Victor Vasarely, Leader of the Op Art Movement

Hungarian born French artist Victor Vasarely (1908 - 1997) poses in front of one of his Op Art paintings
Vasarely poses in front of one of his Op Art paintings. Getty Images

Born on April 9, 1906, in Pecs, Hungary, artist Victor Vasarely initially studied medicine but soon abandoned the field to take up painting at the Podolini-Volkmann Academy in Budapest. There, he studied with Sandor Bortniky, through which Vasarely learned about the functional artistic style taught to students at the Bauhaus art school in Germany. It was one of a variety of styles that would influence Vasarely before he became the patriarch of Op Art, an abstract form of art featuring geometric patterns, bright colors and spatial trickery.

An Emerging Talent

Still an emerging artist in 1930, Vasarely traveled to Paris to study optics and color, earning a living in graphic design. In addition to the artists of the Bauhaus, Vasarely admired early Abstract Expressionism. In Paris, he found a patron, Denise Rene, who helped him open up an art gallery in 1945. He exhibited his works of graphic design and painting at the gallery. Vasarely unstintingly joined together his influences—the Bauhaus style and Abstract Expressionism—to reach new levels of geometric precision and foster the Op Art movement in the 1960s. His brilliant works went mainstream in the forms of posters and fabrics.

The ArtRepublic website describes Op Art as Vasarely’s “own geometric form of abstraction, which he varied to create different optical patterns with a kinetic effect. The artist makes a grid in which he arranges geometric forms in brilliant colors in such a way that the eye perceives a fluctuating movement.”

The Function of Art

In Vasarely’s obituary, the New York Times reported that Vasarely viewed his work as the link between the Bauhaus and a form of modern design that would spare the public “visual pollution.”

The Times noted, “He thought that art would have to combine with architecture to survive, and in later years made many studies and proposals for urban design. He also devised a computer program for the designing of his art -- as well as a do-it-yourself kit for making Op Art paintings -- and left much of the actual fabrication of his work to assistants.”

According to the paper, Vasarely said, ''It is the original idea that is unique, not the object itself.''

The Decline of Op Art

After 1970 the popularity of Op Art, and thus Vasarely, waned. But the artist used the proceeds from his Op Art works to design and build his own museum in France, the Vasarely Museum. It closed in 1996, but there are several other museums in France and Hungary named after the artist.

Vasarely died on March 19, 1997, in Annet-on-Marne, France. He was 90. Decades before his death, Hungarian native Vasarely became a naturalized French citizen. Hence, he’s referred to as a Hungarian-born French artist. His wife, the artist Claire Spinner, preceded him in death. Two sons, Andre and Jean-Pierre, and three grandchildren, survived him.

Important Works

  • Zebra, 1938
  • Vega, 1957
  • Alom, 1966
  • Sinfel, 1977

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Esaak, Shelley. "Victor Vasarely, Leader of the Op Art Movement." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Esaak, Shelley. (2023, April 5). Victor Vasarely, Leader of the Op Art Movement. Retrieved from Esaak, Shelley. "Victor Vasarely, Leader of the Op Art Movement." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).