Art 101 - Art History

Foundational Movements

Abstract Expressionism
1946 - 1960
Mainly centered around New York City

Abstract Expressionism is the first non-European Western Art Movement and is generally considered to be the premier American Movement. The founders of the movement believed that the art of the past was limited in representation. Figurative art, drawn from concrete life could no longer express life, especially with the very vivid and recent history of the atomic bomb and the Second World War. Abstraction was necessary to depict the violence and terror of the modern day world. With Abstract Expressionist art, the artists’ expressions come from pure color and form, rather than from objects found in nature. This being the case, the representation of objects, if they are represented at all, is secondary in the work.

The movement is generally divided into two groups, Action and Color Field Painting.

Action Painting

Action Painting rejected social realism and geometric abstraction. Action Painters developed a new approach to painting. The painter used both his conscious and subconscious to create works of art. Violent colors and lines are a result of this art form being drawn from the Depression Era in New York.

The works of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning best describe Action Painting. Images such as Willem De Kooning’s Woman IV are created from the flow from the subconscious mind to the stroke of the brush. Jackson Pollock executed his works by pouring and splattering paint without applying the brush directly to the canvas. The canvas was laid out flat on the floor instead of on a conventional easel. Pollock used his whole body to paint the canvas, rather than just his hand. Action Painting wanted to express the action of making the artwork as the Art, rather than the painting itself.

Color Field Painting

Color Field Painting is the exploration of color fields on canvas. It is concerned with turning the work of the Action Painters into solid color hues. Color Field artists, such as Mark Rothko, subdued the violent and aggressive Action Painting. Often times the canvas was stained with a translucent acrylic color wash. Acrylic was used so that the paint could flow freely onto the canvas. This freedom of movement of paint on the canvas stems from the same idea as the paint flows used by the Action Painters.

American Scene Painting
United States of America

American Scene Painting attempted to define and create a style of art unique to the United States, as an answer to the styles emerging in Europe. American Scene Painting included the mainstream and popular painting styles during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Both the American Regionalism and Political Social Realism schools fell under this category and both were influenced by the Ash Can School. This style of painting was realistic and reasserted the traditional values of America whether by being politically critical and pushing for social reform, or by attempting to revive the ideal American dream during the depression years.

Edward Hopper's paintings reflect scenes of emptiness and solitude. He painted both country and city scenes and is known as an artist of the 'vernacular architecture' of the American scene. His work is full of vibrant colors yet his subject matter is full of deserted streets, lonely rural gas stations and usually portrays the feeling of abandonment. In Night Hawks, Hopper paints a 24-hour café with speechless customers, portraying as he does in so many of his works, a haunting sense of isolation.

Art Deco
1920 - 1930
Europe & United States of America

Art Deco was a decorative movement that arose in the 1920s and 1930s throughout Europe and the United States. The style became highly popular during the Great Depression, its luxurious overtones featured in the new and increasingly popular artform of cinema acted like an antidote to the austerity of depression time. The term Art Deco was coined after the design exhibition Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. Having begun in Paris, Art Deco quickly spread to the United States where it became dominant.

Like the Futurist Movement, Art Deco called for the celebration of technology, the machine, and living in the modern world. It drew graphic material from the art of ancient Greece, Rome, the Middle East, the Egyptians and even the Mayans. Art Deco called for distortion, abstraction and the reduction of the subject matter to simplified geometric shapes. In this regard, the preceeding Cubist and Suprematist movements heavily influenced Art Deco. The style is generally defined with clean lines, zig zags, vivid color and stylized floral motif decoration.

Art Deco was not limited to paintings and was applied to ceramics, glass, furniture, architecture, jewelry and clothing design.

Art Nouveau
1880 - 1914
Europe & United States of America

Art Nouveau is a highly decorative art style that developed in the 1880s and continued to be popular until World War 1. Curves, floral patterns and asymmetrical lines distinguish the style. Art Nouveau made its mark for the most part in interior decor, glasswork and jewelry. The style drew ornate details from Celtic and Oriental art. The themes of Art Nouveau were mostly symbolic of eroticism and fertility. The movement was cut short at the break of the First World War, but was revived in many ways in a similar style, Art Deco, following the war.

Many artists and decorators from around the globe favoured the ornate and intricate style of Art Nouveau. American Louis Comfort Tiffany began designing his collections in this period. René Lalique began jewelry design during the Art Nouveau period and continued later in life to make his glassware in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. Antonio-Gaudí made his mark in architecture in Spain at this time. Art Nouveau also included England's illustrator Audrey Beardsley and Austrian painter Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918).

Caption: In Klimt's Expectation there are predominant features of the Art Nouveau style. The repetitious patterns, ornate curving lines and flowers that symbolize fertility and abundance.

Late 16th Century ­ Early 17th Century
Mainly Catholic Europe

This era of the Western arts was the dominant style between Mannerism and Rococo, with its beginnings in Rome in the late 1500s up until the early 1700s in colonial South America and in Germany. Baroque emerged in reaction to the formula-based Mannerism which had dominated the European art world. Instead, Baroque intended to create a return to spirituality and an art based on direct appeal to the senses. The birth of the Baroque style traces to the Catholic Counter-Reformation in Rome, and was thus encouraged by the Catholic Church as it endeavoured to invoke spiritual passion in the viewer. Baroque did not take firm root in Europe's Protestant countries, but the unfluence was great in predominantly Catholic nations. Some of the greatest names in the history of art are associated with the Baroque period...Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci and Gianlorenzo Bernini, Rubens and Rembrandt.

Bernini is one of the most recognized sculptors of the Baroque period. His fascination with the theatre and sculpture called for the perfect combination sought out by the Catholic Church, which was the main patron of Baroque art. His sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Theresa depicts the story of St. Theresa Avila being pierced through the heart by an angel. The expression on St. Theresa's face and her body language realistically portray the dramatic scene. Dazzling rays from the heavens emphasise the event.

Caravaggio's The Calling of St. Matthew is a prime example of the drama and passion of Baroque painting. The Catholic Church commissioned the image for the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi. The event is depicted in an everyday room, out of the ordinary for such holy subject matter. An inconspicuous gold band above one of the character's heads, as well as the dramatic lighting identifies the figure as Jesus. Matthew points at himself, shocked by the enlightening event.

By the 18th Century the emotionally powerful style of Baroque, in response to the growing polite and superficial fashions of the time, gave way to the lightheartedness and elegance of a new style... Rococo.

1919 - 1930s

The German equivalent of De Stijl and Purism was the Bauhaus group. Bauhaus style is characterized by geometric and economically efficient design. Walter Gropius established the Bauhaus School in Germany in 1919. Gropius called for a "cultural synthesis" combining the skills of designers, artists, architects and engineers with craftsmen. Bauhaus emphasis was on functional architecture, creating buildings without hiding the materials with which they were constructed. Unpopular with the Nazis, the school was closed in 1933. Subsequently, many artists seeking intellectual freedom moved to the United States.

The school initially had three main goals that stayed true throughout the lifetime of the movement to today. The first was to combine the skills of artists and craftsmen and combine the elements of engineering and art. The second goal sought to raise the rank of craftworks to that of fine art. The last goal was to establish independence from government support by maintaining relationships with industry leaders and crafstmen, and selling designs to industry privately. The Bauhaus ideal of function over form has essentially created modern industrial design as we know it.

Although Bauhaus has played an important role throughout its creation and until today, criticisims of the movement are based on its drive for functionality over beauty. Bauhaus buildings and furniture lack decorative features. For example, the Bauhaus movement is the birthplace of moveable cubicles as offices...the infamous 'office cubicle'. It also brought about portable classrooms. Although functional and cost-effective, many critics found these and other Bauhaus concepts to be lacking in imagination. Nevertheless, Bauhaus has had immense influence on architecture since the school was established, and the cost efficiencies associated with the style are likely to influence it for many years to come.


Conceptualism grew out of the 1960s and took Minimalism to its final stage. Conceptualism is based on the notion that art can be just an idea and not necessarily a physical piece of art. The idea was in fact more important than creating physical artwork, although Conceptualist artists always created a physical work, usually a photograph or a set of directions. It is considered to be a major turning point in art because it opened the scope of art to be anything you could think of or do, from an idea to the written or published word, to performance right up to the modern ‘installation’. In this way it challenged almost all conventional thought on the subject of art. Although Conceptualism was and is a controversial movement, there can be no doubt that it has caused both an evolution and a revolution in our understanding of what constitutes art in the 21st Century.

1908 - 1920

Cubism, famously associated with the artist Picasso, was also created by Georges Braque. Braque and Picasso became friends after Braque's move to Paris in order to study with the Fauves. Cubist theory revolves around the complete flattening of space. Cubist art is very scientific and the artists used very little color in their work.

Analytic Cubism
The term Analytic Cubism was adopted because the subject matter in these paintings was broken down into smaller parts and then rearranged in different orders, at different angles and so forth, as if to be scientifically analyzed.

Braque admired form and stability. His large compositions incorporated the Cubist aim of representing the world as seen from a number of different viewpoints. He wanted to convey a feeling of being able to move around within the painting. In Violin and Candlestick Braque fragments sheets of music and a violin and rearranges the pieces at different angles. He attempts to knit the various elements together into a single shifting surface of forms and colors. Some formal elements lose their spatial relations and their identities as well.

Synthetic Cubism
This form of Cubism was the more influential of the two Cubist subcategories. So influential in fact, that traces of Synthetic Cubist concepts are evident throughout the art of the 20th Century. Synthetic Cubist paintings were made up of different parts using products of consumer society. Artists incorporated pieces of the manufactured surrounding world into their artwork. In many of the works there is play between art and reality. The viewer bounces back and forth between what is illusion and what is real - that which is painted and that which is a product glued onto the canvas.

In 1912, Picasso took the conceptual representation of Cubism to its logical conclusion by pasting an actual piece of oilcloth onto the canvas. This was a watershed moment in Modern Art. By incorporating the real world into the canvas, Picasso and Braque opened up a century's worth of exploration into the meaning of Art.

This is apparent in Picasso's Glass and Bottle of Suze. Here, the work is a collage of separate elements glued into one complete composition. Picasso uses newspaper clippings, wallpaper and labels to create this work.

1916 - 1920s
Mainly in France, Switzerland, Germany and the United States of America

The Dadaist movement began in Zürich at the opening of the Cabaret Voltaire by Hugo Ball. Other main founders were Tristan Tzara and Jean Arp. The members of the movement held the bourgeois responsible for the unprecedented carnage of World War 1. They criticized the "fat cats" who made money off the war instead of physically fighting in the battles. In this sense, Dadaism criticized the conservatism of conventional values.

The movement was literary-based emphasizing poetry that consisted of absurd rhetoric, nonsensical gibberish and sounds. However, many visual artists also made their mark in the movement.

An infamous example of visual Dada is Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q. Already an established artist in America, Duchamp painted a moustache and goatee on a cheap print of the Mona Lisa. When the title, "L.H.O.O.Q." is read out loud, the letters sound out "elle a chaud au cul" which translates roughly to "she's hot in the ass". L.H.O.O.Q. helps sum up the Dada Movement as a rebellion over traditional ideals. Duchamp takes a canonized and revered image, and through it, he mocks the established art world.
Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q., 1919

Hannah Höch (1889 - 1978) was a member of the Dadaist group in Berlin, although as a woman, she was marginalized. However, Höch had a great impact on the history of the movement as she created visual art, in the form of photomontage, rather than the favored Dadaist literature. In Dada Dance, Höch contrasts elegance with absurdity, contrasting the elegant natural state of the African figure with the crude absurdity of the European on the right.

Expressionism / German Expressionism
1890 - 1925
Mainly Germany

Expressionism was a movement that emerged in Europe in the late 19th Century. It encompassed not only pictorial art, but also literature and the theatrical arts. In visual art, Expressionism is characterized by vivid color and powerful brush strokes to amplify the emotions being portrayed. Rather than trying to achieve artistic harmony, the Expressionist artist attempted to depict the artist's own sensibility and emotions in his work. The work is therefore very personal to the artist. This movement had great influence on a wide range of modern art movements in the 20th Century.

The Expressionist Movement was most prominent in Germany, and is often times referred to as German Expressionism.

Some of the world's most admired artists were Expressionists. Edvuard Munch's visceral work The Scream and Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night are examples of the ability of the Expressionist artform to enter the realm of public popularity.

1905 - 1908

Fauvism was the first 20th Century avant-garde movement. It is distinguished by artists who used bright, vibrant, and lively colors. The artists often painted distorted figures and landscapes. The group adopted the name “Fauves” after their first group exhibition in 1905. A critic was so shocked by the group’s work that he had called them “fauves,” which translates into “wild beasts.” The group readily accepted the name.

Although the Fauvist movement only lasted a few years, as an expressionistic style, Fauvism, was very influential in the era of modern art.

Many of the Fauves, including Matisse and Derain believed that their predecessors, the Impressionists and the Pointillists had disintegrated their work by using dots and small brushstrokes of color. In opposition, The Fauves used large brushstrokes of vivid color. 

Matisse in his essay, Notes of a Painter, believed that everything in a piece of art should be harmonious and pleasing to the eye. Superfluous detail should be replaced by essential details. Matisse believed that art should be balanced, soothing and calming, like “a good armchair” and it should be devoid of troubling and depressing subject matter. These ideas are evident in Matisse’s Joy of Life. The subject matter centers on couples frolicking harmoniously in a dreamscape while color floods the scene.

French Naturalism
1850 - 1870

French Naturalism is a movement that was very similar to Realism except the subject matter is not sociopolitical. Therefore, the style is more romantic than the style of Realism. French Naturalism became popular after 1850. The shift to a more romantic and idealized art form became favored because of the increase in population in cities as French citizens moved from rural to urban areas. Images of romanticized, peaceful rural life gained appeal. Restlessness brought about by the revolution of 1848 also boosted the popularity of French Naturalism. The traditional, never-changing country life was quite opposite to the radical, uneasy and changing political situation in Paris.

Corot was a popular naturalist painter. He painted serene country scenes. In A Monk on a Country Road, Corot depicts a scene of misty, pleasant weather. The Monk’s peaceful pace of travel invites the viewers onto the path, to follow with their imagination. The monk symbolizes never changing tradition - an image in which the viewer can take comfort.

1909 - 1914
Mainly Italy

The Futurist movement was based on Filippo Marinetti’s Manifesto published in the French Magazine, Le Figaro, on February 20th, 1909. The Manifesto called for a celebration of progress of the 20th Century. Marinetti called for an attack against everything old, glorifying war, calling it “the world’s hygiene.” The art of the Futurists attempted to capture movement, particularly the movement of the machine, which was symbolic of the progression of the 20th Century.

Marinetti’s Futurism was based on an entirely new world, created by the aura of the impending First World War, full of violence, male energy and the male form. This was rigidly opposite of the feminine beauty previously celebrated in art throughout history.

The art of the Futurist attempted to represent movement, whether human or machine. However, the products of Futurism were somewhat tame compared to Marinetti’s Manifesto because as the harbinger of the movement, artists had to figure out Marinetti’s motives and create works of art around his idea.

In Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, Giacomo Balla uses superimposing images of a dog and woman walking the dog, to show movement on canvas. Umberto Boccioni

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity and Space, 1913 (1871 - 1958) attempts to do the same thing. Here, Boccioni, depicts a figure sculpted out of bronze in full stride. Boccioni pushes sculpture in a new way, towards movement and fluidity. Boccioni’s figure received much criticism as he was still using the human form and bronze, an age-old material.

The Futurist movement ended with the bloodshed of the First World War. The Futurists became associated with World War 1 and fascism. Not only were the realities of the war a deterrent for most artists, but Marinetti’s criticisms and constant pressure on the artists acted as a further deterrent.

Hudson River School
1825 - 1875
United States of America

The Hudson River School was the chief Romantic Movement in the United States. The artists associated with this group drew inspiration from homeland landscape scenes. The artwork was generally painted with thorough realism. The landscapes were idealized, often painted with lush vegetation and serene lakes and rivers.

Thomas Cole (1801 – 1848), and John James Audubon (1785 – 1851) became closely associated with the Hudson River School. In Cole’s landscape paintings, he attempted to depict scenes of purity of the New World. He spent much of his time painting the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.

George Catlin (1796 – 1872) was a leading American landscape and scene painter. His subject matter focused on First Nations People west of the Mississippi. He lived in over 40 Native North American villages. He was a portrait painter for a Western Native American delegation and created stunning, highly detailed portraits.

1860 - 1880

Impressionism has become a popular style of art that emerged in France in the late 1800’s. The Impressionist movement broke the traditional style of painting. The method in which the paint is applied to the canvas, marked this historical change. Instead of longer, flowing brushstrokes the paint is applied to the canvas in touches of color. Using this technique for painting, details are minimized, but the colors used are vivid and vibrant. The Impressionist painters also brought their easel outside and the subject matter was generally outdoors, under natural light. This technique captures the subject matter as if it were to be seen during a particular time of day.

Producing an impression of a fleeting moment is a critical goal of impressionist painting. The study of light, integral to capturing such moments, became a powerful driving force in the movement as well. The subject matter of the Impressionists, whether indoors or outdoors revolved around the painting of modern life.

The Impressionist movement was met with violent opposition in its day as the established art world was horrified by the relaxed and non-traditional approach. However it survived to become one of the leading influences on art styles and movements.

Key artists of the Impressionist circle included Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissaro, Pierre Auguste Renoir and Berthe Morisot.

Manet was critical to the development of impressionism as he broke tradition, following the Realist painter, Gustav Courbet and began painting everyday subject matter, which was often controversial, in impressionist style. There is an uncertainty about the image, and about the individual represented. A barmaid stands behind a bar, selling all the items in the bar. Is she for sale too?

Edgar Degas painted controversial subject matter disguised as images of innocent ballet dancers. In the picture Ballet Rehearsal, we see several ballerinas rehearsing in front of their instructor. In the right side of the image, there is a dark figure of a man dressed in a dark suit. The reason this image is controversial is because ballet dancers were often lower class girls. They were often watched and selected during rehearsals and performances and were bought by bourgeois men for sexual favours.

Claude Monet preferred Landscape scenes while Berthe Morisot painted women and daily life as subject matter.

Renoir was the first to reject Impressionism, and it’s fleeting, or passing impression. One of his last impressionist works was Luncheon of the Boating Party. In this piece it is evident that Renoir gives the people in the scene more stability. This is evident with the subjects who are placed in the foreground. The way in which the figures are painted is more solid than previous Impressionist works.

Minimalism / Hard Edge Art
1950's +
Mainly in the United States

The Minimalist style of art arose in America, primarily in the 60s and 70s, although its roots can be traced back to the 1950s. Artists have been experimenting with theories of minimalism since the 18th Century, if not before, but it never became a full-fledged movement until the 20th Century.

Minimalism is a style of art in which objects are reduced to their elemental, geometric form, and presented in an impersonal manner. The artwork is free of any decorative elements, is monochromatic and is often based on grids or linear matrices. It is an abstract form of art, which was reactionary against the subjective elements of Abstract Expressionism. The Minimalists sought to remove any form of personal expression from their artwork. Not only is the work purged of any thematic references, but it also does not represent anything other than itself. The artwork becomes the object to view. The viewer can experience the work to it’s full potential without thematic distractions. Minimal art takes abstraction to the extreme.

Frank Stella (1936 b.), Dan Flavin (1933 – 1996), Carl Andre (1935 b.) and Donald Judd (1928 – 1994) are artists that made their mark within the Minimal circle. Much Minimalist art took the form of sculpture and installations, but there were also a number of painters.

Since Minimalist sculpture is liberated from metaphors or figurative references, it is often displayed as a series of repetitive objects. Carl Andre used repetitive geometrical forms such as bricks, concrete blocks and copper tiles in his installation pieces.

Minimal art has become highly successful throughout the 20th Century and continues to be influential today.

1890 - 1940

Modernism is a loose term applied to art that took a deliberate departure from tradition. Freedom of expression and a mix of artistic styles fall into this category. It called for the departure from old traditions and the beginning of a new era. Paul Cézanne is often referred to as the “Father of Modernism.”

1750 - 1880

Neo-Classical Art was a revival of Greek and Roman ideals; Strength, Courage, Patriotism and Restrained Emotion. It was inspired by the art of antiquity between the archaic and Hellenistic period, when Greek culture was thought to be at its prime. The movement was primarily in France but had some influence elsewhere in Europe. The art was reactionary against the sentimental and emotion-evoking Baroque and lightheartedness of the Rococo of the previous century. Neoclassical art was quite harsh compared to these two genres. The discovery of ancient Roman cities, Herculaneum and Pompeii also helped in reviving this art form. Antiquity quickly became in vogue for fashion, art and politics. Artists of this period sought to express ideals of bravery, valor, love and nationalism. These were the predominant principles of ancient Greece and Rome. Neo-Classical Art arose hand in hand with the renewal of classical thought throughout Europe and had great bearing on the French Revolution.

A leading artist during the Neo-Classical period was Jacques-Louis David (1748 – 1825). Much of David’s work was painted for the royal commission. However, later his work became anti-monarchist and he was closely associated with the French Revolution and the overthrow of the monarchy and the reigning king, Louis XVI.

Although painted before the overthrow of the monarchy, Oath of the Horatii is a classical example of Neo-Classical artwork. The work depicts the three Roman Horatii Brothers who settled a duel to death concerning a dispute between their cities. The scene in the painting depicts the brothers, along with their father, taking the oath to engage in the battle. Roman themes not only arise in the story depicted but also in the vigorous patriotism of the three brothers. In contrast, on the right, the women weep for what is to come.

Jacques-Louis David’s, Intervention of the Sabine Women, is painted in David’s mature neo-classical style. Here he depicts a classic battle where heroically the Sabine women join in combat.

At the beginning of the 19th Century, Romanticism emerged in reaction to Neo-Classicism. Both styles dominated the next century.

Op Art
United States

Op Art, or Optical Art is a form of abstract art that became popular in the United States in the 60’s. Op art is based on mathematics and surface kinetics to create optical illusions. The paintings of the Op artists often use simple shapes and colors to create various visual effects to trick the eye, or trompe l’oeil. The trick with Op art was using a flat picture plane to create impressions of three dimensionality and often times, movement.

Lead figures of the movement were Bridget Riley (b. 1931) and Victor Vasarely. Other artists associated with the style were M. C. Escher, Richard Anuszkiewicz and Kenneth Noland. Most Op art is completely abstract and non-representational, although some artists, most notably, M.C. Escher, used representational subject matter to create the same effect.

1885 - Early 1900's

Pointilism was borne of Impressionism and is usually considered a post-Impressionistic movement. In Pointilist art, the artist makes an image by using tiny dots of primary colored paint (red, yellow, blue) in order to create secondary colors (magenta, green, orange) in an image. This method is based on science. The dots that make up the image do not merge together completely and thus, create a glistening effect. This shimmering effect is evident in Georges Seurat’s (1859 - 1891), Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Seurat is considered to the pre-eminent artist of the Pointilist movement.

Pop Art
1950 - 1960's
Centered in the USA, Britain

In the early 60s a number of exhibitions were held in New York City displaying art that was directly related to pop culture. The movement celebrated popular culture in the affluence of post war society and the consumer boom. The sources for the artwork produced were comic books, magazines, and visual culture. This was Pop art and it turned common place visual art into icons.

British artist Richard Hamilton's take on Pop art was, "popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business." American popular artists associated with the movement were Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol.

Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood
1848 ­ 1850’s

The Brotherhood was begun in 1848 by three artists, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 - 1882), John Everett Millais and William Hollman Hunt. The brotherhood was created in reaction to the formulaic art of the Academy. The Pre Raphaelites called for more genuine art that was closer to reality and to nature. Instead of painting completely formula-based idealized figures, the brotherhood believed that the subjects in their work should be based on live models. The name Pre Raphaelites was chosen to refer to art before Raphael was canonized by the Royal Academies. Art students had to learn from the Raphaelite's work. Raphael Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo created works of Renaissance “balanced perfection” and the formulas were imprinted into the work of art students of the time. The group used vivid colors and also depicted the romantic subject matter of legends and Greek myths.

Although the style continued to be popular into the early 1900s, the brotherhood was short lived, and the three initial artists who founded the alliance as well as other artists who adhered to the principles eventually succeeded to other styles of artwork.

Precisionism / Cubist Realism
1920s and 30s
United States of America

Precisianism, also known at Cubist Realism, was a style of art that emerged in America in the 20s. Rather than sharing a common alliance, as with other movements of the 20th Century, the artists that adhered to the style simply shared a common aesthetic. In the Precisionist Style, as Cubist Realism denotes, is a combination of Realism and Abstraction. The subject matter is reduced to simplified forms, and flat planes. The subject matter is highly defined and presented in a clear light.

Two popular artists that adhered to the Precisionist style were Charles Demuth ( 1883 – 1935) and Charles Sheeler (1883 – 1965). Many of the artists chose industrial subject matter including steam engines and factory smoke stacks. Influenced by Italian Futurism, many of the artists believed in the development of the machine and the progression of the 20th Century. O’Keefe chose flowers as a subject matter to achieve the same result.

Purism / French Rationalism
1905 - 1908

Purism’s leading figure was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887 –1965). In a world recently torn apart by the horrors of World War 1, the Purists believed in the power of art to change the world. They also believed in the power to change and reinvent oneself. Turning his theories to action, Jeanneret changed his name to Le Corbusier, meaning Raven in French.

The art of the Purists was similar to Cubism. Rather than being simply aesthetically pleasing, the Purists believed that art should place the viewer in an orderly state of mind. In turn, an orderly state of mind would promote social order in the world. Purist art focuses on the strict arrangement of elements on horizontal and vertical axes. Purism often times included musical instruments that were used in the work to suggest harmony.

Purism contributed to architecture and urban planning particularly in North America. Le Corbusier envisioned a city laid out on grid, of uniform style. He believed it should be dominated by sky scrapers and wide traffic arteries beneath. Parks would be laid out between the buildings and roads promoting an orderly clean and efficient city with greenery.

Fernand Léger (1881 – 1955) was greatly influenced by Le Corbusier and Purism. Léger transforms Delacroix’s canonized Women of Algiers into the Purist ideal of anonymity and order. As if arranged on a grid, the women in the image stare out at us, expressionless.

1830 - 1870

The Realist movement, or the Realist School, rejected formulaic Neoclassical style and the artificial idealized approach of Romanticism. The artists instead chose to depict scenes of daily life. Many of the artists painted scenes evoking a social or moral message. The artists no longer used a subject matter of idealized historical figures, but rather, often used images of commoners and peasants.

One artist closely associated with the Realist School was Jean-François Millet (1814 – 1875). Millet’s Gleaners displays a political message as well as displaying the style of the Realist School. Here, he depicts three gleaners, and instead of depicting Neoclassical idealized characters, he paints characters that are rather the opposite. The viewer is barley able to see the faces of the three women. Instead we get a glimpse of sun tanned weather beaten skin. The gleaners would come and pick the scraps off the fields after the main crop was finished. The gleaners were the least fortunate peasants.

Gustav Courbet attempts to show the same political message in Stone Breakers. The subject matter is treated with the seriousness of a history painting, although

Gustave Courbet, Stone Breakers, 1849, the subject matter is not typical of the style. Courbet portrays two men hard at work in the country. The artist brings across the cyclical nature of the work as the same job is passed down from generation to generation. The young boy will never escape the class system and will naturally follow in his father’s footsteps.

Both of these works were highly criticized by The Academy, because of the subject matter. The artists had broken with the romantic traditions of painting history.

The Renaissance

Renaissance is the French term for rebirth. The Renaissance was a period of classical revival, not only in the visual arts, but also in literature, architecture and the sciences. Humanism gained popularity. The core of the Renaissance was to shift the focus of art towards the individual in society from the religion-based medieval art and revive the classical notion of perfection in architecture and the human form.

The Renaissance Period can be split into two categories and subsequent sub categories:

The Italian Renaissance:
1420 - 1600

At the end of the Middle Ages there was an economic boom in Europe, particularly in Florence and other Italian cities. Increasing political stability within Florence allowed the Renaissance to evolve. This allowed for a new and drastic change in the arts. In this case the rebirth of the classical ideals of ancient Rome and Greece, following the hibernation period of the Medieval Dark Ages. Modern values had their beginnings during the Renaissance period. By the 16th Century, the Renaissance was overtaken by Mannerism as the dominant style of Europe.

Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) are the key renowned artists from this period.

The Early Renaissance
Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1486. The desire to recapture antiquity and its mythology was crucial to the Renaissance painters. The Florentines believed that the ancient Greeks had superior knowledge and their myths held hidden truths. Mythology became a common subject matter during the beginning of the Renaissance.

Sandro Botticelli (1446 – 1510) is one of the most renowned artists of the Early Renaissance. The Birth of Venus was commissioned by the prominent Florentine Medici Family. The image depicts the story of Venus emerging from the sea and symbolizes the birth of beauty into the world.

The High Renaissance
Michelangelo, Creation of Man, 1510. It is widely accepted that artistic creative genius reached its pinnacle during the High Renaissance. The ideals of classical Greek and Roman art were captured in perfect harmony, balance and movement in paintings, sculpture and architecture. The High Renaissance introduced the world to the artistry of da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo and set a yardstick for artistic perfection that even today, makes their names famous around the globe and their works some of the most beloved art in mankind's history.

Northern Renaissance
1500 - 1615
The Netherlands and Germany

The influence of the Renaissance in Northern Europe began in the 16th Century. Many artists influenced by the era studied in Italy and brought the philosophies back to their homelands. The Renaissance brought about religious reform, primarily the rejection of the authority of the Church. In the north, the Renaissance ultimately led to some of the most beautiful and hauntingly realistic images ever painted.

Albrecht Durer (1471 –1528) became well known for his etchings in Germany. Durer’s etchings often depict religious themes. The Knight, Death and the Devil, is an example of his work.


By the 18th Century, the seriousness of Baroque gradually gave way to the lighter style of Rococo. Many Rococo artists still used religious subject matter, as in the Baroque period. This is why Rococo is sometimes characterized as being a more delicate, final development of the Baroque movement. However, for the most part, Rococo art is generally characterized by soft and pastel colors, natural, care free and airy subjects. The artists used curving, dainty forms in flirtatious light hearted and erotic scenes. The subjects are usually persons of nobility and the upper class, since they commissioned these works. Works like these were created with the ideals that only the aristocracy had the luxury to pass time so enjoyably. Rococo was replaced by Neoclassicism, the popular style of French and American revolutions.

A prime and very typical example of Rococo painting is that of French painter, Honoré Fragonard, The Swing. In this image we witness two lovers in courtship enjoying each other’s company on a swing. The male is looking up his unsuspecting lover’s skirt, while a servant pushes her swing. Also, the lushness of the magical surrounding gardens calls upon ideals of youth and fertility.

This piece was commissioned within a series of works by Louis XV’s mistress, Madame du Barry. But by the time Fragonard completed the works, she no longer accepted them suggesting that the style was dated. Madame du Barry quickly commissioned another set in the Neoclassicist style.

Unlike Fragonard, Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo painted in the Rococo style but with religious subject matter. This is clear in Immaculate Conception (1769). Although the subject matter is religious, the colors are pastel tones and the atmosphere of the scene exhumes a warm soft light.

This work was commissioned in order to decorate an altar of the Franciscan Convent of San Pascual. However, much like Fragonard’s piece, the popularity of Greuze, Broken Eggs, 1756. the Rococo, much like its subject matter, was fleeting, and the works were quickly replaced by Neoclassicist trends. Other artists of the same era, although not working in the Rococo style, still took on predominant Rococo themes in their works. Jean-Baptiste Greuze depicts morality scenes involving peasants. The predominant theme of his work Broken Eggs is erotic regardless of the immediate impression the image gives the viewer. The broken eggs at the young girl’s side symbolize the loss of innocence. This is further assured by the mother’s scolding gaze, the young man’s uncomfortable position and the girls’ exposed breast.

1790 - 1850

The Romantic Movement was emotionally wrought, with emphasis on feeling, passions, inner-struggles, imagination and nature. Emotion and the senses took priority over rationality and intellect. Romanticism called for the revival of unlimited styles, with the main purpose being to evoke emotion and incite a revival of the senses.

Romanticism was reactionary to the desensitizing Neo-Classical style. It rebelled against the classical perfection of Neo-Classical art and it’s conventions. The movement was associated politically with the Counter-Revolution, directly opposed to culmination of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s despotic rule over France and other parts of Europe. Both styles, Neo-Classicism and Romanticism, although philosophically opposed, dominated the art of Europe for generations.

The main focus of Romantic painting in England, the United States and Germany was on nature, whereas well known artists from Spain and France took on socio-political subjects as well.

In England, artists associated with the Romantic Movement are widely considered to be some of the finest ever produced by that country, and include J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, and William Blake. In the United States, the leading Romantic Movement was the Hudson River School of dramatic landscape painting. In Germany, the most renowned artist is Caspar David Friedrich. Francisco Goya (1748 – 1846) is a well-known Spanish Romantic artist.

Turner’s painting The Dogana, San Giorgio, Citella, Venice, from the Steps of the Europa is a prime example of emotion-evoking nature from the Romatic period. Caspar David Friedrich’s, Abbey in the Oak Forest, depicts the haunting mystey of Gothic ruins in a German forest. The somber mood of the image reflects the artist's own melancholy.

Unlike Turner, Goya takes a more courageous and political approach to his work. In The Third of May, Goya depicts a very emotional and heart wrenching scene of slaughter. Napoleon’s faceless soldiers are painted on the brink of killing citizens in the occupied territories of Spain. Goya focuses on one unarmed man begging for mercy. The bloody bodies in the foreground make the viewer aware of his fate.

Romanticism was a long-lived movement, characterized by several styles, full of evocative subject matter that had great influence on the Pre-Raphaelite movement and the Symbolists.

1913 ­1919

Suprematism was founded by Kazimir Malevich in 1913. Suprematism called for pure abstraction, and non-objective art. Malevich believed that art should liberate and be liberated from the representational world. Suprematist art did not represent "meaningless objects" from the representational world, and only the feeling evoked from it was thought to have true significance. The art was made up of purely geometrical shapes with no political or social reference. The images are above politics and the natural world. By detaching the images from reality Malevich creates a utopian artwork. It becomes a form of art that anyone can relate to. Free from any references. Suprematist painting is thus free from the constraints and restrictions of reality. The purity of basic geometrical shapes evokes emotion and contemplation. Malevich defines Suprematism in his published essays, The World of Non-Objectivity, as “the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art.”

As in Suprematist Composition, Malevich’s art consisted of shapes painted on pure canvas. The Suprematist images painted by Malevich were not based on any images from reality. Red Square/Black Square was exhibited in Malevich’s 0.10 Exhibition. Here, Malevich suspends floating squares in ephemeral space. Again, he uses pure geometric shapes. Each form is free and individual, not a naïve copy from the representational world.

On the downside, Suprematism called for total and complete abstraction, and its creativity was limited. Undoubtedly it was a short-lived movement, and even the founding father of the movement, Malevich returned to figurative painting by 1930. However, Suprematism had great influence on the Constructivists, which in turn influenced the Bauhaus. Principles and theories of the movement have become wide spread.

Mid 1920s - 30s

The Surrealist movement was created by Andre Breton (1896 – 1966) when he published Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924. Breton was greatly influenced by the theories of the subconscious of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Like Dada, the predecessor of Surrealism, the theory of the movement was based on anti-rationalism. The Surrealist’s aim was to express the dream state and the subconscious through art. The Surrealists believed that art should allow complete freedom of expression; hence painting the subconscious mind was core to Surrealist paintings. Freud believed that by bringing one’s dreams and repressions to the surface, as the Surrealist painters attempted to do, one was able to free themselves and not be held captive by them. Artists closely associated with the Surrealist Movement were Jean Miro, Salvador Dali and Max Ernst.

Salvador Dali’s paintings embrace the subconscious mind. He believed in copying his dreams onto canvas, which would allow for analysis. Because Surrealist images are in fact dreams painted onto canvas, they have no intention of being comprehensible at first glance. The painting thus becomes simply a personal expression of the artist’s subconscious.

In the image, Persistence of Memory, Dali paints giant clocks in the process of melting and bending, like the mind melts and bends in a dream. Dali invites the viewer to misread what they see by means of distortion. The image surpasses reality and becomes surreal, as in the dream state.

Frida Kahlo, is one of the best known women associated with the Surrealist Movement. In her image, The Henry Ford Hospital, she expresses the pain of miscarriages that were a result of an accident she had as a child. Although disturbing, the image reflects her subconscious mind.