BEFORE World War II, abstract art was dominated by the geometrical and almost architectural paintings that grew out of cubism and culminated in Piet Mondrian's austere compositions in primary red, white and blue. But in the past decade has come a new experiment with intense, expressive forms that use flowing, linear rhythms as a kind of "handwriting" or "gesture-painting," linking Western art and the ancient Oriental art of calligraphy.

Leader of the calligraphists (a style that includes U.S. Painter Mark Tobey's famed "white writing" and the late Jackson Pollock's lassolike drip whirls) is German-born, French-naturalized Hans Hartung. Now considered a Frenchman by...

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