Essential Reading WHA: Art from 1900-1919

Political, economic or social factors

Queen Victoria died 1901. Start of 20thC saw revolt against all forms of naturalism, pre-war era most daring. New methods and ideas in painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, music, philosophy & science. French colonial scandal in 1904 of black people ‘hunts’/murders brought Africa into focus & public outrage. German architects ideas of creative autonomy led to forms of anarchy, their ‘alliance with leftist political utopianism with artistic avant-garde most pronounced’  p778. Futurist ideas spread throughout Europe & US (better known than Cubism), not solely concerned with the arts. Marinetti wanted to obliterate culture of the past  & replace with need society based on new dynamic sensations/speed/noise/mechanical energy of the modern city. Movement cut short by WW1 with death of Boccioni & architect Antonio Sant’Elia (1888-1916) before futurist utopian designs built. It’s links with Fascism mean revival failed after the war Intellectual nature & ‘sense of social destiny’ of Abstract art linked with contemporary politics & social theory P793 Russian Revolution. World War I 1914-1918.

Changes to status or training of artists

Paris still artistic capital for Avant-garde Western art. Exhibitions here, and from 1910 in pre-war Czarist Russia, raised individuals & movement profiles. Chief patrons of Matisse/Picasso 1910+ were wealthy Moscow merchants whose collections were open to public meaning Russian artists aware of latest European trends. US architect Wright achieved international fame (but little influence) by 1910 publication of his work in Berlin.

Development of materials and processes

Pablo Picasso – Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Paris, June-July 1907, Oil on canvas, 243.9 x 233.7 cm, Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest, © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Radical innovations underpin all further developments to date, eg Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon ,1907, nearly flat painting of a complex of invented forms, p771. Revolutionary break with Western illusionistic art.  He abandoned traditional single viewpoint & proportions & reordered human form into geometrical lozenges/triangles. New intellectual treatment of space/form/unexpressed emotions/states of mind. Rejected coherences of representational art.

Wassily Kandinsky – Composition VII, 1913, Oil on canvas, 200.0 × 300.0 cm, Moscow, Russia. The State Tretyakov Gallery

Also, Kandinsky created some of 1st completely abstract/non-objective works (simultaneously with others elsewhere in Europe). Landmark painting ‘Composition VII’ 1913. His earlier Improvisations had spiritual relationship with primitive art and artists. Plastics developed, 1909. Expressionists exploited woodblock/lino-cut to create graphic art with brutal powerful effect of distilling introspective emotions . P777. Matisse’s spontaneity misleading, colour & shape laboured over to the ‘right’ balance. Painting from subconscious, reactions to own reactions. In architecture, Poelzig’s Expressionist Grosse Schauspielhaus (1918/9) in Berlin was an innovation in theatre design, high stalactite covered ceiling with central circular stage. Picasso invented the collage (paste-up) by incorporating commercial print of chair pattern into 1912 still life. Went beyond play with natural & artistic reality by adding real items so they could be understood in either/both senses. Further refined by Braque , limiting the pasted elements to paper, Papiers colles, flat surfaces, eliminating illusionistic space. ‘we tried to get rid of trompe l’oeil to find a trompe l’esprit‘, Picasso, p787. Items pasted on meaningless, artist making meaning & beauty from nothing. Also, 1912,Picasso creates radical sculptural revolution by using all sorts of materials (wood, tin, card, paper, string etc) & assembling much like a collage. Liberating western sculpture from traditional material /techniques /subjects. Given new intellectual dimension although most sculptors stuck with traditional eg Aristide Maillol (1861-1944). Futurist Boccioni’s Technical Manifesto of futurist sculpture,1912, anticipates/parallels Picasso’s sculptural breakthrough. Using all sorts of materials ‘absolute & complete abolition of the finite line & closed-form sculpture’,p791

Styles and movements

Opposing tendencies, Subjectivism of Symbolists & objectivism/transcendent ‘otherness’ of Cezanne further explored bringing an end to artistic traditions from 14th C. First completely abstract work, 1912. Apparent dilemma between ‘cult of pure form & cult of inner truth’  p768. Period characterised by urge to break down convention & search for new ways of looking.

Impressionism culmination with Monet’s last series, Nympheas eg Water Lilies, 1907. His aim to present impressions of nature resulted in almost abstract view of his pool with its light, atmosphere and colour.

New way of seeing

Self-taught Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), naive artist, genius recognised by Picasso,  technical & conceptual naivety,innocent eye of a savage’ p769 enormous canvases of imagined, mysterious & menacing exotic jungle landscapes.

Henri Matisse, Bonheur de Vivre (Joy of Life), 1905-06, oil on canvas, 176.5 x 240.7 cm (The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia)

 Les Fauves (Wild Beasts) group lead by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) held 1st ‘event’ in 20thC art 1905 in Salon d’Automne. Exhibition of ‘strident colours, rough handling & distorted anti-naturalistic drawing’ p774 Affinity with naive art. Others included Andre Derain (1880-1954) & Maurice Vlaminck (1876-1958). ‘deliberate disharmonies’ of flat arbitrary clashing colours express artists personal emotional reaction to subject. Colour freed from descriptive representation. Devoid of social comment. Matisse’s The joy of life, 1906, key. P775. His Harmony in Red, 1908 sums up Fauve style, light a function of flat colour, no perspective/modelling/space. Childlike simple pictorial means. Georges Rouault (1871-1958) broke with the group early, became ‘finest religious painter of 20thC’ p776. More of an expressionist painter of spiritual anguish.

German Expressionism developed to convey oppressive mood of prewar apprehension. Charged with spiritual significance, nationalism & anti-French bias. Lead by Ernst Kirchner (1880-1938) who wrote Brucke Manifesto. Spontaneity & sincerity. Style pioneered by Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945) who remained independent of the group,considered herself a realist. Mystic evangelist Emil Nolde (1867-1956) painted his deeply religious feelings, ‘strength & inwardness’ p777. No general Expressionist architecture definition but roots in Gothic/Art Nouveau/anti-classical simplifying combination & expressive of function eg Erich Mendelsohn(1887-1953), Einstein‘s Observatory, 1919, & Hans Poelzig (1869-1936) (see above), AEG turbine factory, 1909,by Peter Behrens (1868-1940), & Max Berg (1870-1947), Centennial Hall at Wroclaw, 1911.

Der Blaue Reiter (the blue rider) group, Munich, 1911/16, abstract/non-objective works. Leading painter, Vassily Kandinsky (1886-1944), expressed through colour/form to strengthen emotional, spiritual & imaginative impact. Warm/spontaneous/organic. Revelation from seeing his upside down painting as ‘glowing with inner radiance’ p779. Franz Marc (1880-1916), killed in WW1, obsessed with animals. His most abstract, fighting forms, 1914, was left unfinished.

Franz Marc – fighting forms, 1914,

Georges Braque (1882-1963) & child prodigy Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) invented Cubism in close collaboration in 1908, tricky to define. Art simultaneously representational & anti-naturalistic. P783. The label of the Cubist movement was applied to a group of derivative artists in 1911, including Gleizes & Metzinger. Brought to US in 1913 exhibition. It raise Q of  ‘figuration as against abstraction as a conscious and serious issue’  p782 . Never intended to be non-representational, Picasso: ‘no such thing as abstract art. You must always start with something’. P782

Georges Braque, The Portuguese, 1911, oil on canvas, 116.8 x 81 cm (Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland)

Picasso ditched perspective /single viewpoint to combine several views in a single image. Surface of figures broken into facets lit from different arbitrary directions, space eliminated. Picture conceived as independent construction, picture-object/’tableau-objet’ p784. Layer more controlled, narrow range of close-value earthy colours. Less spatial, more volumetric & sculptural than Braque whose semi abstract natural forms of tilting overlapping planes in shallow space protrudes to the viewer. Their work 1910-12 known as Analytical Cubism less sculptural, ‘painterly dissolution of their 1908/9 manner’ p784. The term (by Juan Gris (1887-1927)) is a misnomer as there was no rational process of dissection. Forms more fragmented, they didn’t use observational references, leading towards intellectual abstraction just short of unrecognizability, near monochrome colours grey/green/ochres, dry matt surface. Unimportant ‘ostensible subjects hover like after-images behind geometrical structures‘. P785

Synthetic Cubism, mirror image of Analytical Cubism working back from abstraction to representation, developed alongside collage, object depicted with forms not derived from it, decorative and disunity. Eg Picasso’s harlequin, 1915. P788.

Pablo Picasso – Harlequin, Paris, late 1915, Oil on canvas ,183.5 x 105.1 cm, Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest , © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Orphic Cubism group: Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), Sonia Delaunay-Terk (1885-1979), Fernand Leger (1881-1955), Marcel Duchamp (1884-1968), & Francis Picabia (1879-1953), interested in prismatic colour (when Picasso/Braque not) with contrasts and Cubist planar structure. Inspired by light itself, the sun, the source of life. Vibrant, dynamic. Leger’s style slightly different, genuine alternative to cubism. Contrasts of both line and form, instead of light, his subject was dynamic, discordant, urban, modern life. He became the artist of the machine age after the war.

Umberto Boccioni
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
1913 (cast 1931), Bronze, 111.2 x 88.5 x 40 cm, Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest

Futurism, short lived, high impact movement. Ideas by Marinetti & artist Boccioni (see thinkers below), aim to represent ‘psychical & total experience’ p790. Cubist broken forms, emphasising intuition/action & ‘simultaneity’ rejecting static compositions, pictures small sections of continuous wholes P790. Subjects moving through, or gone. Some abstract eg Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) created some of earliest non-objective paintings with his Iridescent Interpretations series 1912. Boccioni’s work more naturalistic eg. The city rises, 1910. The aims of the movement fully realised in his sculpture, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913. The construction of the action of the body ‘pure plastic rhythm’. P791. Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918), The Horse 1914 bronze cast of a mechanized/abstract but recognisable form.

Abstract/non-objective art implicated by Cubism (resisted by Picasso/Braque). ‘absolutely self-sufficient entity of value entirely in and for itself’ p793 Ideologically different from Kandinsky. Incorporated maths & ideal harmony between humans/environment.

Russian abstract movement lead by Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964) & Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962) in 1912/13 called Rayonism by Larionov because their works resembled rays of lights p794

Constructivist movement formed by Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935) during/after Revolution.  Notable painter Liubov Serbeevna Popova (1889-1924). Although deeply Christian, Malevich interested as Kandinsky in theosophical speculation. His style ‘Cubo-Futuristic’ developed into totally abstract ‘Suprematism’, elemental visual forms, which convey the supremacy of idea over matter, over the chaos of nature’ p794 which ended in 1922. Progression of mathematical shapes & simple colours.

The 1917 Dutch De Stijl (the style) abstract group, led by painters Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931) & architect Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud (1890-1963) wanted to develop ‘abstraction towards its ultimate goal’ p795. Used Cubist ochre/grey colours but more spiritual form of art with close textured, dynamic compositions, high minded ideals of absolute purity, harmony & sobriety. Impossible to detect subject but based on nature.

American architecture grew in prominence with Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959). Extended Sullivans ‘form follows function’, applied to affinities of man & nature with ‘organic architecture’ suggestive of Cubism. Buildings in harmony with their environment eg ground-hugging prairie houses with free forms interiors & bespoke furnishings, ‘Robie House, Chicago, 1907-9’ p796.

In Germany, Adolf Meyer (1881-1929) and Walter Gropius (1883-1969) pre-empted the post-war International Style of architecture with their Fagus Shoe Factory, 1911-1914, ‘glass curtain-walling, flat roof without cornice, an unrelieved cubic block’ p797.

Inside and outside influences

Freud’s theories had a profound effect on artists & intellectual thought. Transformed attitudes & values. Engendered Primitivism, ‘myth of the primitive ‘ (ref Gauguin, section 4), influence of primitive arts of naive, folk art & children, especially African & Oceanic area art (seen in anthropological & ethnographical museums & fetishes in junk shops) on many Fauve/Expressionists/Cubists. Picasso found African art a creative revelation & liberating energy p771 He was influenced by Matisse & Iberian sculpture, el greco, symbolism & rejection of refinement (of his contemporary Monet). Said ‘around 1906 Cezanne’s influence flooded everything ‘ p771 (with his large figure compositions, a final attempt at classical tradition).

Art Nouveau & classical pastoral tradition influenced Matisse’s The joy of life & early Kandinsky/Gabriele Munter (1877-1962).

Rouault inspired by religion & van Gogh.

German Expressionists influenced by Nietzsche & Munch.

Abstract art originates in theories of Romantics, music & colour. Anti-materialist Kandinsky influenced by occult & theosophical ‘thought forms’ & Steiner lectures. Franz Marc inspired by Futurist & Orphic art.

Cubism influenced abstract movements such as Orphism, De Stijl, Constructivism etc.

Futurism influenced by fast paced modern life/technology, Cubists, Expressionists & multiple exposure photographic studies of movement.

Joseph Stella, American, born Italy, 1877–1946
Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras
1913–14, Oil on canvas
195.6 x 215.3 cm,
Gift of Collection Société Anonyme, Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

Futurism influenced all subsequent contemporary artistic movements (including synthetic Cubism & Duchamp brothers). It’s exuberant optimism inspired Battle of Lights, Coney Island, 1913 by Joseph Stella example in US. P791. Also, Romanian sculptor Constantin Bruncusi (1876-1957) who’s main influences of native folk art/‘primitive’ African art were completely at odds eg The prodigal son, 1915 (hand-made/organic quality hated by Futurists) & Bird in Space, 1928 (eloquently embodies futurism).

Rayonists inspired Constructivists.

De Stijl influenced by Calvinist background.

Malevich’s lofty ideas influenced Vladimir Tain, El Lissitzky & Alexander Rodchenko in post-Russia Revolutionary period.

Critics, thinkers and historians

Philosopher Henry Bergson (1859-1941), Creative Evolution, 1907, also, Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) parallels between artistic innovations & philosophy.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) ‘interpretation of dreams ‘, 1900, involved theories of the subconscious, including sexual urge & understanding instinctual side of human nature with emphasis on emotion and sensations being more important than rational thought.

Writer Andre Gidethe time for gentleness and dilettantism is past.  What are needed now are barbarians’ p769.

Poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) wrote about Rousseau.

Art historian Elie Faure described Fauves as young ‘primitives’ in exhibition catalogue. p774

Matisse’s Notes of a Painter, 1908, widely read, immediately translated into Russian & German.

Polemical French Catholic writers, Leon Bloy, Charles Peguy & Jacques Maritain friends & admirers of Rouault

Influential Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) inspired generation of writers/artists with oppressive pre-war foreboding eg novelist Franz Kafka (1883-1945).

The term ‘Expressionist’ coined in 1911, with regard to Matisse & Van Gogh at 1st, by writer Wilhelm Worringer (1881-1965) who published ‘Form in Gothic’ & ‘Abstraction and Empathy’ (1908, abstract art & need to withdraw from material world).

Critic Roger Fry wrote about Kandinsky in 1913, ‘Pure visual music‘ p778. French philosopher Bergson, ‘importance of the intuitive in the apprehension of truth’ p779 . Pioneer Gestalt psychologists asserted that shape/size/colour /spatial orientation etc produce certain perception, meanings inherent in forms/colours despite context. Kandinsky’s book ‘concerning the spiritual in art’. Abstract art as ‘inner-necessity’ not meaningless decoration. Occult/ theosophical theorist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) taught that artistic experiences & art were best stimulants for understanding spiritual matters.

Artists Albert Gleizes (1881-1953) & Jean Metzinger (1883-1956) wrote book, Du Cubisme . Georges Braque, Aphorisms on art published 1917, emphasised the autonomy of cubism. Picasso’s only recorded discussion on Cubism 1923 with critic Marius de Zayas, he was sceptical of intellectualising it, should be judged on results not intentions.

Critic/poet/writer/close friend of Picasso, Apollinaire spoke of Orphic Cubism as ‘pure painting’ in 1912 p789.

Italian poet Emilio Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) launched Futurism ideology, Milan 1908, manifesto published Paris 1909. Taken up by Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), further manifestos, on painting, 1910, ‘universal dynamism must be rendered as dynamic sensations; movement & light destroy the substance of objects’ p769, and sculpture, 1912.

Austrian architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933), ‘Ornament and Crime’, 1908 gospel of modern movement in architecture.

Reflection:

The course notes bid us reflect upon the proliferation of -isms, and the usefulness or otherwise of categorising art history into a series of styles of movements. In this first of the three chapters there was not as many -isms as I was expecting. Yes I think these -isms are more than a useful shorthand to facilitate art historical discussion, for example, Cubism was seen at the time as a school, the artists involved were in a circle of likeminded artists pushing the boundaries of art. They exhibited in the Saloons together, they got criticised as a group. Many movements (not all) were like this, a ‘scene’ at the time, and of course also useful for us looking back.

The main thrust of this chapter is the radical changes in such a few short years. Newness across the spectrum of art, literature, music, philosophy & science. In art, each ism moved it that little bit closer to the complete break with traditions of Cubisms new pictoral language and revolution in sculpture of open form. And the post war optmism of Futurism.

References:
Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing

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