Modern Art Movements and History
|by Edouard Manet
With the beginning of the Industrial
Revolution in the second half of the 19th century, new art
styles and movements appeared and disappeared at an increasingly
fast pace - thus reflecting the growing rate of changes in
our society. Here is a short overview on important modern
art movements from Impressionism to Op Art.
The history of modern art started with Impressionism.
It all began in Paris as a reaction to a very formal and rigid
style of painting - done inside studios and set by traditional
institutions like the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
The exhibition of Edouard Manet's famous painting, Dejeuner
sur l'herbe, in 1863 in the Salon des Refuses (organized
by those painter who were rejected by the Academie des Beaux-Arts),
caused a scandal. It can be considered as the beginning of
The Impressionist painters preferred to paint
outside and studied the effect of light on objects. Their
preferred subjects were landscapes and scenes from daily life.
The best known names in Impressionist painting are Edouard
Manet, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and Pierre
Auguste Renoir in France and Alfred Sisley in England.
The word Fauvism comes from the French word
fauve, which means "wild animals". And indeeed
- this new modern art style was a bit wild - with strong and
vivid colors. Paul Gauguin and the Dutch painter Vincent van
Gogh had carried Impressionism to its limits by using expressive
colors. Fauvism went one step further in using simplified
designs in combination with an "orgy of pure colors"
as it was characterized by their critics. The first exhibition
by Fauvist artists took place in 1905. The best-known fauve
artists are Henri Matisse, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminch,
Kees van Dongen and Raoul Dufy.
Expressionism, in simplified terms, was some
kind of a German modern art version of Fauvism. The expressionist
movement was organized in two groups of German painters. One
was called Die Bruecke, literally meaning The Bridge.
The group was located in Dresden with the artists Ernst Ludwig
Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, Otto Mueller
and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. After World War I, this group was
followed by another group of artists, calling themselves Dresdner
The second Expressionist gathering of artists
was centered in Munich. The group is known by the name Der
Blaue Reiter, meaning The Blue Rider. The famous
names are Franz Marc, August Macke, Gabriele Münter, Wassily
Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Alexei Yavlensky.
Art Nouveau Movement
Art Nouveau is French and means New Art. It
is characterized by its highly decorative style and by the
dedication to natural forms. Art Nouveau was popular from
about 1880 to 1910 and was an International art movement.
The Germans called it Jugendstil, the Italians Liberty,
the Austrians Sezessionsstil and the Spanish Arte
joven. Art Nouveau was not restricted to painting or printmaking.
It covered all forms of art - architecture, furniture, jewelry,
glass and illustration.
Fine examples of Art Nouveau are the subway
entrances in Paris, the glass works of Emille Galle and Louis
Comfort Tiffany in the US or the posters by Alphonse Mucha.
A famous painter is Gustav Klimt. Art Nouveau did not survive
World War I, maybe because of the high prices for Art Nouveau
objects. With the philosophical roots in high quality handicraft,
Art Nouveau was nothing for mass production.
Art Deco Movement
Art Deco was primarily a design style, popular
in the 1920s and 1930s. In simplified terms, the Art Deco
movement can be considered as the follow-up style on Art
Nouveau - more simplified and closer to mass production. The
Art Deco movement was dominant in fashion, furniture, jewelry,
textiles, architecture, commercial printmaking and interior
decoration. The best known name is Rene Lalique, a jeweler
and glassmaker. The Chrysler building in New York (1930) is
an example of Art Deco style in architecture.
Cubism, another modern art movement, was primarily
restricted to painting and sculpture. Nevertheless it had
a major influence on the development of modern art. Cubism
was initiated by the Spaniard Pablo Picasso and the Frenchman
Georges Braques in Paris before World War I. Paul Cezanne,
usually categorized as a Post-Impressionist, can be considered
as their predecessor.
Cubism had strong roots in African tribal
art. In cubism, geometrical forms and fragmentations are favored.
Everything is reduced to cubes and other geometrical forms.
Often several aspects of one subject are shown simultaneously.
As famous artists besides Pablo Picasso and Georges Braques,
Robert Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp, Juan Gris and Lyonel Feininger
are to be mentioned. Cubism paved the way for abstract art.
Surrealism is another of the many modern art
movements in the 20th century. Its philosophical "father"
was Andre Breton, a French poet and writer who published the
Surrealist guidelines, called Manifesto in 1924 in
Paris. Surrealism emphasizes the unconscious, the importance
of dreams, the psychological aspect in arts. Surrealism became
an important movement in the fine arts, literature and in
films (by the Spaniard Bunuel for instance).
For the fine arts, the best-known names are
Salvador Dali, the Italian Giorgio de Chirico with his strange
and eerie town views, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Joan Miro,
Yves Tanguy, Rene Margritte and the Russian Marc Chagall.
Russian-born painter Wassily Kandinsky is
said to be the father of abstract art. If you should ever
come to Munich, you should not miss a visit of the Lenbachhaus
Museum. It has many
Wassily Kandinsky paintings on display and you can recognize
very well how his style developed by and by to semi-abstract
and then to abstract painting. Piet Mondrian, a Dutch painter,
is another dominant character in establishing abstract painting.
Mondrian had experienced cubism in Paris. During World War
II many leading artists emigrated to the US, for instance
Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall. Thus New York
became the new center for modern art and abstract painting.
Pop Art Movement
The word Pop Art is an abbreviation
for Popular Art. The name says it all. The Pop Art movement
wanted to bring art back into the daily life of people. It
was a reaction against abstract painting, which pop artists
considered as too sophisticated and elite. Pop artists' favorite
images were objects from everyday's life like soup cans for
Andy Warhol or comics for Roy Lichtenstein.
Typical for the attitude of the Pop Art movement
was Andy Warhol's use of serigraphy, a photo-realistic, mass-production
technique of printmaking. Pop Art intruded into the media
and advertising. The differences between The fine arts
and commercial arts were voluntarily torn down. An excellent
example are the designs of music album covers in the sixties.
The undoubted cult figure of Pop Art was Andy Warhol (1928-1987).
Other great names are Jaspar Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, David
Hockney, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Georg Segal, Wayne
or James Rosenquist. The Pop Art movement was mainly an American
and British art movement.
Op Art Movement
After Pop Art it was Op Art, a short form
for Optical Art. Op Art expressed itself with reduced
geometrical forms - sometimes in black and white contrasts
and sometimes with very brilliant colors. The most prominent
artist is Hungarian-born Vasarely. In the seventies Op Art
even made its way into fashion design. But Op Art never succeeded
in becoming a really popular mass-movement of modern art like