Modern art

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Modern art includes artistic work produced during the period extending roughly from the 1860s to the 1970s, and denotes the styles and philosophies of the art produced during that era. [1] The term is usually associated with art in which the traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of experimentation. [2] Modern artists experimented with new ways of seeing and with fresh ideas about the nature of materials and functions of art. A tendency away from the narrative, which was characteristic of the traditional arts, toward abstraction is characteristic of much modern art. More recent artistic production is often called contemporary art or Postmodern art.


Modern art begins with the heritage of painters like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec all of whom were essential for the development of modern art. At the beginning of the 20th century Henri Matisse and several other young artists including the pre-cubists Georges Braque, André Derain, Raoul Dufy, Jean Metzinger and Maurice de Vlaminck revolutionized the Paris art world with "wild," multi-colored, expressive landscapes and figure paintings that the critics called Fauvism. Matisse's two versions of The Dance signified a key point in his career and the development of modern painting. [3] It reflected Matisse's incipient fascination with primitive art: the intense warm color of the figures against the cool blue-green background and the rhythmical succession of the dancing nudes convey the feelings of emotional liberation and hedonism.

At the start of 20th-century Western painting, and initially influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and other late-19th-century innovators, Pablo Picasso made his first Cubist paintings based on Cézanne's idea that all depiction of nature can be reduced to three solids: cube, sphere and cone. With the painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), Picasso dramatically created a new and radical picture depicting a raw and primitive brothel scene with five prostitutes, violently painted women, reminiscent of African tribal masks and his new Cubist inventions. Analytic cubism was jointly developed by Picasso and Georges Braque, exemplified by Violin and Candlestick, Paris, from about 1908 through 1912. Analytic cubism, the first clear manifestation of cubism, was followed by Synthetic cubism, practiced by Braque, Picasso, Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, Albert Gleizes, Marcel Duchamp and several other artists into the 1920s. Synthetic cubism is characterized by the introduction of different textures, surfaces, collage elements, papier collé and a large variety of merged subject matter. [4] [5]

The notion of modern art is closely related to Modernism. [lower-alpha 1]


Edouard Manet, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le dejeuner sur l'herbe
), 1863, Musee d'Orsay, Paris Edouard Manet - Luncheon on the Grass - Google Art Project.jpg
Édouard Manet, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe), 1863, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Roots in the 19th century

Edouard Manet, Boy Blowing Bubbles, 1867, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum Boy Blowing Bubbles Edouard Manet.jpg
Édouard Manet, Boy Blowing Bubbles, 1867, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Although modern sculpture and architecture are reckoned to have emerged at the end of the 19th century, the beginnings of modern painting can be located earlier. [7] Francisco Goya is considered by many as the Father of Modern Painting without being a Modernist himself, a fact of art history that later painters associated with Modernism as a style, acknowledge him as an influence. [8] [9] [10] The date perhaps most commonly identified as marking the birth of modern art as a movement is 1863, [7] the year that Édouard Manet showed his painting Le déjeuner sur l'herbe in the Salon des Refusés in Paris. Earlier dates have also been proposed, among them 1855 (the year Gustave Courbet exhibited The Artist's Studio ) and 1784 (the year Jacques-Louis David completed his painting The Oath of the Horatii ). [7] In the words of art historian H. Harvard Arnason: "Each of these dates has significance for the development of modern art, but none categorically marks a completely new beginning .... A gradual metamorphosis took place in the course of a hundred years." [7]

The strands of thought that eventually led to modern art can be traced back to the Enlightenment. [lower-alpha 2] The modern art critic Clement Greenberg, for instance, called Immanuel Kant "the first real Modernist" but also drew a distinction: "The Enlightenment criticized from the outside ... . Modernism criticizes from the inside." [12] The French Revolution of 1789 uprooted assumptions and institutions that had for centuries been accepted with little question and accustomed the public to vigorous political and social debate. This gave rise to what art historian Ernst Gombrich called a "self-consciousness that made people select the style of their building as one selects the pattern of a wallpaper." [13]

The pioneers of modern art were Romantics, Realists and Impressionists. [14] [ failed verification ] By the late 19th century, additional movements which were to be influential in modern art had begun to emerge: post-Impressionism and Symbolism.

Influences upon these movements were varied: from exposure to Eastern decorative arts, particularly Japanese printmaking, to the coloristic innovations of Turner and Delacroix, to a search for more realism in the depiction of common life, as found in the work of painters such as Jean-François Millet. The advocates of realism stood against the idealism of the tradition-bound academic art that enjoyed public and official favor. [15] The most successful painters of the day worked either through commissions or through large public exhibitions of their work. There were official, government-sponsored painters' unions, while governments regularly held public exhibitions of new fine and decorative arts.

The Impressionists argued that people do not see objects but only the light that they reflect, and therefore painters should paint in natural light (en plein air) rather than in studios and should capture the effects of light in their work. [16] Impressionist artists formed a group, Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs ("Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers") which, despite internal tensions, mounted a series of independent exhibitions. [17] The style was adopted by artists in different nations, in preference to a "national" style. These factors established the view that it was a "movement." These traits—establishment of a working method integral to the art, the establishment of a movement or visible active core of support, and international adoption—would be repeated by artistic movements in the Modern period in art.

Early 20th century

Pablo Picasso Les Demoiselles d'Avignon 1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.jpg
Pablo Picasso Les Demoiselles d'Avignon 1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Henri Matisse, The Dance I, 1909, Museum of Modern Art, New York La danse (I) by Matisse.jpg
Henri Matisse, The Dance I , 1909, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Among the movements that flowered in the first decade of the 20th century were Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, and Futurism.

Futurism took off in Italy a couple years before World War I with the publication of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto . Benedetta Cappa Marinetti, wife of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, created the second wave of the artistic movement started by her husband. "Largely thanks to Benedetta, her husband F.T. Marinetti re orchestrated the shifting ideologies of Futurism to embrace feminine elements of intuition, spirituality, and the mystical forces of the earth." [18] She painted up until his death and spent the rest of her days tending to the spread and growth of this period in Italian art, which celebrated technology, speed and all things new.

During the years between 1910 and the end of World War I and after the heyday of cubism, several movements emerged in Paris. Giorgio de Chirico moved to Paris in July 1911, where he joined his brother Andrea (the poet and painter known as Alberto Savinio). Through his brother, he met Pierre Laprade, a member of the jury at the Salon d'Automne where he exhibited three of his dreamlike works: Enigma of the Oracle, Enigma of an Afternoon and Self-Portrait. In 1913 he exhibited his work at the Salon des Indépendants and Salon d'Automne, and his work was noticed by Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire, and several others. His compelling and mysterious paintings are considered instrumental to the early beginnings of Surrealism. Song of Love (1914) is one of the most famous works by de Chirico and is an early example of the surrealist style, though it was painted ten years before the movement was "founded" by André Breton in 1924. The School of Paris, centered in Montparnasse flourished between the two world wars.

World War I brought an end to this phase but indicated the beginning of many anti-art movements, such as Dada, including the work of Marcel Duchamp, and of Surrealism. Artist groups like de Stijl and Bauhaus developed new ideas about the interrelation of the arts, architecture, design, and art education.

Modern art was introduced to the United States with the Armory Show in 1913 and through European artists who moved to the U.S. during World War I.

After World War II

It was only after World War II, however, that the U.S. became the focal point of new artistic movements. [19] The 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of Abstract Expressionism, Color field painting, Conceptual artists of Art & Language, Pop art, Op art, Hard-edge painting, Minimal art, Lyrical Abstraction, Fluxus, Happening, video art, Postminimalism, Photorealism and various other movements. In the late 1960s and the 1970s, Land art, performance art, conceptual art, and other new art forms attracted the attention of curators and critics, at the expense of more traditional media. [20] Larger installations and performances became widespread.

By the end of the 1970s, when cultural critics began speaking of "the end of painting" (the title of a provocative essay written in 1981 by Douglas Crimp), new media art had become a category in itself, with a growing number of artists experimenting with technological means such as video art. [21] Painting assumed renewed importance in the 1980s and 1990s, as evidenced by the rise of neo-expressionism and the revival of figurative painting. [22]

Towards the end of the 20th century, many artists and architects started questioning the idea of "the modern" and created typically Postmodern works. [23]

Art movements and artist groups

(Roughly chronological with representative artists listed.)

19th century

Early 20th century (before World War I)

World War I to World War II

After World War II

Notable modern art exhibitions and museums


























United Kingdom


United States

See also


  1. "One way of understanding the relation of the terms 'modern,' 'modernity,' and 'Modernism' is that aesthetic modernism is a form of art characteristic of high or actualized late modernity, that is, of that period in which social, economic, and cultural life in the widest sense [was] revolutionized by modernity ... [this means] that Modernist art is scarcely thinkable outside the context of the modernized society of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Social modernity is the home of Modernist art, even where that art rebels against it." — Lawrence E. Cahoone [6]
  2. "In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries momentum began to gather behind a new view of the world, which would eventually create a new world, the modern world." — Lawrence E. Cahoone [11]

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<i>Les Demoiselles dAvignon</i> 1907 painting by Pablo Picasso

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In the visual arts, late modernism encompasses the overall production of most recent art made between the aftermath of World War II and the early years of the 21st century. The terminology often points to similarities between late modernism and postmodernism, although there are differences. The predominant term for art produced since the 1950s is contemporary art. Not all art labelled as contemporary art is modernist or post-modern, and the broader term encompasses both artists who continue to work in modern and late modernist traditions, as well as artists who reject modernism for post-modernism or other reasons. Arthur Danto argues explicitly in After the End of Art that contemporaneity was the broader term, and that postmodern objects represent a subsector of the contemporary movement which replaced modernity and modernism, while other notable critics: Hilton Kramer, Robert C. Morgan, Kirk Varnedoe, Jean-François Lyotard and others have argued that postmodern objects are at best relative to modernist works.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">20th-century Western painting</span> Art in the Western world during the 20th century

20th-century Western painting begins with the heritage of late-19th-century painters Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and others who were essential for the development of modern art. At the beginning of the 20th century, Henri Matisse and several other young artists including the pre-cubist Georges Braque, André Derain, Raoul Dufy and Maurice de Vlaminck, revolutionized the Paris art world with "wild", multi-colored, expressive landscapes and figure paintings that the critics called Fauvism. Matisse's second version of The Dance signified a key point in his career and in the development of modern painting. It reflected Matisse's incipient fascination with primitive art: the intense warm color of the figures against the cool blue-green background and the rhythmical succession of the dancing nudes convey the feelings of emotional liberation and hedonism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fauvism</span> Artistic style

Fauvism is a style of painting and an art movement that emerged in France at the beginning of the 20th century. It was the style of les Fauves, a group of modern artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong colour over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism. While Fauvism as a style began around 1904 and continued beyond 1910, the movement as such lasted only a few years, 1905–1908, and had three exhibitions. The leaders of the movement were André Derain and Henri Matisse.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Proto-Cubism</span> Phase in art history

Proto-Cubism is an intermediary transition phase in the history of art chronologically extending from 1906 to 1910. Evidence suggests that the production of proto-Cubist paintings resulted from a wide-ranging series of experiments, circumstances, influences and conditions, rather than from one isolated static event, trajectory, artist or discourse. With its roots stemming from at least the late 19th century, this period is characterized by a move towards the radical geometrization of form and a reduction or limitation of the color palette. It is essentially the first experimental and exploratory phase of an art movement that would become altogether more extreme, known from the spring of 1911 as Cubism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Léonce Rosenberg</span>

Léonce Rosenberg was an art collector, writer, publisher, and one of the most influential French art dealers of the 20th century. His greatest impact was as a supporter and promoter of the cubists, especially during World War I and in the years immediately after.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Daniel Robbins (art historian)</span> American art historian

Daniel J. Robbins was an American art historian, art critic, and curator, who specialized in avant-garde 20th-century art and helped encourage the study of it. Robbins' area of scholarship was on the theoretical and philosophical origins of Cubism. His writings centered on the importance of artists such as Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Henri Le Fauconnier and Jacques Villon. He was a specialist in early Modernism, writing on Salon Cubists and championed contemporaries such as Louise Bourgeois and the Color Field painters. Art historian Peter Brooke referred to Robbins as "the great pioneer of the broader history of Cubism".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Crystal Cubism</span> Subgenre of the painting style cubism

Crystal Cubism is a distilled form of Cubism consistent with a shift, between 1915 and 1916, towards a strong emphasis on flat surface activity and large overlapping geometric planes. The primacy of the underlying geometric structure, rooted in the abstract, controls practically all of the elements of the artwork.


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  2. Gombrich 1995, p.  557.
  3. Clement 1996, p. 114.
  4. Scobie 1988, pp.  103–107.
  5. John-Steiner 2006, p.  69.
  6. Cahoone 1996, p.  13.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Arnason & Prather 1998, p.  17.
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  14. Arnason & Prather 1998, p.  22.
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  19. Saunders 2013.
  20. Mullins 2006, p. 14.
  21. Mullins 2006, p. 9.
  22. Mullins 2006, pp. 14–15.
  23. Jencks 1987, p. [ page needed ].
  24. Lander 2006.


Further reading