Hard Edge is a form and style of painting in the visual arts that was given its name from 1958 by the US art critic Jules Langsner (1911-1967). Langsner used the term in connection with an exhibition he organised in the summer of 1959 in Los Angeles at the County Museum to denote the particular non-figurative (abstract) representation. The title of the exhibition was Four Abstract Classicists. The four exhibiting artists were: Lorser Feitelson, John McLaughlin, Frederick Hammersley and Karl Benjamin. Due to its great success, the exhibition was also shown in London in 1960. There, the English art critic Lawrence Alloway coined the term West-Coast Hard-Edge. This established a connection with artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Kenneth Noland.
Hard Edge thus refers to a type of painting that is not representational and does not make use of any compositional theory that is visible at first glance. It is often a stencil-like, two-dimensional, geometric form of painting with hard edges and sharply delineated applications of paint. Hard Edge has the large colour fields in common with Colourfield Painting. It is (apparently) emotionless and rationally controlled, the artists deliberately leave no individual brush marks on the surface of the painting, the colours are rather cold.
As a rule, hard-edge paintings have hardly more than two or three different colours. The painting is characterised by the large-scale and sharply contrasting application of "cold" colours in geometric or organic forms.
In general, Hard Edge is considered a "counter-movement" to Abstract Expressionism, in which the paintings reflect the artist's experiential situation. But in contrast to the flowing transitions in Colourfield Painting, in Hard Edge the colour fields are hard and sharply delineated from one another, which is also the reason why this form of painting is called Hard Edge.
Hard Edge painting was taken to an extreme by Frank Stella, who developed this mystical-contemplative direction of Abstract Expressionism into Shaped Canvas painting from the mid-1960s onwards with his versatile canvases.
Representatives of this direction in America include Josef Albers, Robyn Denny, Al Held, Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Alexander Liberman, Morris Louis, Barnett Newman, Kenneth Noland, Miriam Schapiro,
Leon Polk Smith, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko and Frank Stella. Representatives in Germany are Günter Fruhtrunk, Georg Karl Pfahler and Christian Roeckenschuss, from 1963 Winfred Gaul, from 1964 to 1978 Günther C. Kirchberger and, among others, Bernd Damke and Frank R. Werner. Many of these painters are also assigned to colour field painting.