Modern Art Timeline

Artists, Movements and Styles in Modern Art c.1870 – 1975

Movements and Styles
Artists and Artworks
  Claude Monet 

Impressionism is the name given to a colorful style of painting in France at the end of the 19th century. The Impressionists searched for a more exact analysis of the effects of colour and light in nature. They sought to capture the atmosphere of a particular time of day or the effects of different weather conditions. They often worked outdoors and applied their paint in small brightly coloured strokes which meant sacrificing much of the outline and detail of their subject. Impressionism abandoned the conventional idea that the shadow of an object was made up from its colour with some brown or black added. Instead, the Impressionists enriched their colours with the idea that a shadow is broken up with dashes of its complementary colour. Among the most important Impressionist painters were Claude MonetPierre Auguste Renoir,Edgar DegasCamille PissarroAlfred Sisleyand Henri de Toulouse Lautrec.

Claude Monet - Rouen Cathedral - in full sunlight 1893
Rouen Cathedral – in full sunlight 1893/4
Louvre, Paris
Post Impressionism

The Post Impressionists were a few independent artists at the end of the 19th century who rebelled against the limitations of Impressionism to develop a range of personal styles that influenced the development of art in the 20th century. The major artists associated with Post Impressionism were Paul CézannePaul GauguinVincent Van Gogh and Georges Seurat.

Cézanne was an important influence on Picasso and Braque in their development ofCubism. Van Gogh’s vigorous and vibrant painting technique was one of the touchstones of both Fauvism andExpressionism, while Gauguin’s symbolic color and Seurat’s pointillist technique were an inspiration to Les Fauves.

Vincent Van Gogh - Café Terrace at Night, 1888
Café Terrace at Night, 1888
Kröller-Müller Museum
Henri Matisse

Fauvism was a joyful style of painting that delighted in using outrageously bold colours. It was developed in France at the beginning of the 20th century by Henri Matisse and André DerainThe artists who painted in this style were known as ‘Les Fauves’ (the wild beasts), a title that came from a sarcastic remark in a review by the art critic Louis Vauxcelles.

Les Fauves believed that colour should be used at its highest pitch to express the artist’s feelings about a subject, rather than simply to describe what it looks like. Fauvist paintings have two main characteristics: extremely simplified drawing and intensely exaggerated colour. They were a major influence on the Expressionists.

Henri Matisse - The Open Window, Collioure, 1905

The Open Window, Collioure, 1905
The National Gallery of Art, Washington
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

German Expressionism is a style of art that is charged with an emotional or spiritual vision of the world. The expressive paintings of Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch influenced the German Expressionists. They also drew their inspiration from German Gothic and ‘primitive art’. The Expressionists were divided into two factions: Die Brücke andDer Blaue Reiter. Die Brücke (The Bridge) was an artistic community of young artists in Dresden who aimed to overthrow the conservative traditions of German art. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluffwere two of its founding members. Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) was a group of artists whose publications and exhibitions sought to find a common creative ground between the various Expressionist art forms.KandinskyMarc and Macke were among its founding members.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - The Red Tower at Halle, 1915
The Red Tower at Halle, 1915
Folkwang Museum, Essen
Abstract Art
c.1907 onwards

Georges Braque 

Abstract art is a generic term that describes two different methods of abstraction: ‘semi abstraction’ and ‘pure abstraction’. The word ‘abstract’ means to withdraw part of something in order to consider it separately. In Abstract art that ‘something’ is one or more of the visual elements of a subject: its line, shape, tone, pattern, texture, or form.

Semi-Abstraction is where the image still has one foot in representational art, (seeCubism and Futurism). It uses a type of stylisation where the artist selects, develops and refines specific visual elements (eg. line, color and shape) in order to create a poetic reconstruction or simplified essence of the original subject.

Pure Abstraction is where the artist uses visual elements independently as the actual subject of the work itself. (see Suprematism,De Styjl and Minimalism).

Although elements of abstraction are present in earlier artworks, the roots of modern abstract art are to be found in Cubism. Among other important abstract styles that developed in the 20th century are Orphism, Rayonism, Constructivism, Tachisme, Abstract Expressionism, and Op Art.

Georges Braque - Violin and Pitcher, 1910 (detail)
Violin and Pitcher, 1910 (detail)
Kunstmuseum, Basel



Pablo Picasso

Cubism was invented around 1907 in Paris by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. It was the first abstract style of modern art.Cubist paintings ignore the traditions of perspective drawing and show you many views of a subject at one time. The Cubists believed that the traditions of Western art had become exhausted and to revitalize their work, they drew on the expressive energy of art from other cultures, particularly African art. There are two distinct phases of the Cubist style: Analytical Cubism (pre 1912) and Synthetic Cubism(post 1912). Cubism influenced many other styles of modern art including Expressionism, Futurism, Orphism, Vorticism, Suprematism, Constructivism and De Styjl. Other notable artists associated with Cubism were Juan Gris, Fernand Leger, Robert Delaunay, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Louis Marcoussis and Marie Laurencin.

Pablo Picasso - Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, 1915
Ambroise Vollard, 1915
Pushkin Museum of Fine Art
Giacomo Balla 

Futurism was a revolutionary Italian movement that celebrated modernity. The Futurist vision was outlined in a series of manifestos that attacked the long tradition of Italian art in favour of a new avant-garde. They glorified industrialisation, technology, and transport along with the speed, noise and energy of urban life. The Futurists adopted the visual vocabulary of Cubism to express their ideas – but with a slight twist. In a Cubist painting the artist records selected details of a subject as he moves around it, whereas in a Futurist painting the subject itself seems to move around the artist. The effect of this is that Futurist paintings appear more dynamic than their Cubist counterparts.

Futurism was founded in 1909 by the poet Filippo Tommas Marinetti and embraced the arts in their widest sense. The main figures associated with the movement were the artists, Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini, the musician Luigi Russolo and the architect Antonio Sant’Elia.

Giacomo Balla  - The Rhythm of the Violinist (detail), 1912
The Rhythm of the Violinist (detail), 1912
Estorick Collection, London
Kazimir Malevich

In 1915, the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich developed Suprematism, a geometric style of abstract painting derived from elements of Cubism and Futurism. He rejected any use of representational images, believing that the non-representational forms of pure abstraction had a greater spiritual power and an ability to open the mind to ‘the supremacy of pure feeling’.

Suprematism was a style of pure abstraction that advocated a mystical approach to art, in contrast withConstructivism, the major Russian art movement of the 20th Century, whose imagery served the social and political ideology of the state.

Kazimir Malevich - Suprematism, 1915
Suprematism, 1915
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
El Lissitzky

Constructivism used the same geometric language as Suprematism but abandoned its mystical vision in favour of their ‘Socialism of vision’ – a Utopian glimpse of a mechanized modernity according to the ideals of the October Revolution. However, this was not an art that was easily understood by the proletariat and it was eventually repressed and replaced by Socialist Realism. Tatlin, Rodchenko, El Lissitzky and Naum Gabo were among the best artists associated with Constructivism.

El Lissitzky - Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge,1919
The Red Wedge,1919

De Styjl

Piet Mondrian

De Styjl was a Dutch ‘style’ of pure abstraction developed by Piet Mondrian, Theo Van Doesburg and Bart van der Leck.

Mondrian was the outstanding artist of the group. He was a deeply spiritual man who was intent on developing a universal visual language that was free from any hint of the nationalism that led to the Great War.

Mondrian gradually refined the elements of his art to a grid of lines and primary colors which he configured in a series of compositions that explored his universal principles of harmony. He saw the elements of line and color as possessing counteracting cosmic forces. Vertical lines embodied the direction and energy of the sun’s rays which were countered by horizontal lines relating to the earth’s movement around it. He saw primary colors through the same cosmic tinted spectacles: yellow radiated the sun’s energy; blue receded as infinite space and red materialized where blue and yellow met. Mondrian’s style which he also called ‘Neo-Plasticism’ was inspired by the Theosophical beliefs of the mathematician and philosopher, M.H.J. Schoenmaekers.

Piet Mondrian - Composition No.3 with White and Yellow, 1935-42
Composition with White and Yellow, 1942
Christies, New York
Raoul Hausmann

Dada was not a style of art like Fauvism orCubism. It was a form of artistic anarchy born out of disgust for the social, political and cultural establishment of the time which it held responsible for Europe’s descent into World War. Dadaism was an ‘anti art’ stance as it was intent on destroying the artistic values of the past. The aim of Dada was to create a climate in which art was alive to the moment and not paralysed by the corrupted traditions of the established order. Dada’s weapons in the war against the art establishment were confrontation and provocation. They confronted the artistic establishment with the irrationality of their collages and assemblages and provoked conservative complacency with outrageous actions at their exhibitions and meetings. The movement started in Zurich and spread as far as New York. Marcel Duchamp, Raoul Hausmann, Jean Arp and Kurt Schwitters were among the best of the Dada artists.

Raoul Hausmann - Tatlin at Home, 1920
Tatlin at Home, 1920
Moderna Museet, Stockholm
René Magritte

Surrealism was the positive response to Dada’s negativity. Its aim, as outlined in the First Surrealist Manifesto of 1924, was to liberate the artist’s imagination by tapping into the unconscious mind to discover a ‘superior’ reality – a sur-reality. To achieve this the Surrealists drew upon the images of dreams, the effects of combining disassociated images, and the technique of ‘pure psychic automatism’, a spontaneous form of drawing without the conscious control of the mind. The look of Surrealist art was inspired by the irrational juxtaposition of images in Dada collages, the metaphysical art of Giorgio de Chirico, and both ‘primitive’ and ‘outsider’ art. The most influential of the Surrealist artists were Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Salvador Dali and René Magritte. The movement broke up at the outbreak of war in 1939 when several of the Surrealists left Europe for New York where they had a formative influence on the development of Abstract Expressionism.

René Magritte - Time Transfixed, 1938
Time Transfixed, 1938
Art Institute of Chicago
Abstract Expressionism
Jackson Pollock

Abstract Expressionism was the first American art style to exert an influence on a global scale. It drew upon the ‘spiritual’ approach of Kandinsky, the ‘automatism’ of the Surrealists, and a range of dramatic painting techniques. Abstract Expressionism was also known as ‘Action Painting’, an existentialist title which implied that the physical act of painting was as important as the result itself. The movement embraced paintings from a wide range of artists whose work was not always purely abstract or truly expressionistic. The ‘all-over’ drip paintings of Jackson Pollock, which entangle the viewer in a skein of light, color and texture, were the biggest challenge to the interpretation of pictorial space sinceCubism. The paintings of Mark Rothko bathe the spectator in an mystical world of diffuse color while the art of Robert Motherwell sets up an abstract dialogue between his ‘automatic’ calligraphy and the conscious control of shapes and colors. Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Barnet Newman and Clifford Still were other major figures associated with the movement.

Jackson Pollock - Full Fathom Five, 1947
Full Fathom Five, 1947
MoMA, New York
Pop Art
Andy Warhol

Pop Art was the art movement that characterised a sense of optimism during the post war consumer boom of the 1950’s and 60’s. It coincided with the globalization of pop music and youth culture, personified by Elvis and The Beatles. Pop Art was brash, colorful, young, fun and hostile to the artistic establishment. It included different styles of painting and sculpture from various countries, but what they all had in common was an interest in popular culture. The stark look of Pop Art emerged from a fusion ofDada collages and ‘readymades’ with the imagery of the consumer culture. It was seen as an antidote to the introspection ofAbstract Expressionism. The expressive techniques of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg provided the stylistic link between Abstract Expressionism and Pop but the images of celebrity and consumerism by Andy Warhol and the comic book iconography of Roy Lichtenstein represent the style as we know it today.

Andy Warhol - Campbell's Soup 1 (Tomato), 1968
Campbell’s Soup 1 (Tomato), 1968
MoMA, New York
Op Art
Victor Vasarely

Op Art is short for ‘optical art’. It was an abstract style that emerged in the 1960’s based on the illusionistic effects of line, shape, pattern and color. Op Artists such as Victor Vasarely, Bridget Riley and Richard Anuszkiewicz play with the perception of the viewer by subverting the picture plane with ambiguous shapes, shifting tones and dynamic color relationships. Although Op Art images are static they generate the illusion of movement with perceptual tricks that create an unstable picture surface. The effects of this can be so strong that you have to look away for fear of losing your balance or hurting your eyes. Needless to say that the fairground fun aspect of Op Art was very popular with the public and was quickly commercialised by the design and fashion industries.

Victor Vasarely - Gestalt 4, 1970
Gestalt 4, 1970
Frank Stella
b. 1936
Minimalism was not only a reaction against the emotionally charged techniques ofAbstract Expressionism but also a further refinement of pure abstraction. It was an attempt to discover the essence of art by reducing the elements of a work to the basic considerations of shape, surface and materials. Minimalist art used hard-edged forms and geometric grid structures. Color was simply used to define space or suface. Ad Reinhardt, whose late paintings anticipate Minimalism, put it simply, ‘The more stuff in it, the busier the work of art, the worse it is. More is less. Less is more. The eye is a menace to clear sight. The laying bare of oneself is obscene. Art begins with the getting rid of nature.’ Frank Stella, Don Judd, Robert Morris, John McCracken and Sol LeWitt were important contributers to Minimalism.
Frank Stella - Jarmolince III, 1973
Jarmolince III, 1973
Collection of the artist


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