Radical Changes in Painting in the 20th Century

Painting in the first half of the 20th century has been labeled classical modernism, and includes significant movements such as Expressionism, Cubism, Dada and Surrealism, to name a few. “Classical Modernism evolved within the atmosphere of tension generated by the dichotomy between figurative and non-figurative art, realistic portrayal and abstraction. Changing perceptions of society brought in their wake new perceptions of form, space, light, time and movement.”[i]

“In France, Matisse created images of peerless harmony born of his enthusiasm for color, while Braque and Picasso broke the mold of conventional concepts of form. Delaunay combined form and color in a way that influenced the painters of the Blaue Reiter group. Whereas such new movements as Fauvism, Cubism and Futurism still retained certain figurative elements.  Kandinsky was the first to take the radical step to pure abstraction. For Klee, on the other hand, abstract forms were a source of inspiration for his highly imaginative creative approach.”[ii]

“Painting as a vehicle of personal expression was taken to new heights by Chagall, Modigliani, Kirchner and Beckmann. The surrealists Dali, Magritte, Max Ernst and Miro plumbed the depths of the subconscious in their works. In Russia and the Netherlands, Malevich and Mondrian sought to ban all that was personal from the new visual world they created, using strictly geometric forms of abstraction.”[iii]

“In terms of form and content, the many and varied changes that took place in the painting of classical Modernism can be pinned down to a few fundamental transformations in visual concepts. These were: the liberation of color and form from the reproduction of the object, culminating in abstraction, an emphasis on emotion and heightened personal expression on the one hand and a depersonalization of the image in favor of structure and a new collective order on other hand; the exploration of the subconscious in dreamlike and fantastic images.”[iv]

Radical Changes in Painting in the 20th Century

[i]     Walther, Ingo F. [ed.]. Masterpieces of Western Art. Hong Kong: Taschen. 1996, page 543.

[ii]     Ibid.

[iii]    Ibid.

[iv]    Ibid., page 545.


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