Modern Art – art created from the 19th cent. to the mid-20th cent. by artists who veered away from the traditional concepts and techniques of painting, sculpture, and other fine arts that had been practiced since the Renaissance (see Renaissance art and architecture). Nearly every phase of modern art was initially greeted by the public with ridicule, but as the shock wore off, the various movements settled into history, influencing and inspiring new generations of artists.
Origins of Modern Art
In the second half of the 19th cent. painters began to revolt against the classic codes of composition, careful execution, harmonious coloring, and heroic subject matter. Patronage by the church and state sharply declined at the same time that artists’ views became more independent and subjective. Such artists as Courbet, Corot and others of the Barbizon School, Manet, Degas, and Toulouse-Lautrec chose to paint scenes of ordinary daily and nocturnal life that often offended the sense of decorum of their contemporaries.
Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro, the great masters of impressionism, painted café and city life, as well as landscapes, working most often directly from nature and using new modes of representation. While art had always been to a certain extent abstract in that formal considerations had frequently been of primary importance, painters, beginning with the impressionists in the 1870s, took new delight in freedom of brushwork.
They made random spots of color and encrusted the canvas with strokes that did not always correspond to the object that they were depicting but that formed coherent internal relationships. Thus began a definite separation of the image and the subject. The impressionists exploited the range of the color spectrum, directly applying strokes of pure pigment to the canvas rather than mixing colors on the palette. In sculpture, dynamic forms and variations of impressionism were created by Rodin, Renoir, Degas, and the Italian Medardo Rosso.
19th Century Painting after Impressionism
In the 1880s, Seurat and Signac developed the more detailed and systematic approach of neoimpressionism, while Van Gogh and Gauguin, using bold masses, gave to color an unprecedented excitement and emotional intensity (see postimpressionism). At the same time, Cézanne painted subtler nuances of tone and sought to achieve greater structural clarity.
Flouting the laws of perspective, he extracted geometrical forms from nature and created radically new spatial patterns in his landscapes and still lifes. Other important innovations of the late 19th cent. can be seen in the starkly expressionistic paintings of the Norwegian Edvard Munch and the vivid fantasies of the Belgian James Ensor. In the 1890s the Nabis developed pictorial ideas from Gauguin, while sinuous linear decorations were produced throughout Europe by the designers of art nouveau.
The Isms of Early 20th Century Art
From the early 20th cent. color reigned supreme and invaded the contours of recognizable objects with the brilliant patterns of fauvism (1905–8), dominated by Matisse and Rouault in France, the orphism of Robert Delaunay and Frank Kupka, and the explosive hues of the German group Die Brücke, which included such practitioners of expressionism as Kirchner and Nolde.
Kandinsky transformed (c.1910) color into a completely abstract art absolutely divorced from subject matter. The fauvists and expressionists shared an appreciation of the pure and simplified shapes of various examples of primitive art, an enthusiasm that was generated by Gauguin and extended to Picasso, Brancusi, Modigliani, Derain, and others.
About 1909 the implications of Cézanne’s highly organized yet revolutionary spatial structures were expanded by Picasso and Braque, who invented an abstract art of still lifes converted into shifting volumes and planes. Cubism, developed by the artists of the school of Paris, went through several stages and had an enormous influence on European and American painting and sculpture.
In sculpture its notable exponents included Picasso, Duchamp-Villon, Lipchitz, González, and Archipenko, who began to realize the possibilities of convex and concave volumes. Cubism was absorbed in Italy by the exponents of futurism (c.1909–c.1915) and in Germany by the Blaue Reiter group (1911–14); both these movements were cut short by the advent of World War I. Fauvism and cubism were introduced by members of the Eight to a generally shocked American audience in the Armory Show of 1913, and from then on Americans began to participate significantly in the development of modern art (see American art).
At roughly the same time as cubism was developing, Russia made extraordinary contributions to the current of nonfigurative art. The sculptors Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner joined the movement known as constructivism (c.1913–c.1921), and the painter Casimir Malevich founded suprematism (1913). In Holland members of the Stijl group (1917–31), including Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg, created a disciplined, nonobjective art. These Russian and Dutch developments in the second decade of the 20th cent. were applicable to many varieties of art and industrial design, and their principles converged in the teachings of the Bauhaus in the 1920s. Kandinsky, the highly imaginative Paul Klee, and the American Lyonel Feininger were among the celebrated exponents of the Bauhaus.
Other Modes of Modern Art
A more fanciful sort of modern art was created by Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, and Kurt Schwitters in the irreverent manifestations of the Dada movement. Dada artists devised “ready-mades” and collage objects from diverse bits of material. The movement was linked with Freudianism in the 1920s, producing the wild imagery of surrealism and verism, as seen in the paintings of Salvador Dalí, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, and Joan Miró.
The 1920s also saw the beginning of an art of social protest by exponents of new objectivity, among them George Grosz, Otto Dix, and Max Beckmann. With the rise of fascism and the Great Depression of the 1930s, the protest increased in intensity. The Mexicans Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros painted murals in which the human figure was made monumental and heroic (see Mexican art and architecture).
Baroque Art & Painting
Cubism & Cubist Theory
Frida Kahlo and Her Art
Leonardo Da Vinci
Photography in Art
Surrealism in Art
Symbolism in Art