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Modern Art Movements (1900-1914)

The period 1900-1914, as the dawn of a new century, was also the beginning of many modern art movements such as; Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism and Futurism. As these Artistic movements existed during the same period, it is not surprising to note that they often exhibited together, overlapped, influenced and inspired one another.

Significant developments throughout the world during this time included, Frued’s, The Interpretation of Dreams 1900, Max Planck’s Quantum Theory 1900, the first powered flight in America 1903, Russo-Japanese War 1904-5, Einstein published his special Theory of Relativity 1905 and the First production car in 1909.

The artisitc movement of Fauvism had a relatively short life in the spot light between 1905 and 1907 althugh its true period is from the beginning of the century until the First World War (1914). The principal artist of the Fauvist’s was Henry Matisse (1869-1954) who ‘used vividly contrasting colours as early as 1899′ according to The Oxford Dictionary of Art (1997, P.196). In Matisse’s Open Window, Collioure and Woman With a Hat, which were painted in 1905, the use of line to divide forms can be seen which was a conscious approach for the painters of this movement and one that can be seen in the below examples of the movements to follow with the exclusion of Futurism.

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Henri Matisse – Open Window, Collioure 1905

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Henri Matisse – Woman With a Hat 1905

The pictorial characteristics of Fauvism as well as the use of non-naturalistic, intense colours, was the use of pure colour ‘which they used arbitrarily for emotional and decorative effect, but sometimes also, as Cezanne had done, to mould space’. As Cezanne was a major influence on the Fauvists, so too where they a great source of inspiration upon the Expressionists of 1905-1911. Cezanne’s significance was not limited to the Fauvists as he was the primary influence to the figure heads of the cubist art movement to follow and every modern art movement thereafter and in fact, at the height of its popularity, in 1907, Fauvism began to be superseded by Cubism.

Cubism’s main formative period was between 1907-1914 and originated largely from the two greatly intuitive painters and artists of many disciplines, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963) who worked closely together in this style. Although great variations appear in the cubist works of the early 1900′s they are united in their distorted depiction of the visible world, an absence of conventional perspective, realistic colour or even single viewpoints. ‘The resultant paintings may vary from small interlocking facets or planes in dull (grey-green or brown) colour to bold patterns of large shapes in strong non-realist colour’ (Hamlyn P, P.18).

Picasso’s Ma Jolie and Braque’s The Portuguese (exhibited together in Paris 1911), find an emergence of a sub-division of cubism (1907-1911), aptly named, ‘Analytical Cubism’ as well as an obvious indication of their artistic proximity to each other. This name relates to the increasing breakdown of form that can still be discerned but ‘have been broken down into a number of facets which interlock with each other and pesent a sort of moving articulation like the surface of a crumpled or folded paper, as when we make a paper hat from a flat sheet’ (Hamlyn P, P.21) thus pushing the boundaries of pictorial possibilities.

In Picasso’s Ma Jolie, the figure holding a guitar is almost completely lost in his dislocation of form which gives way to an increased awareness of apparent shapes. Braque’s personal history, as the son of a house-painting tradesperson, is increasingly apparent in his paintings of this period as he incorporates surface materials that are inherently at hand and which were accessible to Picasso for his own experimentation also. Available wallpapers and other sources of textures such as wood, graining, beading and pebble, were found to be more adaptable and easily applied and therefor replaced the painting of these textures resulting in an innovative form of decorative painting.

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Pablo Picasso – Ma Jolie 1911

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Georges Braque – The Portuguese 1911

These two forward thinking artists decidedly made a ‘radical departure from the idea of art as the imitation of nature that had dominated European painting and sculpture since the Renaissance’ (Colliers P.144). Indeed, their passion for versatility, also lead them to move from ‘Cubism proper to other forms of painting, most of them before the First World War One (Hamlyn P, P.18) and inspired revolutionary change in the visual arts during their time. Picasso himself stated ‘The several manners I have used in my art must not be considered as an evolution, or as steps toward an unknown ideal of painting. When I have found something to express, I have done it without thinking of the past or future. I do not believe I have used radically different elements in the different manners I have used in painting. If the subjects I have wanted to express have suggested different ways of expression, I haven’t hesitated to adopt them’.

Expressionism is termed similarly to Cubism in the Colliers Dictionary of Art 1997 (P.191) as it is described as when ‘traditional ideas of naturalism are abandoned in favour of distortions and exaggerations of shape or colour that urgently express the artist’s emotion’. Expressionism flourished in Germany from 1905 onward and absorbed so portion of Cubism in the process, at a time when the national temperament had a ‘predominance of harshness, power and tension’ and is further described as ‘the art of emotion, revealing inner human tensions (Hamlyn P, P.23).

The two most relevant artists for and of this movement were Dutch painter and draughtsman, Vincent Van Gogh (Post Impressionist artist 1853-90 as a prototype for expressionism) and the Norwegian Edvard Munch (1863-1944). The former, Van Gogh according to Colliers Dictionary of Art 1997 (P.191), as ‘consciously exaggerated nature ‘to express man’s terrible passions’ as the Expressionists after him relied on impulse and feeling for their emotional use of colour and line’. Munch is therefore significant in his familiarity with Gogh’s work, and with his own experimentations with the use of violent colours and linear distortions in order to express basic human emotions such as love, fear, anxiety and hatred. Although Munch himself was not German, he had a captive audience for his emotional works do to the national turmoil that made up the German experience in the lead up to World War One.

Munch met and influenced Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) and many other artists who were to form a group led largely by Kirchner that was called Die Brucke ‘The Bridge’ in 1905. This group dissolved just prior to the beginning of the war and was lesser known, but by no means less important, than the following ‘Blue Rider’ group which was instigated by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) in 1911. Although the works produced by the small Bridge group differed greatly in intension and quality, Munch’s influence is evident, as is the simple graphic quality of printing methods such as the woodcut. Many of the works of the Expressionists include strong linear properties usually in heavy colours such as browns and black, ‘with the object of expressing the sense of tension in life that they felt’ (Hamlyn P, P.22).

The Russian Kandinsky, produced one of the most significant written works by a painter of the nineteenth century, Concerning the Spiritual in Art which was published in 1912 (written in 1910) and in which he sought to express what he termed as ‘essential feelings’ whilst consciously ignoring the ‘superficial and fortuitous’. Two such works that demonstrate this are the 1909 painting Arab Cemetery and the later, 1913 Black Lines. It is important to note the birth of Abstract Art in 1910. These paintings demonstrate Kandinsky’s personal path to abstraction within the Expressionist period. In the first, Kandinsky has treated natural forms with a simple subtraction of detail which has been replaced with a simplification and flattening of shapes. In the latter, any reference to ordinary form has gone and is replaced instead with the inter-relationship of shapes and colour which is unified by a web of black lines.

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Wassily Kandinsky – Arab Cemetery 1909

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Wassily Kandinsky – Black Lines 1913

Although Futurism began four years after the initiation of Expressionism, there are paralells to be drawn regarding the expression of ‘power, emotional intensity, not reflective but aggressive and immediate, not insinuating but attacking’ (Hamlyn P, P. 26) in approach.

The origin of Futurism in 1909 can be attributed to the Italian poet, Filippo Marinetti (1876-1944) who is referred to as the sponsor and founder of the movement. It is considered an artistic movement with political implications according to The Oxford Dictionary of Art (1997, P.211) that ‘sought to free Italy from the oppressive weight of her past, and glorified the modern world’ and in particular, machinery, speed and violence. Marinetti’s essay Le Figaro in 1909, which was inspired by his emotional reaction to a ride in a fast motor vehicle, was an impassioned piece of writing that outlined the ideas of the Futurists regarding the glorification of industrialisation and war and the distaste of academies and was more interested in looking back as opposed to breaking ‘through the mysterious gates of the impossible’ (Le Figaro 1909).

Marrinetti’s ranting’s did not have an immediate effect, however the painters of the time were aware of the movement, Neo-Impressionism (1861-1944) which was both a development from Impressionism and a reaction against it. It was significant for the Futurists in regards to its representation of light and colour and in particular its basis in scientific principles such as Divisionism and Pointillism which refers to pure, un-mixed dots or dabs of pigment upon the canvas that at a certain distance appear to blend. This type of alla-prima painting application is contrary to the traditional principles of painting such as ‘glazing’ and ‘scumbling’ which the futurists generally intended to avoid.

Further to this, the futurist painters were inspired and influenced by the recent cubist exhibition of Picasso and Braque in Paris in 1911 which was at the time quickly becoming the avant-garde fashion. This was most noticeable in the work of Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) such as The City Rises (1910) and his later painting, Elasticity (1912). The relevance of these works is in their confirmation of both the above named influences of Neo-Impressionism and Cubism as can be seen in the alla-prima paint application of pure colours side by side in The City Rises and the fragmented shapes that can be seen in Elasticity. Both the pointillist and cubist approaches are successful in their indication of sequencial movement.

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Umberto Boccioni – The City Rises 1910

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Umberto Boccioni – Elasticity 1912

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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