Modern art paintings include a massive variety of creative output from roughly 1860 until the 1970s. Rather than a particular style or movement, it refers to how artists approach art. These methods often involved a strong spirit of experimentation.
During this period, the strict academic rules of art melted away. In their place were new ways of seeing and new ideas about the role of art in society.
This brief introduction presents some pioneering artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. We also explore innovative and colorful modern artworks and their impact on the contemporary world.
For this introduction, we focus on modern art on canvas. However, the term also includes sculpture, architecture, and graphic arts developments.
There is great debate about the origins of modern abstract art. However, many Art Historians describe the French painter Paul Cezanne as the “Father of Modern Art”. Indeed, Cezanne’s bright and lively canvases presented still life and landscape scenes as never before.
In addition to his significant contribution to Post-Impressionism, Cezanne also inspired the Fauvist art movement and the development of Cubism painting. As his career progressed, Cezanne used increasingly vivid tones and played with flattened perspective. His creative and analytical distortions paved the way for later famous oil paintings.
As well as Paul Cezanne, scholars also list Edouard Manet as one of the critical originators of the modern art movement. Indeed, Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe (or Luncheon on the Grass) shocked the French art establishment. First exhibited at the Salon des Refuses in 1863, the painting testified to Manet’s refusal to conform to established rules of art and culture.
Manet's painting showed a naked woman sitting in a countryside scene with two male companions. Until then, nude women only appeared under the guise of classical mythology. Manet’s placement of the woman in a modern, bourgeois setting was bold, brave, and controversial.
For this reason, many Art Historians describe Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe as a “departure point” for modern art.
The movement flourished after Impressionist artists started questioning pre-conceived art establishment ideals. Early “modern artists” included painters such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Auguste Renoir.
This revolutionary, almost confrontational approach accelerated further with Post-Impressionism (and the likes of Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh).
Just some of the colorful art movements include:
● De Stijl
● Social Realism
● Abstract Expressionism
● Pop Art
● Abstract Art
Experimentation and innovation lie at the heart of this art movement. Unfortunately, these defining characteristics often mean artists veer towards brightly colored, abstract creations. Nonetheless, some contemporary artists, such as the Color Field painters Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman, employ almost exclusively monochromatic color palettes.
Demonstrating yet another approach, artists such as Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, an American artist famous for paintings of dogs, used figurative yet imaginary scenes to question contemporary life. Paintings such as Poker Game (1894) and A Friend in Need (1903) poked fun at the American middle classes and the rise of consumer culture.
In addition to experimentation and innovation, exploring the subconscious mind is another defining characteristic of modern art. One of the first artists to do this was Vincent van Gogh. We need only consider the emotional impact of paintings such as Starry Night and Red Vineyard at Arles (1888) to appreciate Van Gogh’s revolutionary approach.
While artworks such as Starry Night are best known today, The Red Vineyard was the only painting Van Gogh sold during his lifetime.
The difference between traditional art and modern abstract art lies in modern art’s free and expressive qualities. Classical oil painting followed a strict set of rules on painterly techniques and compositions, modern art allowed artists to create their own rules.
By focusing on individual emotional and spiritual experiences, artists treated materials, formats, and subjects in entirely new ways. While classical art was largely impersonal (focusing on narrative depictions and mythological scenes), modern art is highly personal and individualized.
The development of modern abstract art was also highly influential. This trend began in the early twentieth century and moved away from objective and representational approaches to art. As part of this, painters such as Hilma Af Klint and Wassily Kandinsky abandoned forms and objects in the physical world.
Kandinsky paintings, such as Composition VII (1913), present a minefield of blurred colors and shapes. Instead of recognizable objects, an abstract visual language emerges, leaving interpretation open to the viewer.
In addition to the paintings we’ve already discussed, here are three famous examples of modern art on canvas.
An iconic example of French Impressionism, Monet’s Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge is recognizable worldwide. This oil on canvas painting represents two of Claude Monet’s defining achievements. Firstly, the stunning gardens he created at Giverny, and secondly, it illustrates Monet’s water lily series perfectly.
Monet returned to this view throughout the year, in various weather conditions and times of the day. This project (capturing the ever-changing natural world) proved a defining moment in modern art.
The Dream by Henry Rousseau demonstrates the importance of symbolism and explores the subconscious mind. Inspired by the work of Sigmund Freud, many artists (including Rousseau) explored dreams and personal iconography to represent their subjective experiences.
In this painting, a nude woman reclines in a strange jungle setting. A full moon is visible in the top-right corner. A host of exotic wildlife and foliage completes the mysterious scene.
Modigliani paintings represent a new approach to modern nude paintings. In his oil painting, a naked woman (partially draped by white fabric) sits against a sensual red background.
Rather than a strictly figurative approach, Modigliani simplifies the woman’s form, focusing on solid outlines and blocks of color. This expressive painterly style shifts towards modern abstract art while keeping the erotic focus of the Renaissance nude tradition.
Celebrating colorful modern art are Piet Mondrian famous paintings. Broadway Boogie Woogie is just one of the artist's renowned grid paintings now on display at MoMA New York.
Explore our extensive collection of modern art on canvas.
Piet Mondrian Broadway Boogie Woogie is just one of the replica paintings in our online art catalog.
If you’re looking for colorful wall art for your home or office walls, why not consider modern art oil paintings from famous artists such as Vincent van Gogh, and Wassily Kandinsky?
All of our oil painting reproductions are available in many sizes, and we specialize in oversize wall art.
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