You Gotta Know These Early-20th-Century Art Movements
- Fauvism (c. 1905) Upon seeing a number of Fauvist paintings in the same room as a classical sculpture at the 1905 Salon d’Automne exhibit, critic Louis Vauxcelles described the sculpture as “Donatello chez les fauves” (“a Donatello amongst wild beasts”), thus coining the art movement’s name with an insult. To maximize the expressiveness of their canvases, Fauves disregarded figure modeling and color harmonies in favor of large brushstrokes with broad flat areas of violently contrasting colors. The poorly received Fauves — accused by critic Camille Mauclair of “flinging a pot of paint in the face of the public,” an accusation first leveled by John Ruskin against James Whistler — were led by Henri Matisse, whose Woman with a Hat (a portrait of his wife, who is also depicted in his The Green Stripe) was singled out for attacks before being purchased by Gertrude and Leo Stein. Other Fauves include André Derain (Charing Cross Bridge, Houses of Parliament at Night) — who co-founded the movement with Matisse — Raoul Dufy (Regatta at Cowes), Maurice de Vlaminck (The River Seine at Chatou), and Kees van Dongen (Woman with Large Hat). Fauvism died out almost entirely by 1908.
Expressionism (1905–1930s) Originating in Germany at the start of the 20th century, Expressionism sought to present the world from a purely subjective perspective, shaping images to maximize emotional effect and evoke certain moods or ideas. As such, Expressionists favored meaning and emotional experience over physical reality. Two major sub-movements of Expressionism were The Bridge (Die Brücke) and The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter):
- The Bridge (Die Brücke) (1905) Founded by Ernst Kirchner in Dresden, Die Brücke is so named because members of the movement saw themselves as the bridge between traditional and modern painting. Inspired by Fauvism, members of The Bridge followed similar ideals, utilizing violent juxtapositions of color; however, paintings of The Bridge were noticeably more intense, reflecting emotional agitation through scenes of city streets and sexually charged events in country settings. Besides Kirchner (Street, Dresden, Playing Naked People, Bathers at Moritzburg), other prominent members of The Bridge include Erich Heckel (Bathers in the Reeds, Weisses Haus in Dangast), Karl Schmidt-Rotluff (Woman with a Bag, The Factory), Fritz Bleyl, Emil Nolde (Blumengarten), Max Pechstein (Under the Trees), and Otto Mueller (Landscape with Yellow Nudes).
- The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) (1911) So named because of the founders’ love for horses and the color blue (and the namesake of an early painting by Kandinsky), The Blue Rider was formed in Munich mainly around Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. Its members began to reject representational art and move towards abstraction, as they saw abstraction as a means of conceiving the natural world in terms that could surpass representation; according to Kandinsky’s influential essay Concerning the Spiritual in Art, blue is the color of spirituality, and the darker the blue, the more it awakens the human desire for the eternal. In addition to Kandinsky (The Rider, Composition VI, Improvisation 28, The Cow) and Marc (Large Blue Horses, Fighting Forms, Animals in Landscape), other members of The Blue Rider include Alexej von Jawlensky (Variation), Marianne von Werefkin, August Macke (View into a Lane), and Gabriele Munter (Dorfstrasse in Blau).
- Cubism (1907–1930s) With a name also coined by Louis Vauxcelles, cubism was developed almost entirely by Pablo Picasso, whose Les Demoiselles d’Avignon introduced the movement in 1907. Influenced by the simple geometries of African masks, Picasso’s Cubism sought to allow an object to be viewed from many sides at once by breaking down the figures into angles and shapes. Cubism as a whole can be subdivided into three movements: analytical cubism (1907–1912), synthetic cubism (1912–c. 1930), and curvilinear cubism (1930s). Analytical cubism was highly experimental, showing jagged edges and sharp multifaceted lines, such as in Picasso’s Girl With a Mandolin. Synthetic cubism was inspired by collages and featured flattened forms of normal objects, such as in Picasso’s Mandolin and Guitar. Curvilinear cubism contrasted with the flattened and firm edges of synthetic by featuring more flowing, rounded lines, such as in Georges Braque’s Houses at l’Estaque. Besides the aforementioned pioneers of cubism, Picasso (whose other Cubist works include Guernica and The Poet) and Braque (Pitcher and Violin, Viaduct at l’Estaque, Still Life with Metronome), other prominent Cubists include Juan Gris (Portrait of Picasso, Guitar and Pipe), Jean Metzinger (Deux Nus, Tea Time), Robert Delaunay (Simultaneous Windows on the City, La Ville de Paris), Albert Gleizes (The Bathers, Portrait de Jacques Nayral), Fernand Leger (Still Life with a Beer Mug), and Henri Le Fauconnier (L’Abondance).
- Futurism (1909–1914) Inspired by the scientific and technological advances of the start of the 20th century, a group of Italian artists came together to form the Futurist movement in 1909, seeking to represent the glory of machines and speed in their art; in his “The Futurist Manifesto”, Filippo Marinetti declared that “a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.” The Futurists used a cubist-inspired approach to represent figures in multiple states at once, thus giving their works an animated yet shattered feel. Notable Futurists include Umberto Boccioni (Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, Development of a Bottle in Space, The City Rises, Dynamism of a Cyclist), Giacomo Balla (Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, Abstract Speed + Sound), Carlo Carra (Funeral of the Anarchist Galli), and Gino Severini (Armored Train in Action, Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin). Although Marcel Duchamp is not usually associated with Futurism, his Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (which caused an uproar at the Armory Show in 1913) displays many characteristics of Futurist painting.
- Metaphysical painting (1910–1920s) Influenced by the work of late 19th-century German philosophers, metaphysical painters sought to create enigmatic scenes which beckoned viewers to interpret a meaning based on symbols, suggestions, and impressions, thus foreshadowing the Surrealist paintings of the following decades. In many metaphysical paintings, human figures are represented by shadows or lifeless dummies and are placed in mysterious settings of seemingly infinite space, giving the canvasses dreamlike, eerie, and vaguely threatening qualities. Additionally, the paintings were given intentionally enigmatic titles to contribute to their cryptic effect. Metaphysical painting was based on the works of Italian artists Giorgio de Chirico (The Disquieting Muses, The Song of Love, Melancholy and Mystery of a Street, Le Reve Transforme), Giorgio’s brother Alberto Savinio, and former Futurist Carlo Carra (The Oval of Apparition). The metaphysical painting movement came to an end in the 1920s after an argument between de Chirico and Carra over who had founded the group.
- Suprematism (1913–1920s) Immediately prior to the Russian Revolution, a group of Russian artists formed the independent suprematist movement, so named because they believed that non-objective reality was greater than anything that could be achieved by representation; in his “The Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of Suprematism”, suprematist founder Kazimir Malevich stated “By ‘Suprematism’ I mean the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the suprematist the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling.” Suprematist works often consist of simple geometric shapes of limited color placed at diagonals or some thoughtful arrangement on a white background. Major works by Kazimir Malevich in the suprematist style include Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying, Black Square, Black Circle, Suprematist Composition: White on White, and Suprematism. After the communists took control of Russia, suprematism died out, much like many other abstract art movements under totalitarian governments.
- Dada (1916–1925) Deriving its name from a nonsense word that literally means “hobby horse” (supposedly chosen by stabbing a knife into a dictionary), Dada was an anti-art movement in Zurich, Cologne, Berlin, Paris, and New York that rejected artistic and social norms in order to protest the establishment. Fervently opposed to the useless slaughter of World War I, Dadaists rejected conventional methods of representation and exhibition: they abandoned oil and canvas, often did work on glass, and accepted “readymades” (commonplace objects selected and exhibited as works of art) as valid art forms. Dada works often relied on location or accident, such as if a glass should shatter, the artist would hail the accident as an enhancement or an achievement brought about by chance; much like many other abstract artists, Dadaists favored artistic concept over execution. The foremost proponent of Dada was Marcel Duchamp, whose readymades include Fountain, L.H.O.O.Q., Prelude to a Broken Arm, and Bicycle Wheel, in addition to the aforementioned non-Dada painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. Duchamp’s piece The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), consists of two panes of glass with materials such as lead foil, fuse wire, and dust, and utilizes chance procedures; when the glass broke in a shipping crate and received a large crack, Duchamp left the cracks intact, incorporating the “accident” into the piece. Other key Dada artists include Jean Arp (Cloud Shepherd, Shirt Front and Fork), Man Ray (Lampshade, Le Violon d’Ingres), Raoul Hausmann (Mechanical Head (The Spirit of Our Time), Kp’erioum, ABCD (Self-portrait)), Hannah Hoch (Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic), Francis Picabia, and Hans Richter.
- De Stijl (1917–1920s) Also known as neoplasticism, De Stijl (Dutch for “The Style”) was founded in Amsterdam in 1917 and sought to create paintings that were completely abstract, with no references to nature whatsoever. De Stijl paintings are typically set on a white background, use black lines to shape rectangular spaces, use only black and the three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue), contain no modulation, and use only perpendicular lines (diagonals are forbidden). While the movement’s theories were outlined by Theo van Doesburg (Neo-Plasticism: Composition VII (the three graces), Composition decentralisee, Composition in Gray (Rag-Time)), the principal practitioner of De Stijl was Piet Mondrian (Broadway Boogie Woogie, Victory Boogie Woogie, Tableau I, Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, Lozenge Composition with Red, Black, Blue, and Yellow); other De Stijl painters include Vilmos Huszar and Bart van der Leck. De Stijl also manifested itself in the architectural works of Gerrit Rietvald (Schroder House, Red and Blue Chair), Robert van’t Hoff (Villa Henny), and J. J. P. Oud (Gallery house at Weissenhof Estate).
- Surrealism (1924–1930s) According to André Breton’s “Surrealist Manifesto,” Surrealism is “pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought”; inspired by the work of psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, Surrealists sought to represent an unseen world of dreams, subconscious thoughts, and unspoken communication. Similar to metaphysical painting and Dada, Surrealist works are not meant to be clearly understood — they are meant to puzzle, challenge, and fascinate by means of confusing titles, unusual arrangements of reality-based subjects, and abounding contradictions. Painters associated with the Surrealist movement include Salvador Dalí (The Persistence of Memory, Swans Reflecting Elephants, Metamorphosis of Narcissus), Joan Miró (Dog Barking at the Moon, The Tilled Field, Harlequin’s Carnival), René Magritte (Time Transfixed, The Treachery of Images, The Son of Man), former Dadaist Max Ernst (Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale, The Elephant Celebes), Frida Kahlo (Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, The Two Fridas, The Little Deer), former metaphysical painter Giorgio de Chirico (whose stark color contrasts and veristic style strongly influenced surrealist painting), and Yves Tanguy. Surrealist sculptors included Alexander Calder (Lobster Tail and Fish Trap, Flamingo), Meret Oppenheim (Object), and Alberto Giacometti (Woman with Her Throat Cut, L’Homme qui marche I). The Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel created a number of films in the surrealist style, collaborating with Dalí on Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) — which Roger Ebert called the “most famous short film ever made” — and L’Age d’Or (The Golden Age).
- Depression-era art (1930s) From 1929 to 1939, art in America reflected and embodied the despair associated with the Great Depression, often raising social issues and concerns of the public. American artists of the decade rejected European abstract art in favor of realism and raw human emotion in order to emphasize the true plight of the destitute. The photographer Dorothea Lange made the desperation of the Depression visible to the general public via documentary photography, such as with her works Migrant Mother, White Angel Breadline, and Ditched, Stalled and Stranded; later, Lange would document the struggle of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Painters such as Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence developed the visual art aspect of the Harlem Renaissance (a period of rebirth and freedom of expression for African-Americans in the early 20th century), highlighting African-American life — such as in Douglas’ Aspects of Negro Life series — and exposing social injustices committed towards Blacks — such as in Lawrence’s 60-panel Migration series. Edward Hopper depicted somber and realistic scenes of city life, such as with his paintings Nighthawks, Chop Suey, Automat, and Early Sunday Morning. Similarly, Grant Wood explored country life — especially Midwestern subjects in rural Iowa — in such works as American Gothic, Daughters of Revolution, Parson Weems’ Fable, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Appraisal, and The Birthplace of Herbert Hoover, West Branch, Iowa.
This article was contributed by former NAQT writer Ryan Golant.