Victor Vasarely, Lacerta, 1955-79

"The abstract picture, born of easel painting, is in turn tending toward repetition . . . The age of strictly two-dimensional solutions is slowly drawing to a close."1

One approach to postwar abstraction, which took place largely in Europe, was directed toward scientific, objective, and interactive concerns. In Op art (short for "optical art"), for instance, artists arranged line, shape, and color to create the illusion of movement, space, and light in nonrepresentational works. The largely geometric works focused on the viewers' perceptions and optical transformations rather than the object itself.

Born in Hungary, Victor Vasarely (1908-1997) eventually became known as a leader of Op art in Europe. In his twenties, he abandoned his medical studies to pursue art. He moved to Paris where he found success as a graphic designer, working in advertising before dedicating himself to painting. In the early 1950s, his abstract paintings were filled with large geometric shapes inspired by tiles, natural forms, and landscape elements, but by the mid-1950s, he had turned from natural sources to pure abstractions inspired by geometry, color relationships, mathematical systems, and Gestalt psychology, a school of psychology that provided the foundation for the modern study of perception.2 Vasarely is also known for pioneering the idea of Kinetic art, which sought to create a sense of movement through the use of optical illusions on a flat surface. His paintings play optical games—some so extreme they cause dizziness or discomfort in the viewer.

Vasarely worked on Lacerta from 1955 to 1979, over which time his style and interests evolved. However, its optical qualities have much in common with a period beginning in 1968 during which he arranged his compositional elements to create the illusion of forms projecting out from the painting's surface and appearing like three-dimensional volumes.3


1 Gaston Diehl, Vasarely, trans. Eileen B. Hennessy (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1979), p. 41.

2 "Guggenheim Education Resource," National Gallery of Victoria, accessed May 31, 2011.

3 "Victor Vasarely: Works and Biography," Peggy Guggenheim Collection, accessed May 31, 2011.



  • Ask students what the term “optical illusion” may mean. Try to define it as a class. Tell students that some artists use optical illusions in their art. Ask them what they find interesting, confusing, or exciting about optical illusions.
  • Look together at Vasarely’s Lacerta. Ask students what they notice. Ask them to describe the painting by using mathematical terms such as symmetry, sphere, three-dimensional, and axis.
  • The work is arranged in a two-by-two grid. Ask students to describe the relationship of each square to the whole. What do they have in common? How are they unique?
  • Op art may suggest the illusion of an object in three dimensions and/or in motion. Do students sense movement in the painting? If yes, ask them to describe it and try to identify how Vasarely created this illusion on a static surface.
  • Ask students what they would call this work and why. Now, consider the title: Lacerta. It is the name of a small, faint constellation as well as the Latin word for “lizard.” What connections can students make between the painting’s title and its appearance?
  • In 1954, Vasarely said that his compositions could be considered “more than a painting.” While the forms and colors were still flat on the plane, they triggered effects that fused “in front of and in the plane.1 Ask students to apply this statement to the artwork. How are his compositions more than paintings? How do they trigger effects beyond the flat picture plane?

1 Gaston Diehl, Vasarely, trans. Eileen B. Hennessy (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1979), p. 41.