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New Year’s Fireworks in Painting

Helen Frankenthaler, Grey Fireworks, 1982, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation

Special Occasion And News

New Year’s Fireworks in Painting

Bonfires, parties, or reading in bed. Ideas for how one should spend New Year’s Eve are endless, and everyone should spend it the way they like. Probably most of like to watch fireworks at midnight, but all pet-owners know how stressful the noise of explosions is for many animals. So I thought that instead of making firework shows this year, we can instead admire New Year’s fireworks on canvas.

Futurist Style

Giacomo Balla, Sketch for the ballet by Igor Stravinsky: Fireworks (Feu d'artifice), 1915, Teatro alla Scala Museum, Milan, New Year's Fireworks

Giacomo Balla, Sketch for the ballet by Igor Stravinsky: Fireworks (Feu d’artifice), 1915, Teatro alla Scala Museum, Milan

Igor Stravinsky wrote FireworksOp. 4 in 1908 and he described it as a “short orchestral fantasy.” Giacomo Balla designed sets and lighting for its premiere on 12 April 1917, at Teatro Costanzi in Rome. Although the production was commissioned and produced by Sergei Diaghilev, Feu d’Artifice was not, in fact, a ballet, but rather a light show orchestrated on a geometrical set created by Balla.

Drip Style

Sam Francis, Firework, 1963, 2012 Sam Francis Foundation, California / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, New Year's Fireworks

Sam Francis, Firework, 1963, Sam Francis Foundation, California / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Sam Francis began painting when he was constrained to spend long hours in hospital after being diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis. In his early career, he experimented with Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism, to eventually develop a personal style characterized by dripping bright colours onto the canvas. Over a thousand of his works bears references to Chinese and Japanese art, French impressionism, or his own Bay Area roots.

Color Field Style

Helen Frankenthaler, Grey Fireworks, 1982, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, New Year's Fireworks

Helen Frankenthaler, Grey Fireworks, 1982, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation


Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011) has been considered heir to first-generation Abstract Expressionists who played a pivotal role transitioning Abstract Expressionism to Color Field painting. She considered her canvas not only as a formalized field in which to act but also an arena for gestural drawing: “The canvas surface is flat and yet the space extends for miles. What a lie, what trickery—how beautiful is the very idea of painting”she once said.

Watteau-inspired Style

Konstantin Somov, Fireworks in the Park, 1907, location unknown, New Year's Fireworks

Konstantin Somov, Fireworks in the Park, 1907, location unknown

Somov also knew Sergei Diaghilev, as he was introduced to him by a friend. Although he studied under the great Russian painter Ilya Repin, he preferred the style of Watteau and Fragonard. For example, in the 1910s he executed a number of rococo harlequin illustrations to the poems by Alexander Blok. After 1917, he emigrated to the United States to avoid the Russian Revolution but he quickly moved to Paris because the States were “absolutely alien to his art”.

Old Style

Joan Miró, Fireworks III, 1974, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, New Year's Fireworks

Joan Miró, Fireworks III, 1974, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona


In 1974, the 81-year-old artist began a series of paintings by flinging buckets of paint at canvas. Many see them as Pollock-like, but I see here more influence of Sam Francis and other drip artists. What do you think?

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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