Essential Reading WHA: Between the Two World Wars

Political, economic or social factors

Western civilisation never recovered from WWI, ending long period of progress/prosperity & cutting short creative genius of late 19th/20thC. Artist were less innovative/adventurous. Paris still centre of haute couture/arts but lost influence in other cultural/scientific fields p799. In post-WW1 Germany, belief artists could help new social conditions, The Bauhaus, launched 1919 by Walter Gropius, centre of this aspiration in Europe.

Russian Revolution, 1917. Revolutionary exiles, artists & intellectuals flocked to wartime Switzerland or US (before it joined war in 1917). After the revolution, avant-garde art flourished in Russia, supported by officials such as Lunacharsky & Trotsky. Constructivism short lived once Lenin’s New Economic Policy introduced in 1921 & artists left Russia, by 1932 artistic groupings suppressed.

Dada/Surrealist movements political implications for new artistic/intellectual/social order by mocking current culture eg Max Ernst (1891-1976) entrance to 1920 exhibition thru toilet. Surrealists had connections to political revolution including Communism. Meanwhile Braque/Matisse celebrated bourgeois values eg The moorish screen, 1921/2.

Henri Matisse – The Moorish Screen, 1921
Oil on canvas, 1921, 91.9 x 74.3 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Bequest of Lisa Norris Elkins, 1950
© Succession H. Matisse, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Communist Diego Rivera (1866-1957) played key role in ‘cultural relations between North and South America’ p805. Most relevant artist in hotly debated indigenous/national vs international styles between fascists & communists in Europe & US. He & Freda joined Mexican national movement after end of 10yr Mexican civil war. Gov wanted public art for masses. Then commissions from millionaire capitalists in US. Eg Rockefella, JPMorgan, Ford, San Francisco stock exchange. Had spent a yr in communist USSR (established 1923). Hoped to spread communist ideals in US during Great Depression (caused by Wall Street Crash 1929), Rockefella work rejected when he refused to remove Lenin. Both Trotsky & Breton stayed with Riveras, collaborating on 1938 anti-Stalinist manifesto.

Spanish civil war, 1936. Then nazi bomber took out town of Guernica in ‘37, eg Picasso commemoration, dying horse of bullfighting paintings now universal tragic protagonist & surrealist minotaur, irrational forces of man/nature, wounded limbs/agonised heads based on impact of events, modern work could be understood by all.

Pablo Picasso – Guernica, 1937 (May 1st-June 4th, Paris)
Oil on canvas, 349,3 x 776,6 cm
© Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

WWII, 1939, Surrealists fled to New York, carried on exhibiting & sewing ‘the seeds of postwar American movements, notably Abstract Expressionism’ P813 Dadaist John Heartfield/Helmut Herzfeld (1891-1968) used photomontage to express chaos of capitalist society & later, anti-Nazi exhibition,One Man’s War Against Hitler, London, 1939 eg A pan-German, 1933,p818. Works make stronger point than hand drawn because they are photographic, falsified reality, so photomontages taken up by Nazi propaganda/ads.

John Heartfield – A pan-German, 1933, Photomontage

Photographs of abject poverty of Depression turned into ‘object of enjoyment’, p817 US official farm security administration documented evicted sharecroppers to justify gov spending, photographer such as Walker Evans (1903-75), Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) & Roy E. Stryker (1893-1976), powerfully shocking with ‘clear, hideous & beautiful detail’ wrote poet Lincoln Kirstein in 1938 P817. Eg Lange’s Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936. Photographer Margaret Bourke-White (1904-71) & novelist Erskine Caldwell documented rural social reality of southern states for city dwellers in book You have seen their faces, 1937

Dorothea Lange – Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936, Photograph
Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California, © Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540

Changes to status or training of artists

Rivera established reputation with gigantic Mexico city murals (1600m^2) in 1923-1928, then rich US patrons. No movement gave women prominence like Surrealism, Meret Oppenheim & Frida Kahlo (1907-54) ‘discovered’. Although roles defined in masculine Freudian terms, as projection of male needs/desires. Freda painted self-portraits (exploration of her body/cultural & sexual identity), rejected being labelled surrealist to retain independence of vision & identity. Her marriage to Rivera subordinated her as seen in The Two Fridas, 1939, painted during her divorce, p812.

Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas), 1939, oil on canvas, 67-11/16 x 67-11/16 inches (Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City)

Photography still regarded as inferior art to even etching, pictures taken by millions of amateurs. During war years photographers joined pictorial avant-garde. Photographer/gallery director Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) founded Photographic Secession, 1902 in NY, introducing artistic ideas from Europe expressed by photography. Exhibited many artists eg Picasso/Duchamp/Georgia O’Keeffe (who he married 1924). The Bauhaus influential teaching institution.

Development of materials and processes

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1999

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) ready-mades, everyday commercial objects ‘selected’ as art. Eg Fountain, 1917. Automatism experiments (sticking down fallen torn paper) by Dadaists Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943)/Jean(Hans) Arp(1887-1966) made beautiful papiers colles. Surrealists used automatism techniques to release the mind from ‘conscious control so that images from the subconscious could float to the surface’ p809. Max Ernst developed the visual equivalent, frottage (rubbings on surfaces). Rene Magritte (1898-1967) used banal technique of poster design to challenge assumptions about art in truly disruptive way p811.

Dada/Surrealists combined junk & scrap metal to make sculpture eg Picasso’s Head of a Bull, made from bits of bike. Iron introduced to studio caused 2nd sculptural revolution when Picasso moved from closed to open form works, welded around empty space when he collaborated with metalworker Julio Gonzalez (1876-1942). Picasso’s parts were still recognisable but Gonzalez completely reworked items into constant state of flux as viewer moves. Eg Woman combing her hair II, 1934. This extended further by Alexander Calder (1898-1976), who invented mobiles/stabiles & David Smith (1906-65) inventor of ‘space forms’ p814

Sheeler pioneered sharp-focus in photography. Technical developments of sharpness/instantaneous vision out of phase with other arts. 1917, Alvin Langdon Court (1882-1966) invented Vortographs (made by a kaleidoscope type device). Dadaist Man Ray invented photograms (unique camera-less photos) by placing objects on light sensitive paper & lighting it, ‘images of strange ambiguity, concrete & abstract at the same time’ p816. 12 published as Les Champs delicieuses (Delectable fields), 1922, see online here. Hannah Hoch (1889-1979) & Heartfield extended collages with photography into Photomontage.

Constantin Brancusi. Bird in Space. 1928. Bronze, 54 x 8 1/2 x 6 1/2″ (137.2 x 21.6 x 16.5 cm). Given anonymously. © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Architect Mart Sam (1899-1986) introduced cantilever principle 1924 & Marcel Breuer (1902-81), evolved 1st chromium plated chairs at the Bauhaus 1925 but der van Rohe chairs with poise & immaculate finish (hand crafted to look machine made) regarded as statement of revolutionary Bauhaus design. Unlike most sculptors, Brancusi made everything by hand but so that they look machine made, constant refining work eg 15 versions of Bird in space, 1923+. Conveys dreams of flight. Likewise, Henry Moore (1898-1986) tactile with wide variety of materials, which suggest both form & subjects eg two forms, 1934,vulnerability/protection/mother/child. Eventually over reliance on size for impact & Conservative sensibility lead to decline of post WW2 work.

Henry Moore – Two Forms, 1934 , Pynkado wood , 27.9 x 54.6 x 30.8 cm including oak base, Credit Sir Michael Sadler Fund

Styles and movements

Relaxed tension reflected in post war style of Braque/Matisse/Picasso, colour/texture/handling/subjects refined by ‘good taste’/bourgeois comfort p798 Picasso painted in multiple styles at once. Matisse ‘achieved art of balance, of purity & serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter’ p802. ‘Nabis’ (prophets) Symbolist group of painters throughout 20s & 30s including Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Jean Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) & Paul Serusier (1864-1927), painted intimiste works, scenes of ‘provincial domesticity’ p802. Private/pleasure loving French ideal, extension of impressionist style with soft natural colours. Picasso thought them old-hat. Meanwhile, Dada launched from Swiss cabaret, 1916, ‘state of mind’ rather than movement. ‘anarchic, nihilistic & disruptive‘ they mocked traditional values/good taste/anything taken seriously/’art’. Dada nonsense word. Cult of non-art negated itself. Mostly writers/poets in Zurich. Anarchist Marcel Duchamp caused scandal with his futurist Cubism Nude Descending a staircase, 1912 but his Dadaist ready-mades represent total rejection of artistic canon. He & Francis Picabia (1879-1953) formed NY wartime group. Picabia’s simplified drawings of mechanical forms paralleled Duchamp’s insoluble enigma The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even/Large Glass, 1915-23. Only completed by being accidentally broken in transit in 1927.

Marcel Duchamp – The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1923, Oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, and dust on two glass panels, 277.5 × 177.8 × 8.6 cm, © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Succession Marcel Duchamp

It’s successor, Surrealism continued provocative gestures eg visitors to an exhibition were handed an axe to destroy the work. Lead by poet/theorist Breton with the aim of exploring Freud’s ideas of subconscious, mixing dreams & reality to create surreality, Freudianism, . He called Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) ‘the supreme surrealist painter’. He denied authorship of his 1911-19 work of disturbing desolate Italian piazzas when praised, made inferior copies to confuse, going onto contrived academic styles which embarrassed the Surrealists. Very odd. 1925, 1st surrealist exhibition included them all except Dali/Magritte who joined later. Ernst recorded dreams (‘trompe l’oeil fixing’) in his collage novel series Les Femmes 100 tetes, 1929, 149 collage images p810. Salvador Dali (1904-89) made ‘hand-painted dream photographs’ eg The Persistence of Memory, 1931.

Salvador Dalí – The Persistence of Memory, 1931. Oil on canvas, 24.1 x 33 cm, © 2017 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Time stops in dreams/Freud’s unconscious, so watches are limp & decomposing. Aimed for constant state of confusion however cynical self-promotion lead to Breton kicking him out. Magritte used ambiguous titles, reality challenges in works without meaning eg Le viol. Joan Miro (1893-1983) went from style to style (Fauvism/Cubism/Dada/Surrealism), semi-abstract childlike innocence from psychic automatism, darker ‘biomorphic’ forms in later works. Open form sculpture Picasso/Gonzalez lead to Calder’s abstract kinetic sculpture eg lobster trap and fishtail, 1939 & Smith’s iron/steel ‘drawings in space’ p815.

Alexander Calder – Lobster Trap and Fish Tail, 1939 , Painted steel wire and sheet aluminum , 260 cm x 290 cm in diameter , Credit: Commissioned by the Advisory Committee for the stairwell of the Museum, © 2017 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Style of Edward Hopper (1883-1967) & Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) hard to place, perhaps Realist but refused classification/association with any Realist American groups including American Scene Painters/Regionalist painters eg Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), Grant Wood (1891-1942) & John Steuart Curry (1897-1946) who embraced ‘jingoistic form of American artistic isolationism’ p804, they turned to conservative Midwestern agricultural values whilst Hopper depicted lonely urban New York during the Depression. Sheeler also city loving, photographer/painter/filmmaker, specialising in sharp focus, daring perspectives of architectural subjects turned into Precisionism style where strict geometry & technology combined mirroring modern America. Landscapes man made but unpopulated. Mexican Muralists, Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco & David Alfaro Siqueiros – leaders of Mexican art. Rivera’s style v political, combined mechanical shapes with faces/bodies of peasants. Later work less political more secular.

Stieglitz photography was traditional except clouds, Equivalents, 1927, similarly Edward Weston (1886-1958), sharply focused plants/fruit/abstract body parts. Dadaist photographic approach entirely different, Man Ray (Emanuel Rudnitsky, 1890-1976), ‘photographed the dust gathering on Duchamp’s Large Glass’ p816 & making photograms. US homeless photography (see above). French Street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) caught vagaries of human behaviour as impartial observer. Eg Brussels, 1932 p818.

Henri Cartier-Bresson – Brussels, 1932, printed later, photograph, gelatin silver print, 24.29 cm x 36.35 cm, Credit: Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Mr and Mrs Frank Spadarella, © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Saif, Paris / VAGA, New York
Vladimir Tatlin – Monument to the Third International, 1919/20

Constructivism, short-lived progressive movement in Russia whose Marxist spirit was anti-aesthetic, utilitarian simplicity & respect for logic of materials P819, led by architects/sculptors/designers, El (Eleazer Markevich) Lissitzky (1890-41) & Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953), who made completely abstract assemblages, turning architectural later. Unrealised design of Monument to the 3rd International, 1919/20 became symbol of revolutionary modernism p819. Most influential work in architecture/typography/publicity/exhibition design. Lissitzky’s Prouns (for the new art) paintings are architectural style, isometric projection/abstract. Photomontages by Alexander Mikhailovich Rodchenko (1891-1956) visually expressed Revolution,in ‘40s, his paintings evolved into abstract-expressionist style, anticipating Pollock. Constructivism officially suppressed in favour of revival of various architectural styles & Socialist Realism banality of Russian Official style. The Bauhaus in Germany provided a melting pot for arts/crafts & fine arts to unify. Distinguished artists such as Kandinsky, Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg & Paul Klee (1870-1940) joined/visited to lecture. Gropius aim was for artists & architects to work together. Craft products gave way to machine aesthetic/prototypes for mass production Eg Marcel Breuer’s tubular Steel chair. 1925, Bauhaus moved to new building whose unadorned pleasing, cubic, asymmetrical design of glazed walls supported by steel & concrete skeleton, feeling of openness/weightlessness and minimal white strips became International Style for 50yrs, Eg Schroder House, Utrecht, 1924 by De Stijl architect Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (1888-1964). Befo

Paul Klee – Sunset, 1930, Oil on canvas, 46.1 x 70.5 cm, Signed, l.l.: “Klee”, Gift of Mary and Leigh Block, 1981.13, © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

re WW2, Gropius & other teachers moved to US to teach, & others to Israel to build ‘White City’. Klee’s work was small scale & intellectual, based on elemental symbols/essentials of form. Eg Sunset, 209,1930. Piet Mondrian resigned from De Stijl 1924 over a principle. Wouldn’t allow diagonals! Totally abstract ambiguous works, primary/b&w colours, foreground plane with lines and rectangles to create ‘an art of pure relations’ with ‘life giving tension’ p823 eg Fox Trot A, 1929/30.

Piet Mondrian – Fox Trot A, 1930, Oil on canvas
78.2 x 78.3 cm, Gift of the artist for the Collection Société Anonyme, Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery, © 2012 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA, Washington, DC

Similar straightforwardness marks work of 2 leading architects, Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeaneret (1887-1965)) & Ludwig Mies van de Rohe (1886-1969), ‘30s director of Bauhaus. Eg Villa Savoye, 1928/30 & single-family House project for Berlin, 1931 p825. Similar ambivalence in work of sculptor Brancusi at this time, approached ideal absolute form from mystic/spiritual/subjective pov. Paralleled with International style, Art Deco streamlined designs in 20s/30s, but exuberant vitality of popular cultural. Forward looking urban planning, of Le Corbusier, marginalised (skyscrapers in parkland, complex traffic systems etc). Notable in NY: Chrysler building/Rockefella centre 14 building/3 blocks coordinated as unit.

Inside and outside influences

WWI great influence on all artists. Cubism impacted Western Art as radically as Renaissance naturalistic style did. Rivera spent time with Picasso but was unaffected by Cubist aesthetic other than love of geometry. Heavily influenced by Italian Renaissance frescoes & Pre-Columbian sculptures. Spanish Civil War influence on works of artists such as Miro & Picasso eg Head of a Woman, 1938 & Guernica 1937. Moore rejected traditional sculpture for vitally/vigour from Mexican/Sumerian/non-European sculpture. Nabis group foreshadowed later developments. Hopper, similar spirit to urban scenes as German Expressionists, with their hysteria, mostly influenced by Manet/19thc French art and living thru Great Depression. Klee influenced by German Romantic philosophy, psychology (Freud/Jung), art of children, German expressionists. Matisse still great influence on many artists. Dadaists/Surrealists grudgingly admitted beauty of Matisse work but ‘deplored his influence & everything he stood for’p802 Duchamp’s influential Large Glass, became a talisman for artists for compelling active viewer participation p801. Dada a protest against the purely visual. Surrealism directly influenced by Freud, Breton also named Trotsky & obscure author Comte de Lautramont (Isadore Ducasse) from whose sadistic prose they got their motto ‘as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella’ p809 and various other writers. Freud’s symbolism eg phallic noses/fetishist hair, in many works by Dali/Magritte et al, eg Luncheon in Fur, object, 1936 by Meret Oppenheim (1913-85). Calder influenced by Constructivist/Surrealist theory & Miro. Smith influenced by Picasso/Gonzalez. Picasso influenced Vladimir Tatlin. Photography continued to influence artists eg Giacomo Balla & Marcel Duchamp. Cartier-Bresson influenced by Surrealists, Symbolists, Freud & Marx. Gropius influenced by Lloyd Wright, Viennese Sezession group, Werkstatte, William Morris, English arts/crafts movement, Expressionism, De Stijl, Lissitzky & left-wing politics. Bauhaus influential teaching institution. Established architects Auguste Perret & Edwin Lutyens influenced by reductionist trends of Mondrian/Bauhaus

Critics, thinkers and historians

Lenin writes from his Swiss exile, 1917. Poet Tristan Tzara (1886-1963) lead Zurich Dada movement. Critic Clement Greenbergdebacle of age of experiment’ p803, questioned logical sequence of styles, early falloff of Cubist generation but constancy of Matisse (‘greatest master of 20thc’, p803) & late impressionists such as Bonnard in his 1948 article. Poet/artist/film-maker/playwright Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) promoted post-war call to order.Poet Andre Breton (1896-1966) wrote first (mostly literary) Surrealist Manifesto, Paris, 1924 (& book What is Surrealism, 1934). Surrealists issued a 1925 Declaration headed by Communist poet Louis Aragon (1897-1982), ‘we are determined to make a revolution’ p809. Dali detailed his creative Paranoiac-critical method in book La Femme Visible, 1930. Simone de Beauvoir, author of The Second Sex. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925.German writer Walter Benjamin praised Heartfield 1938, p817. He ‘applied a critically analytical intelligence to photography’ p815, A Small History of Photography 1931. Poet Lincoln Kirstein wrote about photography in 1938



Again found the reading wasn’t really chronological, several aspects going on concurrently so to fit the notes into the reading template I had to chop and change and rearrange. I suppose this was good because it highlighted that it was all going on simultaneously but it made the note taking less smooth than previous chapters. Its still in longish format that will have to be chopped down even futher to get to the page limit of the assignment but I needed at least this much to remember/understand the sailent points. I think students probably worry more about the word limit than really understanding what they’ve read!

Really enjoyed finding the pictures online to illustrate my notes. I think it would be me to do that for the older Assignment notes too. I’m a visual memory person, all the text floats in one eye and out the other but the images stick. Also found this interesting post on how Constantin Brancusi went to court to prove his Bird in space was art so he didnt have to pay taxes on it when it was designated a kitchen utensil!



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


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