We’re all familiar with the paintings – usually enormous –of the American Abstract Expressionists – Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and the rest – who flourished, and were energetically promoted, in the 1950s. During the Cold War, there were urgent political reasons why these artists were trumpeted so loudly: America needed to be known internationally for having a vigorous avant-garde school of painting. But Abstraction, that ultimate modern style, wasn’t new to America at that time. It had in fact been virtually invented in the United States nearly half a century earlier.