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The Early Twentieth Century: Picasso, Fauvism, Expressionism, and Matisse
Culture and Context
  • New techniques for making art were developed, especially in the second half of the century.
  • The very idea of “newness” became one of the tenets of modernism.
  •  The so-called avant-garde (literally the “vanguard,” or leaders, of artistic change) became a prominent force in Western art.
Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse
  • In painting, two figures dominated the first half of the twentieth century: the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) and the French artist Henri Matisse (1869–1954).
  • Picasso and Matisse began their careers in the nineteenth century under the influence of Impressionism, Post- Impressionism, and Symbolism.
  • Matisse began and ended as a colorist, with important evolutions along the way. Picasso, on the other hand, shifted from one style to another, often working in more than one mode at the same time.
  • His first individual style was actually Symbolist; it is referred to as his "Blue Period".
Symbolism: Picasso's Blue Period
  • The subjects of Picasso’s Blue Period, which lasted from approximately 1901 to 1904, were primarily the poor and unfortunate.
  • The predominance of blue as the mood creating element reflects the liberation of color that had been effected by nineteenth-century Post-Impressionism.
  • Picasso emphasizes the somber quality of The Old Guitarist with the all-pervasive blue color and the shimmering silver light.
Fauvism: Matisse in 1905-6
  • Forms were built purely from color, and vigorous patterns and unusual color combinations created startling effects. To a large extent, the works were derived from Gauguin’s Symbolist use of color.
  • Although there was plenty of “line” in Fauve painting, it was the brilliant, nonnaturalistic color and emotional exuberance that struck viewers.
  • The leading Fauve artist in France was Henri Matisse. Matisse was born in northern France.
  • His Woman with the Hat (a portrait of his wife) of 1905 is a construction in color—a concept that Matisse had learned from Cézanne.
  • Variations on these colors recur in the face, creating a chromatic unity between figure and background.
  • Matisse’s Joy of Life shows his use of Fauve color to create a mood of exuberant, creative eroticism.
  • The “non-realistic” colors, especially the warm reds, yellows, and oranges, are as uninhibited as the figures.
  • In Germany, the artists most interested in the expressive possibilities of color—as derived from Post-Impressionism— were called Expressionists.
  • Expressionism, like Fauvism, used color to create mood and emotion but differed from Fauvism in its greater concern for the emotional and spiritual properties of color and form.
  • Expressionists were also less concerned than the Fauves with the formal and structural composition of color.
The Bridge (Die Brucke)
  • The name was inspired by the artists’ intention to create a “bridge,” or link, between their own art and modern revolutionary ideas, and between tradition and the avant-garde.
  • The artists of The Bridge modernized both the spiritual abstraction of medieval art and the geometric aesthetic of African and Oceanic art by integrating them with the mechanical forms of the city.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
  • The most important founding artist of The Bridge was Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
  • The Street of 1907 combines exuberant Expressionist color with undulating forms reminiscent of Munch.
  • Like Matisse’s Joy of Life, The Street has a dreamlike quality created by unusual color and curvilinear, undulating forms.
Emile Nolde
  • Another artist associated with German Expressionism, Emil Nolde (1867–1956), spent only a year as a memberof The Bridge. 
  • His Still Life with Masks of 1911 shows his combination of bright color with thickly applied paint to achieve intense, dynamic effects.
  • Nolde’s non-Western imagery served to express qualities that were finally more in tune with Expressionism than with the cultural or artistic intentions of the non-Western art he studied.
The Blue Rider( Der Blaue Reiter)
  • Another German Expressionist group, more drawn to non -figurative abstraction than the members of The Bridge, was Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), established in Munich in 1911.
Vassily Kandinsky
  • The Russian artist Vassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) was among the first to eliminate recognizable objects from his paintings.
  • For Kandinsky, art was a matter of rhythmic lines, colors, and shapes, rather than narrative. Like Whistler, Kandinsky gave his works musical titles intended to express their abstract qualities.
  • In 1912 Kandinsky published Concerning the Spiritual in Art, in which he argued that music was intimately related to art.
  • Panel for Edwin R. Campbell No. 4 (formerly Painting Number 201, Winter) of 1914 was one of four in a series representing the seasons—this one being winter. In it Kandinsky creates a swirling, curvilinear motion, within which there are varied lines and shapes.
  • Later, in the 1920s, despite stylistic changes inspired by his association with the Moscow avant-garde, Kandinsky continued to pursue the notion of the spiritual in art. He did so by endowing delicate geometric shapes with a dynamic spatial tension. This is evident in Several Circles,
  • No. 323, in which translucent circles float in a swirling space.
Franz Marc
  • The other major Blue Rider artist was Franz Marc.
  • In contrast to Kandinsky, however, Marc did not entirely eliminate recognizable objects from his work, except in preliminary drawings made shortly before his premature death.
  • Marc’s Large Blue Horses of 1911 combines geometry with rich color. Like Gauguin’s “red dogs” and “pink skies”, Marc’s animals and their setting can be considered in the abstract terms of musical composition.
  • Marc shared Kandinsky’s spiritual attitude toward the formal qualities of painting, especially color.
  • Marc’s Small Yellow Horses of 1912 lacks the structural elements of The Large Blue Horses, and the horses seem to flow into the landscape.
  • The Blue Rider, in contrast to The Bridge, was international in scope and had a greater impact on Western art. In particular, Kandinsky’s nonfigurative imagery, which was among the first of its kind, was part of a revolutionary development that would remain an important current in twentieth-century art
Kathe Kollwitz
  • .Although Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945) was not a formal member of any artistic group, her Whetting the Scythe of 1904 conveys the direct emotional confrontation characteristic of Expressionism. Her harsh textures and preponderance of rich blacks enhance her typically depressive themes.
  • Although Kollwitz herself was financially comfortable, her imagery brings the viewer into contact with the emotional and material struggles of the working classes.
Matisse after Fauvism
  • Although Fauvism was short-lived, its impact, and that of Expressionism, laid the foundations of twentieth-century abstraction.
  • As Matisse developed, he was influenced by abstraction without embracing it completely. His sense of musical rhythm translated into line creates energetic, curvilinear biomorphic forms.
  • On the other hand, the shapes and spaces of Matisse that are determined primarily by color and only secondarily by line are more static and geometric.These two tendencies—fluid line and flat color—create a dynamic tension that persists throughout his career.
Harmony in Red
  • In Harmony in Red of 1908–9, Matisse goes beyond the thick, constructive brushstrokes and unusual color juxtapositions of his Fauve period.
  • Within the room, the sense of perspective has been minimized because the table and wall are of the same red. The demarcation between them is indicated not by a constructed illusion of space but by a dark outline and by the bright still-life arrangements on the surface of the table.
  • The landscape, visible through the open window, relieves the confined quality of the close-up interior view. It is related to the interior by the repetition of energetic black curves, which Matisse referred to as his " arabesques".
  • The title Harmony in Red evokes the musical abstraction of Matisse’s picture.
  • Matisse’s ability to harmonize these different formal modes within a static pictorial space represents a synthesis of three artistic currents: the Post-Impressionist liberation of color, the Symbolist creation of mood, and the twentieth-century trend toward abstraction.
Dance I
  • In Dance I of 1909, it is the figures, rather than the arabesques, that dance.
  • Although the blue and green background is composed of flat colors, Matisse creates a three-dimensional illusion in the dancers themselves.
  • During the last decade of his life, Matisse gave up painting, partly because of cancer. Instead, he grappled directly with the problem of creating a three-dimensional illusion from absolutely flat forms.
  • His cutout of Icarus of 1947, from the Jazz series, combines the Greek myth with modern style and technique.
  • There are thus two musical “movements” in this cutout—the slower curvilinear motion of Icarus and the rapid angular motion of the stars..