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Maleviche’s “Black Square“, Kandinsky’s abstract compositions, Warhol’s silkscreens are known to virtually everyone. However it might come as a surprise to find out all the masters of abstraction also created beautiful figurative paintings.
Here are 5 more examples of not so well known early works by famous masters.

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11. ANDY WARHOL (1928 – 1987, US)

“Rudy Valee“, 1930-s, pencil on paper, private collection

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Before Andy Warhole’s true entrance to Pop Art in 1962 when he first showed his “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans”, 1962, he worked as an illustrator for advertising and press.
He began to draw already as a child. One of his early drawings – a portrait of Rudy Valee (although his authorship is argued), was bought by a businessman in 2010 at a garage sale in New York for just $5, and allegedly is worth at least $1.3 million.
In 2009, “Eight Elvises”, 1963, was purchased by a private collector for a reported $100 million. This made it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold by that date.

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“Eight Elvises”, 1963, silkscreen on canvas, 200 × 370 cm, private collection

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12. WASSILY KANDINSKY (1866 – 1944, Russia, Germany, France)

“Odessa. Port”, 1898 , oil on canvas, 65.0 x 45.0 cm, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Russia.

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Wassily Kandinsky was trained as a lawyer, and turned to painting when he was 30. His first experiences in painting were impressionistic. “Odessa. Port”, 1898, is one example. Kandisky experimented with various styles in figurative painting, until after visiting an exhibition of Monet, he realised that a painted image had its own value and relevance, without necessarily representing any particular object. He painted his first abstract composition in 1910 – 1911 (sadly it was lost when he left Russiain 1921).
Kandinsky spent 1914 – 1921 years in Russia, where he was influenced by the utopian experiments of the avant-garde, and though he adapted some of the aspects and techniques of Suprematism and Constructivism, he could not agree with the rational, systemising principles that prevailed in Russia. Kandinsky primarily believed in the expressive content of an abstract form. Even though his “In the Black Square”, 1923, clearly refers to Malevich and his Suprematism, its dynamic compositional elements are typical of Kandinsky’s lyrical abstraction.

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“In the Black Square ”, 1923 , oil on canvas, 97 . 5 x 93 . 3 cm. Guggenheim Museum, New York

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13. EDVARD MUNCH (1863 – 1944, Norway)

“The Sick Child“, 1885 –86, the original version,  Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo

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Munch’s first experiences in painting were impressionistic, by large sombre, and not very successful. For instance, he created a series of paintings, drawings and illustrations around the death of his older sister, John Sophie, around 40 in total, entitled “Sick child”.
Under the influence of Gauguin’s “reaction against realism”, and his own madness (as he himself acknowledged) his work became more expressive and symbolic. In “The Scream” he reached his stated goal of the “study of the sole, that is to say of my own self”, as he himself commented. There are several versions of “The Scream”, in various media, the pastel one sold for more than $119 million in 2012.

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“The Scream”, 1893 , oil , tempera , pastel and crayon, 91 × 73 . 5 cm, National Gallery , Oslo, Norway

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14. HENRI MATISSE (1869 – 1954, France) 

“Still Life with Books and Candle”, 1890 , oil on canvas, 45 x 38 cm, private collection

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“Still Life with Books and Candles”, 1890, is one of the first paintings by Matisse. His first education was in law, and he took up painting only when his mother bought him some art supplies when he was recovering from an appendicitises attack.
Matisse tried himself in several painting styles, until experiments in Divisionism and Pointillism, and also interest in sculpture, introduced even stronger and more defined colour fields, clear lines into his paintings.
He is one of the key founders of Fauvism (In French “Les Fauves” means “wild beasts”) – a short-lived but prominent and influential style within Post-Impressionism.“The Dance”, 1910, is one of the key paintings by Matisse, it was commissioned alongside a companion painting “Music”, 1910, by a Russian businessman and collector Sergei Shchukin. There was an earlier version of “The Dance” which is believed to be a study for the later one.

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“The Dance”, 1910 , oil on canvas, 260 x 291 cm, The Hermitage, St . Petersburg

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15. KAZIMIR MALEVICH (1878 – 1935, Ukraine, Russia)

“Apple Trees In Blossom”, 1904 , oil on canvas, 55 × 70cm, Russian State Museum, St Petersburg

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Malevich worked in various different styles, including Impressionism and Cubism, before inventing his own style Cubo-Futurism (combining French Cubism with Italian Futurism). However, he then concluded that Cubists didn’t take abstraction far enough.
In 1915 he formulated his idea of non-objective art and showed his “Black Square” during the “0,10 Exhibition”, alongside a series of Suprematist works. He saw his “Black Square” as “a naked icon without a frame, the icon of my time”. It was even hung in the corner where an Orthodox icon would traditionally be placed.

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“The Black Square”, 1915 , oil on canvas, 79 x79 cm, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

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Please find Part 3 of this article in Abode’s news section.

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