917-1928) concerned with Neo-Plasticism, but also the name for the geometrical abstract ideas that the magazine advocated.

Divisionism A technique of applying small area of unmixed pigment onto the canvas, which optically combine for the spectator. It is also called Pointillism

Ebauche A French term meaning 'lay in'. It refers to the underpainting of a canvas or support.

Encaustic The technique of applying melted wax mixed with coloured pigment onto a surface. It was originally used in the first century AD.

Expressionism A movement which opposed Impressionism and naturalistic art. It stressed emotion through exaggeration of line and colour.

Fauve A French word meaning 'wild beast'. The term 'fauves' referred to an association of oil painters formed between 1905 to 1908 with Matisse as one of its leading figures. Their main stylistic features were their excessive use of colour and frenzied brushstrokes as a means of expression.

Figurative Art The straightforward representation of life and individual objects as seen purely by the eye and with no artistic interpretation.

Frottage A word taken from the French, frotter, meaning 'to rub'. It is the process of producing rubbings through paper from the surface of anything that has a textural pattern, such as wood.

Futurism An explosive movement which started in 1909 as an attack on the stagnancy of Italian art. It praised speed, the machine and violence and scorned traditional values. A recurrent stylistic feature was the use of repetition of an image in an oil painting, in order to imply movement. The phase died out with the advent of the First World War.

Grattage A technique derived from frottage, where a painted canvas is pressed down onto an uneven surface, such as a grid, and then the paint is scraped away to reveal a negative image of the texture beneath.

GrisailIe A monochrome painting executed in greyish colours.

Ground The surface applied to the support onto which a work is painted.

Illusionism A technique which deceives the eye into believing it is seeing a real object rather than its representation by the artist.

Impasto A term referring to thick layers of oil paint applied to the surface of a work. The thicker the layers and lumps on a canvas, the more impasted the oil painting is said to be.

Impressionism A movement founded by an association of artists formed in Paris in 1874. They aimed at portraying naturalism through the spontaneous, atmospheric effect of light and colour on the surface of objects and would complement these colours in the shadows. They often used broken colours to achieve their effects.

Lithography A method of printing from the surface of a slab of limestone called a lithographic stone. Greasy ink is applied to the stone and made permanent by the addition of chemicals. Water is applied, which is soaked up by the porous, non-greasy area of the limestone. This means that when the limestone is covered in greasy ink, only the drawn area is transferred in replica.

Medium (1) The liquid used to bind pigment together. (2) The type of paint used eg oil, watercolour and so on.

MERZ A variety of Dada invented by Schwitters in 1920. Like collage, it consisted of an arrangement of various materials merged into a work of art. Schwitters, however, used more diverse materials than those adopted in straightforward collage, and would take anything from iron bars to plastic, waste-disposal sacks.

Metaphysical PaintingA movement that arose in Italy in 1915 with de Chirico. It was partly a reaction against the functionalist tendency of Futurism. The inner aspect of objects was sought by placing them in unusual and unexpected settings and creating a magical atmosphere of mystery and hallucination.

Minimal Art A style of art concerned with an awareness of the object itself as it is. It is an impersonal and neutral portrayal of an object.

Monochrome An oil painting executed in just one colour.

Neo-Impressionism A late eighteenth-century style based on Divisionism, but concentrating on a more scientific and studied composition.

Neo-Plasticism A term coined by Mondrian in 1920 for his purely geometric style of art. He used only horizontal and vertical lines and the primary colours with black, white and grey. This was a movement closely connected with De Stijl magazine.

Orphism A style that arose from Cubism in 1913 and claimed to produce a more lyrical quality in its work than the severe intellectualism of Cubism.

Papier colle A French term meaning 'stuck paper'. It is a type of collage which involves sticking layers of paper onto a support.

Pentimento The evidence of a previous drawing showing through the top layer of an oil painting. It is generally an object the artist painted in and then corrected.

Performance Art The art of the artist posing and proposing himself or herself for artistic manipulation.

Photomontage The technique of arranging and gluing photographic images onto a surface as a type of collage.

Pop Art A dominant style in America and England in the mid-1950s to 1960s that employed the mass media, commercial and industrial products and popular images as its material in order to bring art closer to urban life

Rayonnism A Russian style of art that believed in painting in a fourth dimension outside space and time. It used intersecting rays and lines of colour to achieve its ideal.

Realism A nineteenth century movement that used everyday life as its subject matter. It usually tended towards low-life or ugly and depressing situations, which were portrayed in a simple and straightforward manner.

Romanticism A style of art that occurred in the mid-eighteenth century and aimed at stressing passionate emotion and idealized pictures through the expressive use of colour.

Scumbling The process of applying an opaque colour over another layer so that the first layer is not completely covered and leaves areas of broken colour.

Socialist Realism The official art of the Communist Party, which extolled the virtues of the party and work.

Spatialism A style that rejects traditional easel-painting for the development of colour and form in space.

Suprematism A form of Cubism constructed from pure, geometric elements.

Surrealism An influential, twentieth century movement that encouraged the miraculous and bizarre arid rejected any form of reason.

 Symbolism (Syntheticism) A style of art arising in the late nineteenth century. It sought to render mystical ideas and moods rather than imitate objects precisely.

Vorticism A type of Cubism where the diagonal was stressed like an imaginary vortex.