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Artists Victor Vasarely
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Victor Vasarely

Hungarian-French Painter and Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Op Art, Abstract Art, Modernism and Modern Art, Kinetic Art

Born: April 9, 1906 - Pécs, Hungary

Died: March 15, 1997 - Paris, France

Victor Vasarely Timeline


"OP-ART or kinetic abstraction? It is nothing else but introducing the dimension of movement, space and time into the plastic world. We are still in two-dimensional world, but the illusion of creating space and movement in micro-time is so strong that it acts as reality."
Victor Vasarely
"It is the original idea that is unique, not the object itself."
Victor Vasarely
"Pure form and pure color can signify the world."
Victor Vasarely
"A painter is no more an inspired, empirical individual, but an educated researcher, resembling a scientist. He is aware of both physical and psychological needs, as well as the rights of humanity."
Victor Vasarely
"Art is bound to become the public treasure."
Victor Vasarely
"The art of tomorrow will be a collective treasure or it will not be art at all."
Victor Vasarely
"On one hand there is a direction leading to the world of cells, molecules and atoms, invisible to the eye, while the other direction points at the remote, huge, starry universe"
Victor Vasarely
"This inspiration gave rise to poetry and life, even eternal life. Is there a reason as to why this expanded, gigantesque, physical reality with associated relativity, electric and magnetic field, its light waves, problems of matter, space and time, wonders and secrets, could not become an inexhaustible source of new poetry and beauty?"
Victor Vasarely
"Conventional painting, in a sense of technique and message, has become somewhat exhausted and started to repeat itself! This is called decadence."
Victor Vasarely
"Already in 1935 my graphic studies featured the first vibratory effects. However, I started consciously pursuing kinetic effects only around 1950. In the following years I have created those black and white, positive-negative works, that today become world fashion known as OP-ART i.e. optic art."
Victor Vasarely
"My art transposes nature this one more time, the moment right now, the one of physics that renders the world physically comprehensible."
Victor Vasarely
"Painting is but a medium, the ultimate goal is to search, to define, to integrate the plastic phenomenon into everyday life"
Victor Vasarely

"A contemporary painter can no longer be content with painting pretty little pictures. He must beautify the details of the modern, grandiose environment, since people need plastic forms same as they need sunlight, oxygen or vitamins."


Victor Vasarely provided us with some of the most distinctive images and optical effects in twentieth-century art. From his days as a commercial graphic designer in 1930s-40s Paris to his final decades developing and marketing what he hoped would become a new universal language for art and architectural design, Vasarely steered a unique course, combining virtuosic technical precision with a scientific awareness of optical and geometrical effects. He is best known for his grid-like paintings and sculptures of the 1960s onwards, which play with the reader's sense of visual form by creating illusory, flickering effects of depth, perspective, and motion. In making the act of looking one of their primary subjects, these works speak to a quintessentially modern concern with the difference between what we can see and what is really there.

Key Ideas

Vasarely was perhaps the first modern artist to realize that Kinetic Art did not have to move. Instead he created an extraordinary series of paintings and sculptures which used geometrical effects to suggest motion within static forms. From illusions of oscillation and vibration to Escher-like tricks whereby apparent indentations in the picture-surface suddenly seem to protrude from it, Vasarely's pioneering techniques not only influenced the Op Art movement of the 1960s, but helped to define the whole psychedelic mood of that decade.
Like his predecessors in the Constructivist and Concrete Art movements, Vasarely wanted to create a universal visual vocabulary for modern art. By the 1960s, he had developed what he called an "Alphabet Plastique" of endlessly interchangeable compositional elements. These small, square units each consisted of a simple combination of figure and ground, whose color and shape could be changed in any number of ways, to be organized in any conceivable pattern. This aspect of Vasarely's work exemplifies a post-Second World War concern with using art to communicate across national and cultural boundaries, by stripping away all topical reference, and using visual effects so simple that they would mean the same thing to any viewer. In this way, Vasarely sought to create what he called a "Planetary Folklore".
As a student of Constructivism, Vasarely believed that art should have a functional purpose within society, an aim he pursued partly by exploring the overlaps between art and architecture. As well as designing murals and other visual features specifically for architectural spaces, Vasarely believed that his visual vocabulary of interchangeable compositional elements could be used in urban planning, as a way of combining qualities of regularity and variety within domestic architecture, street design, and so on. While many artists from the 1910s onwards had considered how modern art and architecture might influence each other, few pursued that idea with such a singular and consistent vision as Vasarely.

Most Important Art

Victor Vasarely Famous Art

Zebra (1937)

In this early work, created while Vasarely was a graphic designer in Paris, two zebras twine around each other against a black background. Their limbs overlap, creating a subtle chequerboard pattern and suggesting spatial depth as well as generating a sense of intimacy, energy, and sexual play. There are no outlines to the two forms, which are instead defined by undulating black and white stripes, their curves suggesting the volumes of the animals' bodies. In its use of such optical trickery, Zebra is often considered one of the earliest works of Op Art.

This painting is typical of Vasarely's early work in using abstract visual effects in pictorial representation - zebras and tigers were common subject-matter for this reason, because of the abstract patterning on their bodes - and in recreating three-dimensional space in two dimensions without resorting to vanishing-point perspective. Despite his status as a commercial artist, Vasarely had been exposed to the avant-garde ideas of the Bauhaus at the Mühely art-school in Budapest in the late 1920s, and there is an obvious Constructivist influence on this work, with its reduction of representative elements to an absolute, iconic minimum. Indeed, in producing works like Zebra, Vasarely was following in the footpaths of pioneering Hungarian Constructivists and avant-gardists at the same time, we can sense the first stirrings of Vasarely's movement towards purely abstract, optically arresting effects. Vasarely returned to the Zebra as a visual motif throughout his career, notably creating a sculpture based on this early work in 1965.
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Victor Vasarely Artworks in Focus:



Victor Vasarely was born in the city of Pécs, Hungary, in 1906. Shortly afterwards, his family moved to Pieštany in Slovakia, where he spent his childhood years, though he also travelled extensively across Eastern Europe. Little is known of Vasarely's early life, except that he did not seem to express any artistic impulses, seeming more interested in science.

Education and Early training

In 1925, after his family had moved to Budapest, Victor began a medical degree at Eötvös Loránd University, but after two years he abandoned his studies to become a painter. His training was initially conservative, but by 1929 he had enrolled at the private academy of Sándor Bortnyik, a respected avant-garde artist and advocate of the Bauhaus. Indeed, the Mühely - literally "workshop" - as Bortnyik's school was known, was sometimes considered the Hungarian equivalent of the German Bauhaus, focusing on principles of geometrical abstraction, and on applied rather than fine arts. Bortnyik held lectures in his apartment on Walter Gropius, Theo Van Doesburg, László Moholy-Nagy, Piet Mondrian, the De Stijl artists, and Constructivism. Though Vasarely was based at the Mühely for only two years, it had a profound influence on his artistic development.

Victor Vasarely (c. 1930)
Victor Vasarely (c. 1930)

Around this time, Vasarely met and married his fellow student Claire Spinner. They aimed to study together in Germany, but the uncertain political situation in the Weimar Republic put paid to this idea, and instead they left Budapest in 1930 to settle in Paris. Across the following two decades, Vasarely supported himself as a commercial artist, creating posters for advertising and news agencies and logos for pharmaceutical companies. His practical and theoretical training allowed him to experiment with geometrical principles and chromatic patterns, but the distinctive style of his later work had not yet materialized. In 1931, Victor and Claire had their first child, André. A second, Jean-Pierre, was born in 1934.

Self-portrait, pastel on paper (1934)
Self-portrait, pastel on paper (1934)

In contrast to the stereotypical image of the young, impoverished, bohemian artist, Vasarely's graphic design career was relatively successful, generating enough income for him to pursue his own creative projects privately, in relative isolation from the Parisian art world. He experimented with effects of perspective, shadow, and light in three-dimensional works, and studied the scientific principles of color and optics, as well as astrophysics, relativity, and quantum mechanics. Finding in physics the principles which would animate his creativity, Vasarely's compositional method was, as it would remain throughout his career, meticulous, objective, and rigorous. He perceived art, just like science, as a process of ongoing, rational experiment. Some of the pieces which he created during 1933-38, featuring black and white contrasts, and often depicting tigers and zebras - chosen for their naturally occurring abstract patterning - are considered by many the first works of Op Art.

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Victor Vasarely Biography Continues

Mature Period

After the Second World War, having spent the period of 1942-44 in Saint Céré in the Lot valley, Vasarely returned to Paris to take over a studio in the district of Arcueil, on the city's southern outskirts. This move marked the beginning of profound shift in his artistic style. During 1947-51, Vasarely came to realize that certain two-dimensional geometrical forms could generate sensory perceptions of space and depth, and even create the optical illusion of movement. He later credited this discovery to studies of light conducted during holidays in the South of France, in the Belle-Isle and Gordes-Crystal regions, stating that "Southern towns and villages devoured by an implacable sun [...] revealed to me a contradictory perspective". During the early 1940s, Vasarely had co-founded a gallery with the art dealer Denise René. The Galerie Denise René, as it was called, would become an important early center for the Op Art movement, with Vasarely himself exhibiting there from 1944 onwards.

By the early 1950s, Vasarely had abandoned the graphic, figurative style of his early work in favor of purely abstract paintings, and throughout the following decade, he focused on depicting movement in static forms, extending the principles of Kinetic Art developed by artists such as Naum Gabo earlier in the century. The theoretical groundwork for the Op Art movement was also laid down, most influentially in Vasarely's Manifeste Jaune (Yellow Manifesto) of 1955, which expressed his belief that "pure form and pure color can signify the world". This statement was published for the Kinetic Art exhibition Mouvement, held at the Galerie Denise René, which featured Vasarely's work alongside that of Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, Jesus Rafael Sotó, Jean Tinguely, and others. Around the same time, Vasarely also designed a series of architectural murals, notably for the University of Caracas in Venezuela in 1954. These projects expressed his belief that art and architecture were mutually dependent.

Victor Vasarely at work (1948)
Victor Vasarely at work (1948)

By the start of the 1960s, Vasarely had developed his so-called "Alphabet Plastique", a potentially endless series of interchangeable compositional units which became the basic building blocks of much of his subsequent art. In the 1960s, the alphabet was used to create perhaps Vasarely's most influential series of works, the "Planetary Folklore" series, which aimed to generate visual effects so simple that any given viewer would engage with them in the same way. During 1966-70, Vasarely also worked on various architectural projects, including for the French Pavilion at the 1967 World Expo in Montreal. He had become a French citizen in 1959, and in 1961, Victor and Claire moved to Annet-sur-Marne, where Vasarely would remain until the end of his life.

Although the 1960s was a period of critical and popular success for Vasarely, as the Op Art movement took off, he was frequently disappointed that his artistic systems - particularly his "Alphabet Plastique" - had not been more widely taken up. As a humanist whose scientific rigor was complemented by spiritual beliefs, Vasarely genuinely believed that the universal artistic vocabularies he had devised could make the world a better place.

Later Work

In 1969, Vasarely wrote that "man has become a self-conscious creature, thirsting for knowledge, materialist and social thought", a statement summing up his rational and humane outlook on art, science, and life. During the 1960s and after, he composed various texts explaining these principles at length. In 1970, Vasarely opened the Vasarely Foundation in Gordes, France, along with a large museum devoted to his work. Across the following years, his network of museums and foundations grew, with a Vasarely Museum opening in his childhood home of Pécs in 1976, and American, German, and Norwegian Vasarely Foundations launched during the 1980s. Vasarely used the headquarters of the foundation at Gordes to explore various architectural concepts - based on the idea that his Alphabet Plastique could also be used in urban planning - and created a range of educational and research programs. Still full of energy and invention, Vasarely became more convinced than ever that the concept underpinning an artwork was more significant than the realization of it. As such, he increasingly relied on assistants to complete his projects.

Art critic Roberta Smith writes that "[a]lthough Mr. Vasarely's visibility in the art world declined precipitously after 1970, he remained the center of his own small art empire". During the 1980s, the popularity of Op Art waned considerably, and he devoted more and more of his time to managing his network of museums and foundations. In 1990, Vasarely's wife died, and his creative output and health declined from this point onwards. In 1992, Jean-Pierre, his second child, also died, and in 1996, a few years later, Vasarely closed his first museum. Later that year, he became a professor emeritus at the Budapest Faculty of Visual Arts. In the mid-1990s, Vasarely was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and he spent the next two years undergoing various treatment. Victor Vasarely died in Paris on March 15, 1997, aged 90.


Vasarely in front of one of his Op Art paintings (circa 1970s-80s)
Vasarely in front of one of his Op Art paintings (circa 1970s-80s)

Although Vasarely was experimenting with the principles of Op Art as far back as the 1930s, widespread recognition of his work in this area only came in 1965, with his inclusion in the hugely influential Op Art exhibition The Responsive Eye (1965), at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Indeed, the term "Op Art" had only been coined the previous year, in a Time magazine article. As well as influencing this newly defined genre, Vasarely's work filtered through into mainstream popular culture through its reproduction on prints, posters, and fabrics. As a believer in the democratization of art, Vasarely actively supported this mass circulation of his designs, and their hallucinatory effects became synonymous with the spirit of the sixties.

Victor Vasarely
Victor Vasarely

At the peak of his fame, Vasarely declared: "[t]he generation coming after me experiments with spatial-kinetic forms. New dimensions, light, energy and sound enter the competition". He had a strong sense of the influence that the Op Art movement would have on subsequent experiments with light, color, and motion in art, and various movements and collectives took up and developed his ideas from the 1960s onwards. In Paris, during that decade, the Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel created interactive, immersive artistic environments based on Vasarely's principles; in California around the same time, the Light and Space Movement, including artists such as Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, and Craig Kauffman, began exploring the perceptual effects of materials such as glass, and neon and fluorescent lights. The wider movement of Light Art, associated with Robert Irwin and James Turrell amongst others, has focused intensively on light as a compositional material. On this evidence, it seems that Victor Vasarely's artistic legacy remains very much alive.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Victor Vasarely
Interactive chart with Victor Vasarely's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart


Kazimir MalevichKazimir Malevich
László Moholy-NagyLászló Moholy-Nagy
Walter GropiusWalter Gropius
Lajos KassakLajos Kassak
Auguste Herbin


Sandor Bortnyik


Concrete Art
Kinetic ArtKinetic Art
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Victor Vasarely
Victor Vasarely
Years Worked: 1928 - 1980s


Gaspar Noé
James TurrellJames Turrell
Robert IrwinRobert Irwin
Craig Kauffman


Jean HelionJean Helion
Anatole Jakovsky


Light and SpaceLight and Space
Light Art
Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Dr Sarah Frances Dias

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Greg Thomas

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Dr Sarah Frances Dias
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Greg Thomas
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Useful Resources on Victor Vasarely






The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

written by artist

Victor Vasarely: A Tribute Recomended resource

Planetary Folklore Recomended resource

Originally published in 1973

Le Musée Imaginaire de Vasarely (in French)

Notes Brutes (in French)

By Victor Vasarely (Author),‎ Pierre Vasarely and Claude Desailly (Preface)

Original Creators: The Father of Op-Art Victor Vasarely Recomended resource

By Alexander Pack
April 9, 2012

Victor Vasarely, Op Art Patriarch, Dies at 90 Recomended resource

By Roberta Smith
New York Times
March 18, 1997

Victor Vasarely's Optical Art Recomended resource

Interview with Pierre Vasarely, Victor's grandson, at the Vasarely Foundation

Showcase: Victor Vasarely Retrospective in Istanbul

Retrospective Exhibition in Istanbul
February 9, 2017

Victor Vasarely: Reflexions Recomended resource

Interview with Victor Vasarely from the late 80's

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