Title version 2.png
Industry insights

Paving the way to Modernism

The 7 faces of Modern art From Gauguin to Rothko

Read time: 7 minutes

insights x eporta

Like most of the world, the course of art was altered in the seismic cultural changes at the turn of the 20th Century. This period now known as modernism led artists to explore newfound imagery, materials and techniques which accurately mirrored the change in contemporary societies views and newly discovered industrialised reality.

The terms ‘Modernism’ and ‘Modern Art’ are generally used to describe the progression of art movements from the realism of Gustave Courbet, culminating in the arrival of abstract art in the 1960s. Although various styles are encompassed by the term, there are certain underlying principles that defined modernist art: a rejection of history and conservative values (such as the realistic portrayal of subjects); innovation and experimentation with form (shape, colour and line). The period saw a tendency to abstraction with an emphasis on materials, techniques and processes.

This article charts the progression of 7 key patrons of the various art movements within this modernist time period and where their relentless search for the new ultimately led to unconventional ways of making art.

Paul Gauguin

Harvest: Le Pouldu, 1980. By Paul Gauguin.
Harvest: Le Pouldu, 1980. By Paul Gauguin.

Gauguin painted this harvest scene whilst staying at Le Pouldu in Cap Finistère, Brittany. It wasn't actually until 1920 that he moved to Le Pouldu in search of an even simpler way of life. By this time, he had abandoned his early Impressionist manner, influenced instead by folk and primitive art. He began to use flat areas of colour and a distorted perspective in his paintings where the landscape and life of the peasant community inspired some of the most rugged and radically simplified works of his career. Opposed to just painting what he saw, his new work expressed emotion, simpler forms and more colour, which in turn contributed to the rise of post-impressionism. George Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse were all a part of this movement - although their work was not visibly similar, their approach to painting was.

Henri Matisse

La Danse, 1910. By Henri Matisse.
La Danse, 1910. By Henri Matisse.

Classified once as the father of Fauvism, Matisse moved across mediums throughout his career, constantly challenging the conventional. His use of colour and light has made him one of the most important painters of the 20th century. La Danse is an iconic study of movement – the bestial and joyful is caught here in a Dionysian ritual of music and pleasure. Stylistically, the painting references 'primitive art', and reflects the young artist’s interest in the primal and barbaric. Prioritising expression overrepresentation was a bold and avant-garde move in 1910. Matisse’s most significant commission, he completed the vast painting for millionaire Sergei Shulkin’s Moscow palace. This is a clear example of Matisse breaking with traditional methods of perception.

Bottle and Fishes, 1910-12. By Georges Braque.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907. By Pablo Picasso.
Bottle and Fishes, 1910-12. By Georges Braque.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907. By Pablo Picasso.

The early 1900s brought about Cubism, which saw artists such as Picasso and George Braque rejected the traditional conventions of perspective and representation by reinventing their subjects in fragmented compositions. Pieces such as Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon took this one step further by depicting five female prostitutes in a menacing way, two of which adorned primitive African mask features, this shows a drastic move away from traditional idealised representations of female beauty.

Claude Monet

Water-Lillie, 1916. By Claude Monet.
Water-Lillie, 1916. By Claude Monet.

In the 1890s, Monet developed a Japanese-style water-garden around the pond at his home in Giverny, north-west of Paris. The garden became an outside studio for the artist, and the water-lilies floating on the surface of the pond became the principal motif of his later paintings. In an attempt to capture the ever-changing qualities of natural light and colour filling the canvas, one can already get a sense of a verge towards abstraction with the abolishment of both distance and perspective.

Pablo Picasso

Women with Yellow Hair, 1931. By Pablo Picasso.
Women with Yellow Hair, 1931. By Pablo Picasso.

Probably the most influential artist of the 20th century, this Master of Modern painting produced roughly 50,000 works of art ranging from painting, sculpture to ceramics and drawings. He changed his practice constantly, asking viewers and critics alike to question the idea of traditional genres. Woman with Yellow Hair was one of many paintings of his muse Marie-Therese Walter. Despite their vast age gap and the fact Picasso was married, they embarked on an intense love affair, much of which Picasso documented through his paintings. This piece, however, shows a radical departure from his earlier portrayals of women. After his experimentation with Cubism, Picasso’s simplification of Marie-Therese’s voluptuous figure into primary shapes along with his use of bold hues can be associated with the arrival of Surrealism.

Salvador Dali

Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937. By Salvador Dali.
Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937. By Salvador Dali.

Salvador Dali was a prominent surrealist painter born in Catalonia, Spain. He was an exceptional draughtsman, highly imaginative and eccentric. The Metamorphosis of Narcissus is Dali’s interpretation of the Greek myth ‘Narcissus’. His meticulous technique, which he described as ‘hand‐painted colour photography’ was used to depict the hallucinatory effect of the transformation of Narcissus. The Surrealist movement, which began in the 1920s with both writers and artists, aimed to expose the unconscious and combine it with rational life. Once again, a distinct break away from the approaches in representing conventional life.

Jackson Pollock

Yellow Islands, 1952. By Jackson Pollock.
Yellow Islands, 1952. By Jackson Pollock.

The 1950s saw the rise of the abstract expressionists in America. This larger than life Jackson Pollock painting pioneered the arrival of action painting, a rigorous method of dripping paint onto a canvas laid out on the floor. The paint was dripped by hand onto a roll of commercial cotton canvas, a process employed by Pollock for many years. Pollock along with Mark Rothko and William de Kooning developed a new approach to painting characterised by their gestural mark- making and the presence of spontaneity. This pioneering approach to painting was generously supported by the most influential art critic of the twentieth century, Clement Greenberg, who lauded the importance of the formal properties of art, such as colour, line and space over subject and meaning.

Mark Rothko

No.46 (Black, Ochre, Red Over Red), 1957. By Mark Rothko.
No.46 (Black, Ochre, Red Over Red), 1957. By Mark Rothko.

One of Rothko’s seminal multi-form paintings, No. 46 is the epitome of American abstract expressionism. It’s sheer scale, application of colour and pictorial depth is almost hypnotic, built up by layering pigments on the surface creating a glowing inner light. Over time these symmetrical rectangular blocks became known as his ‘multiforms’ and developed into his signature style of painting. According to Rothko, if a viewer was only moved by the colour relationships in the works then one has missed the point of them entirely, claiming his sole intention was to express basic human emotions such as tragedy, ecstasy and doom through his use and application of colour.

Tell me more about Scarlett Colicci and Project on Walls

Scarlett Colicci.jpg

Intended to bridge the gap between the worlds of art and interior design, Projects On Walls is a fine art sourcing, curating and advisory platform for both residential and commercial interiors. Whether we are composing a single feature wall for a client’s home, or sourcing works for an entire hotel scheme, at the heart of what we do is a belief that every interior should feature art that truly enhances it.

Founded by Scarlett Colicci, (née Bowman) a visual artist herself, who completed an MA in Fine Art at the Chelsea College of Art. Through her relationships with established galleries, independent studios and artists themselves, Scarlett sources unique pieces of art for her clients. From emerging contemporary art to antique maps, sculpture, textiles, works on paper and everything in between.

Selected clients include; The Pulitzer Hotel, The Mondrian Hotel, Elicyon, Barlow & Barlow, Article Design Studio, Kitesgrove, Anna Hewitson Design and Louisa Penn Interiors.

With over 4,000 original paintings, and prints available to source on eporta, start discovering today.

More from Industry insights
Modernism Thumbnail.jpg
Industry insights
The Fundamentals of Modernist Design
thumbnail tiffany.jpg
Industry insights
5 Lessons We Can Learn From Scandinavian Design
Ibride stand at Maison&Objet 2019, the full spectrum of orange.
Industry insights
Eight takeaways from Maison&Objet 2019
More epic reads
Mizzi Thumbnail.png
Interviews
Green spaces should be out of this world
Sn Thumbnail.jpg
Edits
Supplier Spotlight: Girl Power
Thumbnail Sean Connolly.png
Interviews
An Australian Architectural Dream- with Jeremy Bull