Top Five... Expressionist paintings to startle and amaze from Chagall to Basquiat

Sotheby's is preparing to auction one of the versions of Edvard Munch's world famous painting The Scream later this year. The work is one of the most immediately recognisable, influential and striking in existence. But why is it so celebrated?

The Scream is credited as being one of the major founding works of Expressionism - a movement which sprung up at the start of the 20th century (Munch created the variations of The Scream in the 1890s).

Impressionism had broken the rules of more classical painting in order to capture more of the experience of a scene, if the conditions made it hazy and shimmering, for example, Monet, Klimt and others found ways to recreate it.

Expressionism emphasised another side of the experience of a scene: the viewer's own emotions and mood. This is what is presented by Munch. His poem explaining the work concludes: "My Friends walked on - I remained behind - shivering with Anxiety - I felt the great Scream in Nature".

Here are five of our favourite Expressionist and Neo-Expressionist paintings:

5. Frankenthaller

Helen Frankenthaller, who died just a couple of months back in the last week of 2011, was a National Medal of Arts awardee  and one of the great American Abstract Expressionist artists.

Helen Frankenthaler rare ‘Sunshine After Rain’ art410
Sunshine After Rain by Helen Frankenthaler

Although still relatively affordable by the time of her death, Frankenthaller's paintings were highly influential, and images such as her deceptively simple Sunshine After Rain (which went under the hammer in January listed at $10,000-15,000) may appreciate in value over time.

4. Marc Chagall

Chagall was revered by the great Pablo Picasso, who once opined "When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is."

Chagall's vibrant works often claim top dollar at auction, such as his Four Tales from the Arabian Nights which brought $314,000 at Christie's.

Marc Chagall's Four Tales from Arabian Nights
Marc Chagall's Four Tales from Arabian Nights

Collectors on the look out for a signed print by the great artist can find one here.

3. Modigliani

Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, sadly short-lived, was originally a relatively staid artist. Some years into his career he abruptly decided to destroy most of his early work, dismissing it as 'childish baubles' to his startled neighbours.

Amedeo Modigliani - Jeune fille aux cheveux noirs
Amedeo Modigliani's Jeune Fille aux Cheveux Noirs

Modigliani is perhaps best remembered for his striking images of women such as Jeune Fille aux Cheveux Noirs. The depiction is in no way realistic, but the dimensions and especially the lack of eyes makes the work eerie and mesmerising. It is difficult to break the subject's gaze, even though there is no gaze to break.

Modigliani's Portrait de Femme, sold for £1,812,000 on June 21, 2011

2. Basquiat

Short-lived American neo-Expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat had moved his startling, colourful graffiti paintings into a studio some time before his death aged just 27.

Basquiat Orange Sports Figure
Basquiat's Orange Sports Figure

One of his most striking: Orange Sports Figure, beat its estimate to sell for £4.07m last week

1. Miró

'Expressionist' isn't perhaps the first adjective many would apply to Miró, but one work in particular captures the painting of a scene using the viewer's emotions perfectly. We've already looked at Miró's Still Life with Old Shoe on our blog.

Still Life Old Shoe Miro
Still Life with Old Shoe by Miro

The presentation of a few items: apple, crust of bread, fork and bottle in lurid and nightmarish colours as a reaction to the political situation in the artist's native Spain is an ambitious and striking work which was exhibited in London in the summer of 2011 and would be worth several million dollars if it ever came to auction.

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