Three art movements that set the 20th Century on its course: Fauvism, Expressionism & the Cubists Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Three art movements that set the 20th Century on its course: Fauvism, Expressionism & the Cubists

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Three art movements that set the 20th Century on its course: Fauvism, Expressionism & the Cubists

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Three art movements of the 20th Century:
Fauvism, Expressionism & Cubism

 Collecting Twentieth-Century Painting A Guide and Timeline Perspective
20th-Century Art


For centuries, Western painters had made studied efforts to convey subtleties of the human condition, to capture a landscape, to freeze an epic moment in time, and more recently, with the Impressionists, to filter the essence of nature. But on the eve of the 20th Century, the world was undergoing an unprecedented transformation driven by technology, and monumental global conflict. In painting, this upheaval was paralleled by changes equally brave, threatening, and profound -- even more so than those presented by the advent of Modernism.

Three early 20th-Century movements -- Expressionism and Cubism -- each represented a reinterpretation of art's relationship to reality. Each liberated a key aspect of painting, and in turn, laid the groundwork for most of the painting movements that have followed to the present day. By familiarizing yourself with these three movements, you'll be able to better appreciate the entire scope of 20th-Century painting...

THE FAUVES. The first 20th-Century painting movement to gain notice -- more accurately, to cause a scandal -- was Fauvism. A salon of like-minded artists showed their work in 1905; critics collectively called them fauves, French for "wild beasts," in response to their unbridled and seemingly irrational use of color.

While the 1905 salon was informally led by Henri Matisse (whose prolific and varied career soon outgrew the Fauve moniker), the Fauvists owed much to the primitive-style works of Paul Gauguin, who died two years earlier. The group also included painters such as André Derain, Georges Rouault, and Georges Braque (who soon embraced Cubism). Influenced by the 'primitive' art and stained glass windows of Brittany, what they shared in common was a nearly orgiastic use of color to convey emotion, without regard to "reality"-- a sky might be orange, a tree crimson, a human form green, or even a multiplicity of colors.

Fauvism liberated color. Finally, artists could use it in any way imaginable, both possible and impossible.

THE EXPRESSIONISTS. Around the same time as Fauvism's 1905 salon, the more loosely aligned Expressionist movement was garnering attention. German, Scandinavian, and other Northern European painters were allowing inner emotions -- sadness, anger, fear -- to spill out honestly and directly onto their canvases. Norwegian Edvard Munch's "Scream" (1893) is the most famous precursor of the Expressionist movement.

It was with the gathering clouds of World War I, and its resulting horrors, however, that Expressionism gained momentum. Painters such as Wassily Kandinsky strove to portray spirituality and other intangibles on canvas. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner focused on humanity's awkward and contrived state of affairs, not only of war, but also of urban industrialization. Even Gustave Klimt, who had gained notoriety in the late 1800s with his stylized Art Nouveau technique, became linked with Expressionism, as he poured a world of sublime beauty onto canvas, in direct reaction to the waste and destruction of the world around him.

Expressionism liberated emotion.

THE CUBISTS. If you stop to think about it, most paintings are a ruse -- a way of tricking us into seeing a three-dimensional world on a strictly two-dimensional canvas. By 1907, two French painters -- Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque -- had each chosen to expose the trick for what it was.

Picasso and Braque synthesized 'primitive' African and Oceanic art with Paul Cézanne's earlier experiments in abstract geometry. The results: quasi-primitive visages, torsos, and objects splayed out onto a flat canvas as if they were steamrollered, often with little or no depth perspective.

Some critics dismissed Cubism as a childlike ruse of its own. But both Picasso and Braque, and soon others, were working from codified theories of how to reinterpret and represent geometry and dimensionality. Ironically, their best works challenge the viewer to contemplate and appreciate our dimensional world all the more. Cubism movements flourished for decades, through the works of Juan Gris, Fernand Léger and others. In their course, these movements had an immense impact on the world -- way beyond the art world -- by serving as metaphors for the abstract and increasingly form-changing reality of modern life.

Cubism liberated form.

FOLLOWING MOVEMENTS. What a remarkable start to the 20th Century: Within the first decade or so, the roles of color, emotion, and form were turned upside down. No longer were they confined to strict parameters, such as the pursuit of reality, or the impressionistic distillation of a subject to its fundamental colors and forms.

By 1910, the Fauvist, Expressionist, and Cubist movements had collectively said to artists, for the first time, "Anything goes!" Most of the painting movements that were to follow owe something in part to one or more of these standard bearers.

Indeed, the next major painting movement, Futurism, which appeared in 1909, used all three elements -- color, emotion, and form -- in radical ways, to celebrate modern change, originality, and innovation in culture and society. In 1913, these new directions collectively exploded onto the American scene with the International Exhibition of Modern Art, colloquially known as the Armory Show. Held at a New York Regiment Armory, it featured works by Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, and most significantly, Marcel Duchamp -- whose boldly abstract "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2" provoked critical and public outrage -- much like the Salon des Refusés had done 50 years earlier.

(Outrage might as well have been Duchamp's middle name. In 1917, two years after the foundation of the anti-art Dada movement, he anonymously -- and antagonistically -- submitted a ceramic urinal set on it's side, signed "R. Mutt," to another exhibition. Since the organizers -- whose roster included Duchamp -- had agreed to accept any submission, they had no choice but to include the urinal, causing an even greater furor than Duchamp's 1913 painting.)

While the Fauvist movement became passé within a few years of the 1905 salon, its influence can be detected in works by Expressionist and more contemporary painters. Early analytical-style Cubism had largely run its course by 1915, though its influence and offshoots continued to reverberate through the '30s, and it remains one of the most widely recognized art movement of the entire century. As for Expressionism, it never really went away -- and was whole-heartedly revived in the '40s, '50s, and '60s by Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Francis Bacon, and Robert Motherwell. Even in the '70s and '80s, the Neoexpressionists -- including Keith Haring, David Wojnarowicz, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, and Kenny Scharf -- owed much to their namesake forebears (as well as Fauvist and Cubist primitivism).

The 20th Century has been blessed with so many vital movements in painting, including Dadaism, Surrealism, Realism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art -- and more recently, Minimalism, the Neoexpressionists, and Post-Modernism. You'll find descriptions of these and other notable movements below; see the TIMELINE OF 20th-CENTURY PAINTING.


G. Favre - Source Parot (Lithograph)

Source Parot (Lithograph)
G. Favre
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