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Ad Reinhardt

American Painter

Born: December 24, 1913 - Buffalo, New York
Died: August 30, 1967 - New York, New York
Ad Reinhardt Timeline
As an artist I would like to eliminate the symbolic pretty much, for black is interesting not as a color but as a non-color and as the absence of color.
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Summary of Ad Reinhardt

Ad Reinhardt was a prominent American abstract artist, writer, critic, and educator. Although commonly associated with the Abstract Expressionists, his work had its origins in geometric abstraction, and, increasingly seeking to purify his painting of everything he saw as extraneous to art, he rejected the movement's expressionism. Although he was in turn rejected by many of his peers, he was later hailed as a prophet by Minimalists. His Black Paintings, which occupied him from 1954 until his death, are regarded as his crowning achievement, while the many cartoons he created that made fun of the art world brought him fame as a wry commentator.


  • Ad Reinhardt is one of the few major American artists to have explored geometric abstraction and, unlike many of those Cubist- and Bauhaus-influenced artists who did, he firmly opposed attempts to put abstraction in the service of design - be it for the purposes of decoration, industrial design, or advertising.
  • His most famous series, the Black Paintings (1954-67), are all uniform, five-foot squares and are composed such that a ghostly Greek cross hovers, barely visible, in a mist of barely distinguished black and gray hues. Reinhardt felt they represented the ultimate in abstract painting - paintings that were concerned with art alone and bore no reference to anything outside themselves - not even to the hints of soul and angst in Abstract Expressionist pictures.
  • Although Reinhardt sought to remove all references to the external world from his pictures, he remained convinced that his art had the potential to affect social change. He also maintained an interest in various types of mysticism - something the viewer might appreciate in the struggle to comprehend the barely delineated forms in his Black Paintings (1954-67).

Biography of Ad Reinhardt

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Adolph Frederick Reinhardt was born in Buffalo, New York, to a family of immigrants. The family settled in New York City soon after his birth. He excelled at school and exhibited an interest in the visual arts from an early age; in high school, he worked as an illustrator for the school's newspaper. An inveterate reader, he set his sights on the elite universities of the east coast and turned down several scholarships from art schools, opting instead for undergraduate studies in art history at Columbia University in New York, which he commenced in 1931.

Important Art by Ad Reinhardt

Study for a Painting (1938)

This early composition by Ad Reinhardt exhibits the artist's profound interest and understanding of the Cubist art of Pablo Picasso and George Braque. The palette is typical of the style and is comprised of four colors essential for a Cubist painting: black, white, brown, and gray. The abstract shapes are dynamically arranged on the flat surface where the biomorphic curves intermingle with hard edges and straight lines. This small gouache presents Reinhardt as a talented young artist with a gift for absorption of the most relevant styles of painting of the time.

Untitled (1938)

Painted in the same year as the Cubist gouache, this canvas presents quite a stark contrast with Reinhardt's earlier artistic pursuits. Here he is obviously quoting Stuart Davis, the American artist who was a key influence on young Reinhardt. The booming palette employed by the artist has turned this arrangement of rectangular shapes into a feast of color - hot pink, orange, yellow, and red comprise a luminous symphony that inevitably engages the viewer. Later in his life Reinhardt abandoned such bright pigments. This example yet again testifies to the amazing versatility possessed by the young artist in terms of adopting and adapting various styles of modernist painting.

Abstract Painting, Red (1952)

This is one of the paintings belonging to the Red Series. Here the artist immersed himself completely into the exploration of the color red, one of the most expressive among the primary colors. This composition is abstraction par excellence; the squares are arrayed into a rigid pattern with the variations of red hues defining its strict geometry. The artist himself maintained throughout his life that these paintings were completely free of narrative. One cannot help but wonder, however, whether a list of references could be decoded in this canvas due to its expressive palette, impressive size (9'x3.5'), and the almost totemic outline of the squares.

Influences and Connections

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Content compiled and written by Ivan Savvine

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Ad Reinhardt Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Ivan Savvine
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Aug 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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