History, Development and Key Examples of Modern Art

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Modern art is somewhat of a confounding term. The word modern is indicative of the present day or perhaps of the 21st century. When in actuality, modern art preceded further than one might believe. Modern art extends as far back as the 1860s and lasted until the 1970s. It was amid this period that fast changes in assembling, transportation, and innovations would significantly influence the social, monetary, and social states of life in Western Europe, North America, and inevitably the world. In addition to this, the population was extending their perspectives and their access to new ideas…

One of the earliest examples of modern art is a painting by French impressionist Claude Monet. Titled Impression, Sunrise, it was completed in 1872 and is an oil on canvas. Currently displayed at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, France. As the title would imply, this piece is from the Impressionist movement. Impression, Sunrise depicts the harbor of LeHavre, in France. The symbolism of this masterpiece introduces an emphasis on the quiet sentiment of a cloudy sea scene. Two small rowboats in the foreground and the red Sun being the focal elements. The mists are hued by the rising sun. In the background, through the thick fog, one can observe ships coming to fruition though without definition.

Off in the distance, chimneys of various factories and other ships can be observed. The condensed, darker brushstrokes in the water, creates motion and ripples, while hints of orange and yellow show up as an impression of the dawn in the harbor water. This utilization of a recognizably brilliant shading attracts regard for the fundamental focal point of the painting, the sun. One significant feature of this piece was the method of how Monet was able to transfer an outdoor painting into a finished masterpiece. This can be attributed to the Industrial Revolution. It brought forth many advances to the modern world, including the arts.

Another great example of modern art is Gustave Caillebotte’s classic, Paris Street; Rainy Day. It is currently owned by the Art Institute of Chicago and is an oil on canvas. This masterpiece was completed in 1877. Like Impression, Sunrise it is of the Impressionist art movement. Impacted by the academic art elicited by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Caillebotte was more on the pragmatist side of the Impressionist period. During the 1870s, Napoleon III and Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann undertook Paris’ urban renewal project. Converting the medieval roads into modern-day Paris, with beautiful boulevards and grand buildings. With this new environment, Caillebotte captured a vast and immense scene of contemporary lifestyle. Displaying individuals walking through the Place de Dublin, at an intersection to the east of the Gare Saint-Lazare in north Paris.

These figures seemed to be of the modern class, this is apparent as they are wearing fashion that is vogue. Caillebotte’s use of dark color accentuates the setting of a rainy day. While it might appear this a space of convivial atmosphere, a significant number of these figures seem segregated and consumed in their very own musings, appearing as if they are disoriented, while they appear to be in a rush as opposed to walking. This new environment is an aberration to the citizens as they are not yet accustomed to the new space. The chosen vista complements the gigantic size of the architectural developments which overshadows the human figures it encompasses. Although this piece is of the Impressionist period, Caillebotte’s work is an antithesis of Impressionist style. This piece is characterized by its realism and reliance on line. However, its rainy mood, unusual cropped forms, and the contemporary subject motivate a composition utilized by impressionist of that time.

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Skipping forward to the year of 1906, Henri Matisse would complete what is often considered to be his greatest Fauve painting, the Bonheur de Vivre, or the “Joy of Life.’ It can be found at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is an oil on canvas and is of the Fauvism period. This image portrays nude bodies of men and women in a landscape. Here, Matisse shows the many joys of life (lovemaking, dancing) using vivid colors. These colors are expressionistic and non-realistic. They are to show expression but are not necessarily substances of nature. The individuals appear to be skewed, out of proportion and the bodies are curved.

This painting gives a sense of ebullience. The bodies of these people appears to be sensual, perhaps as a celebration of the human body. Matisse was influenced by Japanese woodcuts and 19th century Orientalist images of harems. The sensual imagery is also influenced by the works of Titian. This painting was a shift in the styles used by the Old Masters of art. Despite this Matisse was able to create a work of art, filled with color. The expressive utilization of colors and disconnected rearrangements of the human body utilizes a conventional pictorial space, and one can construe this is painting as a place to lose yourself and let the imagination roam freely.

A year after Matisse’s masterpiece, Pablo Picasso was developing his own magnum opus. Entitled Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, this painting portrays five nude female prostitutes in a brothel on Carrer d’Avinyó, a street in Barcelona. This painting was completed in 1907 and can be found at the Museum of Modern Art. These women are fractured into jagged shapes. Different parts of the body become sharp, splintered planes some of which are transparent and opaque. Alluding that this shares similarities to pieces of broken glass.

Three of the women are glaring back the viewer, while the other two are wearing masks and seemed to be gazing across the painting. These masks appear to be inspired by Iberian sculpture and African masks. This painting marks a radical departure of the customary compositions and traditional values at the time. The colored and light structures characterized by the Impressionist and the Fauves are additionally dismissed, opting to utilize line illustrations. Disregarding the illusion of a three-dimensional picture, and instead selecting to utilize a two-dimensional image. This enables an object to be seen from a variety of perspectives rather than just a solitary perspective. These abstract shapes and forms can be accredited to the revolutionary way of depicting reality, known as Cubism.

Modern art paved the way for the artists’ alacrity and interest in re-imagining, reinterpreting, and even rejecting traditional aesthetic values of preceding styles. It was during this period of art that some of the most prominent and surreal pieces of art came to fruition. This era of art was a genesis of an ebullience of the art and of the avant-garde.

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