The works displayed in this room reflect a range of approaches that emerged in the aftermath of the Second World War. Vigorous and varied new forms of artistic expression blossomed in a Europe that sought to replace the society and the values that had led to the horrors of war. A key development was the rejection of the rationalism that had dominated the arts before the war. Instead, these artists stressed the importance of improvisation, gesture and materiality in artistic practice.

Pierre Soulages' work is characterised by his distinct use of black paint. He uses instruments, such as palette knives, spoons and rakes, to create complex, gestural surface effects. Nicolas De Staël and Jean Paul Riopelle also used palette knives to apply paint. Riopelle used large quantities of paint, applied to the canvas in anexpressive manner. De Staël painted abstract works characterised by thickly applied blocks of saturated colour.

Some artists turned to unconventional materials. In the mid-1950s, Antoni Tàpies developed a technique where he mixed oil paints with earth, dust or marble powder, as well as found objects. Using this technique he created works which are intensely textured and tactile. Alberto Burri’s work owes as much to the tradition of collage and mixed media as painting. The artist used cheap materials such as burlap and sacking, which he tore and sewed together, giving his work a strong visceral appeal. Jean Dubuffet also combined unusual materials, such as dirt, plaster and gravel with thick oil paint that allowed him to create a paste into which he could make physical marks, such as scratches and slash marks, in a kind of graffiti - a technique that exemplifies the artist’s ‘anti-cultural’ approach.