Into the late 19th and early 20th century, the modern abstract art movement began to take shape and artists started to explore different types of expression that were quite unlike that of the previous few centuries.
Many painters created works that featured extremely simple subject matter—many of them depicting shapes such as triangles, squares and circles.
In this article, we will examine some of the most famous square paintings in greater detail while also taking a look at the artist behind each work and what motivated them to produce these paintings.
Famous Square Paintings
1. Black Square – Kazimir Malevich
One of the most iconic square paintings that many art lovers and critics are well-aware of was done by the famed Ukrainian artist, Kazimir Malevich.
Known for his elegant and simple paintings, Malevich is one of the more well-known painters that worked often with brightly-colored shapes to create various types of subject matter. However, in 1915, Malevich would produce one of his most famous works from his career.
The aptly-named painting is titled Black Square and has aroused both praise and criticism since it was first exhibited more than a century ago.
Malevich painted this work on a large canvas that was as tall as the average man and it has long been considered one of the more mysterious paintings from the time period.
What appears to be a solid black square, when viewed from a distance, soon becomes an intricately-detailed maze of cracks that were caused when the black paint dried.
2. Broadway Boogie Woogie – Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian is remembered as one of the more gifted Dutch abstract painters from the early 20th century.
In his youth, he experimented in painting with a style that some critics might call Post Impressionist, yet it was later in his career when he would develop his skills and expand his artistic expression methods to create abstract paintings using very bold shapes.
One of his greatest works from his career is titled Broadway Boogie Woogie. This 1943 painting is one that art historians and scholars point to as an excellent example of the abstract style that was developed during the time period shortly before World War II.
Mondrian used a combination of squares in this painting that were connected in different patterns, each square being either red, yellow, white or blue.
3. Red Square – Kazimir Malevich
In addition to Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square painting that has become one of the more iconic representations of the abstract art movement, he also produced other works that were very similar in composition and style.
Many critics at the time dismissed Malevich for painting in a manner in which was mistaken as being too simplified, but others recognized his knack for pushing the boundaries of what is typically deemed acceptable to critics and viewers alike.
In 1915, Malevich created another work that would also be highly-criticized, but would also draw widespread acclaim. The painting was titled Red Square and served to “abandon all materialism” as the artist proclaimed.
The brightly-colored red square in this work is not a square, but is actually a quadrilateral, which often piques the viewer’s interest in examining the shape in greater detail instead of assuming that it’s just another square painting.
4. Suprematist Composition – Kazimir Malevich
The next painting on our list is another one of Kazimir Malevich’s works, but is somewhat less well-known than the previous two that we have already mentioned.
Malevich was an artist that poured many hours of thought and contemplation into each of his paintings, however simple they might appear.
His placement of each shape, as well as their orientation and the overall composition of the work speak to his masterful creativity and ability to compose a painting that evokes emotion and feeling in the viewer, despite being made up of simple shapes and lines.
Malevich’s work titled Supremacist Composition was created in 1916, but it would not be exhibited for another decade until 1927.
Considered to be one of his most complex abstract paintings, this work is one that modern critics point to as his greatest masterpiece as it depicts a wide variety of shapes that are curiously-oriented and colored in a way that gives the work a unique liveliness.
5. Composition with Red Blue and Yellow – Piet Mondrian
One of the more iconic works from our list of the most famous square paintings is another one from Piet Mondarian.
It was common for Mondrian to create works that featured very simple and neatly-oriented squares or other shapes, but the famous Dutch painters method of outlining each shape and placing squares of different sizes in certain locations created some of the most memorable abstract works in history.
One of Mondrian’s most well-known paintings is titled Composition with Red Blue and Yellow. This painting was finished in 1929 and is among the more iconic abstract works from the modern art movement.
It was very similar, and is often confused with his 1930 painting Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow as he uses the same basic colors and similar composition.
6. Studies for Homage to the Square – Josef Albers
Few painters were more notable among those from the abstract of Geometric movements than German-born artist, Josef Albers. He would move to the United States later in his life as many of the world’s most recognized abstract painters were centered in New England or other parts of America.
One of Albers’ more famous paintings from his career was titled Studies for Homage to the Square. The artist painted this series of works in 1963 and it would soon become one of the most well-known in the entire abstract movement.
The various paintings in this series depicted three quasi-concentric squares that were painted using different colors, with the center square being the darkest.
7. Geometrische Komposition – Verena Loewensberg
Verena Loewensberg is unquestionably one of the most famous female painters from the abstract art movement that took place throughout much of the 20th century.
Many of her works utilized what critics and scholars refer to as the Concentrisism style, which involved the use of various patterns or shapes to create distinct visual effects that worked much like an optical illusion.
One of her more widely-recognized paintings is a 1982 work that was titled Geometrische Komposition.
In this work, Loewensberg used deep red and black on either side of the canvas while concentric white squares and rectangles formed a central shape that is meant to draw the viewer’s attention to the middle of the painting.
8. White on White – Kazimir Malevich
Our list would not quite be complete without mentioning another one of Kazimir Malevich’s most highly-praised square paintings from the height of his career as an artist.
This, like some of the other works that have been included in our list, portray very simple and straightforward squares set together on the canvas in a unique composition that requires the viewer to consider the deeper meaning behind the work itself.
In 1918, Malevich created a work that is known as White on White and is considered to be nearly as iconic as his Black Square and Red Square pieces from a few years prior.
This painting blends together two white squares with one being oriented at a slight angle along with a darker shade of white.
9. Untitled (Black on Grey) – Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko is one of the more widely-recognized painters from the abstract art movement. He is known as one of the most famous American artists from the mid-20th century and his works often portray a subtle and meaningful use of distinctly-blended colors.
Rothko produced many works that are among the more iconic and well-known works from the abstract era, but none of his paintings was more famous than the 1970 work that the artist never adorned with a title.
It would later become known as Untitled (Black on Grey) and has long been one of Rothko’s greatest pieces from his career, as well as the modern art movement.
10. Black Square and Red Square – Kazimir Malevich
Few other artists besides Kazimir Malevich are known to have worked so extensively with squares in his paintings.
Whether he was producing a work that included a single square or a series of concentric ones, Malevich was well-known for his masterful placement and orientation of squares in his paintings
One of Malevich’s most well-known paintings that deserves recognition on our list is one titled Black Square and Red Square. This work represents the culmination of a career that was dedicated to creating curious and meaningful artwork using abstract methods.
However, the painting would be one that is controversial due to the fact that experts are not fully certain that it was done solely by Malevich.
The painting includes a large black square set atop a smaller red one one a rectangular canvas. The painting is not considered to be authentic as testing revealed that pigments used were different from those that are known to have been in existence in Malevich’s career.