Modern Art
Definition, Characteristics, History, Movements.

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Modern Art (c.1870-1970)


What is Modern Art? (Definition)
What were the Origins of Modern Art?
When Did Modern Art Begin?
What is the Main Characteristic of Modern Art?
In What Ways was Modern Art Different?
How Did Modern Art Develop Between 1870 and 1970?
When Did Modern Art End? And What Replaced it?
What are the Most Important Movements of Modern Art?
A-Z List of Modern Art Schools and Movements
Who are the Greatest Modern Artists?
Which are the 25 Greatest Modern Paintings?
Which are the 25 Greatest Modern Sculptures?

Important Art Works

Movement In Squares (1961).
By Bridget Riley, Op-Art Movement.

Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, Paris.
An icon of modernist architecture
designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Weeping Woman (1937)
By Picasso, now regarded as the
greatest of 20th Century Painters.

What is Modern Art? (Definition)

There is no precise definition of the term "Modern Art": it remains an elastic term, which can accomodate a variety of meanings. This is not too surprising, since we are constantly moving forward in time, and what is considered "modern painting" or "modern sculpture" today, may not be seen as modern in fifty years time. Even so, it is traditional to say that "Modern Art" means works produced during the approximate period 1870-1970. This "Modern era" followed a long period of domination by Renaissance-inspired academic art, promoted by the network of European Academies of Fine Art. And is itself followed by "Contemporary Art" (1970 onwards), the more avant-garde of which is also called "Postmodern Art". This chronology accords with the view of many art critics and institutions, but not all. Both the Tate Modern in London, and the Musee National d'Art Moderne at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, for instance, take 1900 as the starting point for "Modern Art". Also, neither they, nor the Museum of Modern Art in New York, make any distinction between "modernist" and "postmodernist" works: instead, they see both as phases of "Modern Art".

Incidentally, when trying to understand the history of art it's important to recognize that art does not change overnight, but rather reflects wider (and slower) changes taking place in society. It also reflects the outlook of the artist. Thus, for example, a work of art produced as early as 1958 might be decidedly "postmodernist" (if the artist has a very avant-garde outlook - a good example is Yves Klein's Nouveau Realisme); while another work, created by a conservative artist in 1980, might be seen as a throw-back to the time of "Modern Art" rather than an example of "Contemporary Art". In fact, it's probably true to say that several different strands of art - meaning several sets of aesthetics, some hypermodern, some old-fashioned - may co-exist at any one time. Also, it's worth remembering that many of these terms (like "Modern Art") are only invented after the event, from the vantage point of hindsight.

NOTE: The 1960s is generally seen as the decade when artistic values gradually changed, from "modernist" to "postmodernist". This means that for a period of time both sets of values co-existed with each other.

For important dates, see: History of Art Timeline ( 2.5 million BCE on)



What were the Origins of Modern Art?

To understand how "modern art" began, a little historical background is useful. The 19th century was a time of significant and rapidly increasing change. As a result of the Industrial Revolution (c.1760-1860) enormous changes in manufacturing, transport, and technology began to affect how people lived, worked, and travelled, throughout Europe and America. Towns and cities swelled and prospered as people left the land to populate urban factories. These industry-inspired social changes led to greater prosperity but also cramped and crowded living conditions for most workers. In turn, this led to: more demand for urban architecture; more demand for applied art and design - see, for instance the Bauhaus School - and the emergence of a new class of wealthy entrepreneurs who became art collectors and patrons. Many of the world's best art museums were founded by these 19th century tycoons.

In addition, two other developments had a direct effect on fine art of the period. First, in 1841, the American painter John Rand (1801–1873) invented the collapsible tin paint tube. Second, major advances were made in photography, allowing artists to photograph scenes which could then be painted in the studio at a later date. Both these developments would greatly benefit a new style of painting known, disparagingly, as "Impressionism", which would have a radical effect on how artists painted the world around them, and would in the process become the first major school of modernist art.

As well as affecting how artists created art, 19th century social changes also inspired artists to explore new themes. Instead of slavishly following the Hierarchy of the Genres and being content with academic subjects involving religion and Greek mythology, interspersed with portraits and 'meaningful' landscapes - all subjects that were designed to elevate and instruct the spectator - artists began to make art about people, places, or ideas that interested them. The cities - with their new railway stations and new slums - were obvious choices and triggered a new class of genre painting and urban landscape. Other subjects were the suburban villages and holiday spots served by the new rail networks, which would inspire new forms of landscape painting by Monet, Matisse and others. The genre of history painting also changed, thanks to Benjamin West (1738-1820) who painted The Death of General Wolfe (1770, National Gallery of Art, Ottowa), the first 'contemporary' history painting, and Goya (1746-1828) whose Third of May, 1808 (1814, Prado, Madrid) introduced a ground-breaking, non-heroic idiom.

The 19th century also witnessed a number of philosophical developments which would have a significant effect on art. The growth of political thought, for instance, led Courbet and others to promote a socially conscious form of Realist painting - see also Realism to Impressionism). Also, the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) by Sigmund Freud, popularized the notion of the "subconscious mind", causing artists to explore Symbolism and later Surrealism. The new self-consciousness which Freud promoted, led to (or at least coincided with) the emergence of German Expressionism, as artists turned to expressing their subjective feelings and experiences.

When Did Modern Art Begin?

The date most commonly cited as marking the birth of "modern art" is 1863 - the year that Edouard Manet (1832-83) exhibited his shocking and irreverent painting Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe in the Salon des Refuses in Paris. Despite Manet's respect for the French Academy, and the fact it was modelled on a Renaissance work by Raphael, it was considered to be one of the most scandalous pictures of the period.

But this was merely a symbol of wider changes that were taking place in various types of art, both in France and elsewhere in Europe. A new generation of "Modern Artists" were fed up with following the traditional academic art forms of the 18th and early 19th century, and were starting to create a range of "Modern Paintings" based on new themes, new materials, and bold new methods. Sculpture and architecture were also affected - and in time their changes would be even more revolutionary - but fine art painting proved to be the first major battleground between the conservatives and the new "Moderns".

What is the Main Characteristic of Modern Art?

What we call "Modern Art" lasted for an entire century and involved dozens of different art movements, embracing almost everything from pure abstraction to hyperrealism; from anti-art schools like Dada and Fluxus to classical painting and sculpture; from Art Nouveau to Bauhaus and Pop Art. So great was the diversity that it is difficult to think of any unifying characteristic which defines the era. But if there is anything that separates modern artists from both the earlier traditionalists and later postmodernists, it is their belief that art mattered. To them, art had real value. By contrast, their precedessors simply assumed it had value. After all they had lived in an era governed by Christian value systems and had simply "followed the rules." And those who came after the Modern period (1970 onwards), the so-called "postmodernists", largely rejected the idea that art (or life) has any intrinsic value.

In What Ways was Modern Art Different? (Characteristics)

Although there is no single defining feature of "Modern Art", it was noted for a number of important characteristics, as follows:

(1) New Types of Art

Modern artists were the first to develop collage art, assorted forms of assemblage, a variety of kinetic art (inc mobiles), several genres of photography, animation (drawing plus photography) land art or earthworks, and performance art.

(2) Use of New Materials

Modern painters affixed objects to their canvases, such as fragments of newspaper and other items. Sculptors used "found objects", like the "readymades" of Marcel Duchamp, from which they created works of Junk art. Assemblages were created out of the most ordinary everyday items, like cars, clocks, suitcases, wooden boxes and other items.

(3) Expressive Use of Colour

Movements of modern art like Fauvism, Expressionism and Colour Field painting were the first to exploit colour in a major way.

(4) New Techniques

Chromolithography was invented by the poster artist Jules Cheret, automatic drawing was developed by surrealist painters, as was Frottage and Decalcomania. Gesturalist painters invented Action Painting. Pop artists introduced "Benday dots", and silkscreen printing into fine art. Other movements and schools of modern art which introduced new painting techniques, included: Neo-Impressionism, the Macchiaioli, Synthetism, Cloisonnism, Gesturalism, Tachisme, Kinetic Art, Neo-Dada and Op-Art.

How Did Modern Art Develop Between 1870 and 1970?


Although in some ways the last third of the 19th century was dominated by the new Impressionist style of painting, in reality there were several pioneering strands of modern art, each with its own particular focus. They included: Impressionism (accuracy in capturing effects of sunlight); Realism (content/theme); Academic Art (classical-style true-life pictures); Romanticism (mood); Symbolism (enigmatic iconography); lithographic poster art (bold motifs and colours). The final decade saw a number of revolts against the Academies and their 'Salons', in the form of the Secession movement, while the late-1890s witnessed the decline of "nature-based art", like Impressionism, which would soon lead to a rise in more serious "message-based" art.


In many ways this was the most exciting period of modern art, when everything was still possible and when the "machine" was still viewed exclusively as a friend of man. Artists in Paris produced a string of new styles, including Fauvism, Cubism and Orphism, while German artists launched their own school of expressionist painting. All these progressive movements rejected traditionalist attitudes to art and sought to champion their own particular agenda of modernism. Thus Cubism wanted to prioritize the formal attributes of painting, while Futurism preferred to emphasize the possibilities of the machine, and expressionism championed individual perception.


The carnage and destruction of The Great War changed things utterly. By 1916, the Dada movement was launched, filled with a nihilistic urge to subvert the value system which had caused Verdun and the Somme. Suddenly representational art seemed obscene. No imagery could compete with photographs of the war dead. Already artists had been turning more and more to non-objective art as a means of expression. Abstract art movements of the time included Cubism (1908-40), Vorticism (1914-15), Suprematism (1913-18), Constructivism (1914-32), De Stijl (1917-31), Neo-Plasticism (1918-26), Elementarism (1924-31), the Bauhaus (1919-33) and the later St Ives School. Even the few figurative movements were distinctly edgy, such as Metaphysical Painting (c.1914-20). But compare the early 20th century Classical Revival in modern art and Neoclassical Figure Paintings by Picasso (1906-30).


The Inter-war years continued to be troubled by political and economic troubles. Abstract painting and sculpture continued to dominate, as true-to-life representational art remained very unfashionable. Even the realist wing of the Surrealism movement - the biggest movement of the period - could manage no more than a fantasy style of reality. Meantime, a more sinister reality was emerging on the Continent, in the form of Nazi art and Soviet agit-prop. Only Art Deco, a rather sleek design style aimed at architecture and applied art, expressed any confidence in the future.


The art world was transformed by the catastrophe of World War Two. To begin with, its centre of gravity moved from Paris to New York, where it has remained ever since. Nearly all future world record prices would be achieved in the New York sales rooms of Christie's and Sotheby's. Meantime, the unspeakable phenomenon of Auschwitz had undermined the value of all realist art, except for Holocaust art of those affected. As a result of all this, the next major international movement - Abstract Expressionism - was created by American artists of the New York School. Indeed, for the next 20 years, abstraction would dominate, as new movements rolled off the line. They included: Art Informel, Action-Painting, Gesturalism, Tachisme, Colour Field Painting, Lyrical Abstraction, Hard Edge Painting, and COBRA, a group best known for its child-like imagery, and expressive brushstrokes. During the 1950s other tendencies emerged, of a more avant-garde kind, such as Kinetic art, Nouveau Realisme and Neo-Dada, all of which demonstrated a growing impatience with the strait-laced arts industry.


The explosion of popular music and television was reflected in the Pop-Art movement, whose images of Hollywood celebrities, and iconography of popular culture, celebrated the success of America's mass consumerism. It also had a cool 'hip' feel and helped to dispel some of the early 60s gloom associated with the Cuban Crisis of 1962, which in Europe had fuelled the success of the Fluxus movement led by George Maciunas, Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell. Down-to-earth Pop-art was also a welcome counterpoint to the more erudite Abstract Expressionism, which was already started to fade. But the 1960s also saw the rise of another high-brow movement known as Minimalism, a form of painting and sculpture purged of all external references or gestures - unlike the emotion-charged idiom of Abstract Expressionism.

Modern Photographic Art

One of the most important and influential new media which came to prominence during the "Modern Era" is photography. Four genres in particular have become established. They include: Portrait Photography, a genre that has largely replaced painted portraits; Pictorialism (fl.1885-1915) a type of camera art in which the photographer manipulates a regular photo in order to create an "artistic" image; Fashion Photography (1880-present) a type of photography devoted to the promotion of clothing, shoes, perfume and other branded goods; Documentary Photography (1860-present), a type of sharp-focus camerawork that captures a moment of reality, so as to present a message about what is happening in the world; and Street Photography (1900-present), the art of capturing chance interactions of human activity in urban areas. Practiced by many of the world's greatest photographers, these genres have made a major contribution to modern art of the 20th century.

Modern Architecture

Modernism in architecture is a more convoluted affair. The word "modernism" in building design was first used in America during the 1880s to describe skyscrapers designed by the Chicago School of Architecture (1880-1910), such as The Montauk Building (1882-83) designed by Burnham and Root; the Home Insurance Building (1884) designed by William Le Baron Jenney; and the Marshall Field Warehouse (1885-7) designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. In the 20th century, a new type of design emerged, known as the International Style of Modern Architecture (c.1920-70). Beginning in Germany, Holland and France, in the hands of Le Corbusier (1887-1965), Walter Gropius (1883-1969) and others, it spread to America where it became the dominant idiom for commercial skyscrapers, thanks to the efforts of Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), formerly director of the Bauhaus School. Later, the centre of modern building design was established permanently in the United States, mainly due to the advent of supertall skyscraper architecture, which was then exported around the globe.

When Did Modern Art End? What Replaced it?

Modernism didn't just stop, it was gradually overtaken by events during the late 1960s - a period which coincided with the rise of mass pop-culture and also with the rise of anti-authoritarian challenges (in social and political areas as well as the arts) to the existing orthodoxies. A key year was 1968, which witnessed the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and street demonstrations throughout the capitals of Europe. As Modernism began to look increasingly old-fashioned, it gave way to what is known as "Contemporary Art" - meaning "art of the present era". The term "Contemporary Art" is neutral as to the progressiveness of the art in question, and so another phrase - "postmodernism" - is often used to denote recent avant-garde art. Schools of "postmodernist art" advocate a new set of aesthetics characterized by a greater focus on medium and style. For instance, they emphasize style over substance (eg. not 'what' but 'how'; not 'art for art's sake', but 'style for style's sake'), and place much greater importance on artist-communication with the audience.

What are the Most Important Movements of Modern Art?

The most influential movements of "modern art" are (1) Impressionism; (2) Fauvism; (3) Cubism; (4) Futurism; (5) Expressionism; (6) Dada; (7) Surrealism; (8) Abstract Expressionism; and (9) Pop Art.

(1) Impressionism (1870s, 1880s)

Exemplified by the landscape paintings of Claude Monet (1840-1926), Impressionism focused on the almost impossible task of capturing fleeting moments of light and colour. Introduced non-naturalist colour schemes, and loose - often highly textured - brushwork. Close-up many Impressionist paintings were unrecognizable. Highly unpopular with the general public and the arts authorities, although highly rated by other modern artists, dealers and collectors. Eventually became the world's most famous painting movement. See: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting (1870-1910). The main contribution of Impressionism to "modern art" was to legitimize the use of non-naturalist colours, thus paving the way for the wholly non-naturalist abstract art of the 20th century.

(2) Fauvism (1905-7)

Short-lived, dramatic and highly influential, Led by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Fauvism was 'the' fashionable style during the mid-1900s in Paris. The new style was launched at the Salon d'Automne, and became instantly famous for its vivid, garish, non-naturalist colours that made Impressionism appear almost monochrome! A key precursor of expressionism. See: History of Expressionist Painting (1880-1930). The main contribution of Fauvism to "modern art" was to demonstrate the independent power of colour. This highly subjective approach to art was in contrast to the classical content-oriented outlook of the academies.

(3) Cubism (fl.1908-14)

An austere and challenging style of painting, Cubism introduced a compositional system of flat splintered planes as an alternative to Renaissance-inspired linear perspective and rounded volumes. Developed by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963) in two variants - Analytical Cubism and later Synthetic Cubism - it influenced abstract art for the next 50 years, although its popular appeal has been limited. The main contribution of Cubism to "modern art" was to offer a whole new alternative to conventional perspective, based on the inescapable fact of the flat picture plane.

(4) Futurism (fl.1909-14)

Founded by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), Futurist art glorified speed, technology, the automobile, the airplane and scientific achievement. Although very influential, it borrowed heavily from Neo-Impressionism and Italian Divisionism, as well as Cubism, especially its fragmented forms and multiple viewpoints. The main contribution of Futurism to "modern art" was to introduce movement into the canvas, and to link beauty with scientific advancement.

(5) Expressionism (from 1905)

Although anticipated by artists like JMW Turner (Interior at Petworth, 1837), Van Gogh (Wheat Field with Crows, 1890) and Paul Gauguin (Anna The Javanese, 1893), expressionism was made famous by two groups in pre-war Germany: Die Brucke (Dresden/Berlin) and Der Blaue Reiter (Munich), led by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) and Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) respectively. In sculpture, the forms of the Duisburg-born artist Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881-1919) were (and still are) sublime. The main contribution of expressionism to "modern art" was to popularize the idea of subjectivity in painting and sculpture, and to show that representational art may legitimately include subjective distortion.

(6) Dada (1916-24)

The first anti-art movement, Dada was a revolt against the system which had allowed the carnage of The First World War (1914-18). It rapidly became an anarchistic tendency whose aim was to subvert the arts establishment. Launched in neutral Switzerland in 1916, its leaders were in their early twenties, and most had "opted out", avoiding conscription in the shelter of neutral cities such as New York, Zurich and Barcelona. Founders included the sculptor Jean Arp (1887-1966) and the Romanian poet and demonic activist Tristan Tzara (1896-1963). The main contribution of Dada was to shake up the arts world and to widen the concept of "modern art", by embracing totally new types of creativity (performance art and readymades) as well as new materials (junk art) and themes. Its seditious sense of humour endured in the Surrealist movement.

(7) Surrealism (from 1924)

Founded in Paris by writer Andre Breton (1896-1966), Surrealism was 'the' fashionable art movement of the inter-war years, although the style is still seen today. Composed of abstract and figurative wings, it evolved out of the nihilistic Dada movement, most of whose members metamorphosed into surrealists, but unlike Dada it was neither anti-art nor political. Surrealist painters used various methods - including dreams, hallucinations, automatic or random image generation - to circumvent rational thought processes in creating works of art. (For more, please see Automatism in Art.) The main contribution of Surrealism to "modern art" was to generate a refreshingly new set of images. Whether these images were uniquely non-rational is doubtful. But Surrealist art is definitely fun!

(8) Abstract Expressionism (1948-60)

A broad style of abstract painting, developed in New York just after World War II, hence it is also called the New York School. Spearheaded by American artists - themselves strongly influenced by European expatriates - it consisted of two main styles: a highly animated form of gestural painting, popularized by Jackson Pollock (1912-56), and a much more passive mood-oriented style known as Colour Field painting, championed by Mark Rothko (1903-70). The main contribution of abstract expressionism to "modern art" was to popularize abstraction. In Pollock's case, by inventing a new style known as "action painting" - see photos by text; in Rothko's case, by demonstrating the emotional impact of large areas of colour.

(9) Pop Art (Late-1950s, 1960s)

A style of art whose images reflected the popular culture and mass consumerism of 1960s America. First emerging in New York and London during the late 1950s, it became the dominant avant-garde style until the late 1960s. Using bold, easy to recognize imagery, and vibrant block colours, Pop artists like Andy Warhol (1928-87) created an iconography based on photos of popular celebrities like film-stars, advertisements, posters, consumer product packaging, and comic strips - material that helped to narrow the divide between the commercial arts and the fine arts. The main contribution of abstract expressionism to "modern art" was to show that good art could be low-brow, and could be made of anything. See: Andy Warhol's Pop Art (c.1959-73).


A-Z List of Modern Art Schools and Movements

Here is a list of movements and schools from the "Modern Era", arranged in alphabetical order.

Abstract Expressionist Painting (1947-65)
Umbrella term for post-war styles known collectively as the New York School.
American Scene Painting (1925-45)
Realist style that exalted rural and small town America.
Armory Show of Modern Art (1913)
Ground-breaking exhibition of modern art held in America.
Art Deco (1925-40)
Sleek design style associated with the new 'Machine Age'.
Art Informel (fl.1950s)
European version of Abstract Expressionism.
Art Nouveau (1890-1914)
Curvilinear design style. Also called Jugendstil (Germany), Stile Liberty (Italy).
Arte Nucleare (1951-60)
Political 'Art Informel-style' group that made art for the nuclear era.
Arts and Crafts Movement (1862-1914)
Anti-mass production movement, championed artisan crafts.
Ashcan School (1900-1915)
New York group whose paintings depicted scenes from poorer areas.
Australian Impressionism (1886-1900)
Plein-air Heidelberg school named after its camps east of Melbourne.
Biomorphic (Organic) Abstraction (1930s/40s)
Rounded forms based on those found in nature. See works by Henry Moore.
Berlin Secession (1898)
Breakaway arts organization led by the artist Max Liebermann.
Camden Town Group (1911-13)
Group of English Impressionists led by Walter Sickert.
Cloisonnism (1888-94)
Style of painting with patches of bright colour enclosed in thick black outlines.
COBRA group (1948-1951)
European equivalent of the New York gesturalism or "action painting".
Colour Field Painting (1948-68)
Style of Abstract Expressionism practised by Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still.
Constructivism (1914-32)
Artistic, design and architectural movement founded by Vladimir Tatlin.
• Cubism (fl.1908-14)
See above: Most Important Movements
• Dada (1916-24)
See above: Most Important Movements
Der Blaue Reiter (1911-14)
German Expressionist group based in Munich.
De Stijl (1917-31)
Dutch avant-garde design group founded by Theo van Doesburg.
Deutscher Werkbund (1907-33)
German body established to improve German industrial design and crafts.
Die Brucke (1905-13)
German Expressionist group in Dresden, later Berlin.
Divisionism (1884-1904)
The theory behind Neo-Impressionism, also known as Chromoluminarism.
Existential Art (1940s, 1950s)
Style of painting and sculpture popularized by Robert Lapoujade and Giacometti.
Expressionist Movement (1880s onwards)
Subjective, often highly coloured and distorted style of painting.
• Fauvism (1905-8)
See above: Most Important Movements
Fluxus (1960s)
Avant-garde movement related to Lettrism, Nouveau Realisme and Neo-Dada.
• Futurism (1909-14)
See above: Most Important Movements
Hard Edge Painting (late 1950s, 1960s)
Variant of Post-Painterly Abstraction, a reaction against gesturalism.
• Impressionism (fl. 1870-1880)
See above: Most Important Movements
Italian Divisionism (1890-1907)
Post-Impressionist style that drew heavily on Pointillism and Neo-Impressionism.
Kitchen Sink Art (mid-1950s)
School of mundane realism.
Macchiaioli (1855-80)
Italian group named after their use of patches (macchia) of colour.
Magic Realism (1920s)
Modern movement noted for its sharp-focus naturalism and offbeat themes.
Metaphysical Painting (1914-20)
Precursor of Surrealism developed by Giorgio de Chirico.
Art without any historical, social or aesthetic references.
Munich Secession (1892)
The first of the progressive art movements in Europe to break away from the conservative arts hierarchy.
Nabis, Les (1890s)
Group of Parisian artists noted for their decorative art.
Neo-Dada (1953-65)
Style noted for its use of unorthodox materials, and anti-establishment ethic.
Neo-Impressionism (1884-1904)
Group noted for its use of small dots of pure paint pigment.
Neo-Plasticism (fl.1918-26)
Rigorous style of abstraction founded by Piet Mondrian.
Neo-Romanticism (1935-55)
Tendency in British painting to recreate visionary landscapes.
New Objectivity (Die Neue Sachlichkeit) (1925-35)
Biting expressionist style which reflected the cynicism of 1920s Germany.
Nouveau Realisme (1958-70)
Imaginative avant-garde precursor of postmodernism founded by Yves Klein.
Op-Art (fl.1965-70)
Form of abstract painting based on optical illusions.
Orphism (1914-15)
Colourful idiom of abstract art invented by Robert Delaunay.
Paris School (Ecole de Paris) (1890-1940)
Label for cluster of modern artists active in Paris, like Picasso, Modigliani.
Pointillism (1884-1904)
Colour theory behind Neo-Impressionism involving small dabs of pure pigment.
• Pop Art (1955-70)
See above: Most Important Movements
Post-Impressionism (1880s/90s)
Loose term for a variety of painting styles developed in the wake of Impressionism.
Post-Painterly Abstraction (1955-65)
Term invented by Clement Greenberg for post-gesturalism movements.
Precisionism (fl.1920s)
Style of realist painting influenced by Futurism and Cubism.
Realism (1850-1900)
Socially aware idiom championed by Courbet.
Regionalism (Scene Painting) (fl.1930s)
Style of painting which exalted small town America.
Social Realism (1930-45)
American style which commented on the problems of the Depression Era.
Socialist Realism (1928-80)
State controlled propagandist art associated chiefly with the Soviet Union.
St Ives School (1939-75)
Colony of abstract artists led by Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth.
Suprematism (1913-18)
Style of Russian abstract painting developed by Kasimir Malevich.
• Surrealism (1924 onwards)
See above: Most Important Movements
Symbolism (1880s/90s)
Symbolists sought a reality from within their imagination and dreams.
Synthetism (1888-94)
Noted for its flat areas of colour. Invented by Gauguin, Emile Bernard.
Tachisme (1950s)
Blotchy form of gestural abstract painting developed in France.
Victorian Art (Britain) (1840-1900)
Arts and crafts from the reign of Queen Victoria. See: Victorian architecture.
Vienna Secession (1897-1939)
Breakaway artist body who rejected the cit's conservative Academy of Arts.
Vingt, Les (1883-93)
Belgian group of progressive artists like James Ensor, Fernand Khnopff.
Vorticism (1914-15)
English Cubist-style painting developed by Percy Wyndham Lewis.

For more details, see: Modern Art Movements (c.1870-1970).

Who are the Greatest Modern Artists?

Modern Painters

Impressionists (flourished 1870-1880)
One of the most revolutionary movements of modern representational art, its leading members included: Claude Monet (1840-1926); Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919); Edgar Degas (1834-1917); Camille Pissarro (1830-1903); Alfred Sisley (1839-1899); Edouard Manet (1832-83); Berthe Morisot (1841-1895); John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). See Impressionist Painters.

Post-Impressionists (flourished 1880-1900)
Modern artists who separated from mainstream Impressionist painting included: James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903); Georges Seurat (1859-1891); Paul Cezanne (1839-1906); Van Gogh (1853-1890); Paul Gauguin (1848-1903); Henri Matisse (1869-1954). See: Post-Impressionist Painters.

Poster Artists
Centered around La Belle Epoque in Paris, poster art was exemplified by the creativity (and inventions) of Jules Cheret (1836-1932), the wonderful "Cabaret Du Chat Noir" poster designed by Theophile Steinlen (1859-1923), the theatrical posters of Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), and the art nouveau works of Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939). After Mucha left for America, the talented Leonetto Cappiello (1875-1942) arrived in Paris from Italy. Another important poster and set designer was Leon Bakst (1866-1924), who came to Paris with the Ballets Russes run by Sergei Diaghilev.

Primitives/Fantasy Artists
This loose category includes the naive Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) (Le Douanier), and the versatile symbolists Paul Klee (1879–1940) and Marc Chagall (1887-1985).

Modern realism flourished outside Europe and included these supreme masters of the idiom: Winslow Homer (1836-1910), Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), and Ilya Repin (1844-1930). See also: Realist Artists.

Expressionists (flourished 1905-1933)
Influenced by Fauvism, the Expressionist movement was exemplified by the work of: Kandinsky, Munch, Modigliani (1884-1920), Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Kirchner, Max Beckmann (1884-1950), Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) and Otto Dix (1891-1969). See also Expressionist Painters.

Cubists (flourished 1908-14)
This revolutionary abstract art movement was co-founded by Braque and Picasso, and received valuable contributions from modern artists like: Juan Gris, Fernand Leger (1881-1955), Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) and Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). See: Cubist Painters.

Abstract Painters
The greatest exponents of abstraction in the modern era included Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935); Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). See: Abstract Painters.

Art Deco (1920s, 1930s)
As much a decorative art and design movement as a style of painting, its most famous representative was probably the glamorous Polish-Russian society portraitist Tamara de Lempicka (c.1895-1980).

The dominant fine art movement during the late 1920s and 1930s, its leading painters included: Joan Miro (1893-1983), Rene Magritte (1898-1967) and Salvador Dali (1904-89). See: Surrealist Artists.

Abstract Expressionists
Abstract expressionist painting was the first great American art movement. Also known as the New York school, its leading members included: Rothko, Pollock, Willem De Kooning (1904-97), Clyfford Still (1904-1980), Barnett Newman (1905-70), Robert Motherwell (1915-91), Franz Kline (1910-62) and others.

This popular style of modern art superceded the more intellectual Abstract Expressionism and was exemplified by painters such as: Andy Warhol (1928-87) and Roy Lichtenstein (1923-97).

Modern Sculptors

Leading sculptors during the modern era included: the expressive realist Auguste Rodin (1840-1917); the expressionists Ernst Barlach (1870-1938) and Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881-1919); the avant-garde artist Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957); the Futurist Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), the Cubists Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964), Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918), Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967), Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973) and Naum Gabo (1890-1977); the kineticists Alexander Calder (1898-1976) and Jean Tinguely (1925-91); and the Swiss minimalist sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901-66). Other modernist forms are represented by the primitive works of Modigliani (1884-1920) and Jacob Epstein (1880-1959); and the "found objects" known as "readymades" of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). Meanwhile, modern British sculpture was embodied by Henry Moore (1898-1986), Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) and Ben Nicholson (1894-1982). Modern sculpture in America is exemplified by the works of James Earle Fraser (1876-1953), Daniel Chester French (1850-1931), Anna Hyatt Huntingdon (1876-1973), and Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941). Mid-twentieth century modernism is represented by the assemblages of Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) and Cesar Baldaccini (1921-98); the heroic statues of Yevgeny Vuchetich (1908-74); and the emotive holocaust sculptures of Wiktor Tolkin (1922-2013) and Nandor Glid (1924-97). See also: 20th Century Sculptors.

Art Appreciation
See: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture (1850-present).

Modern Printmakers

Modern exponents of printmaking - engraving, etching, lithographics and silkscreen - include: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), MC Escher (1898-1972), Willem de Kooning (1904-97), Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), Andy Warhol (1928-87).

Modern Stained Glass Artists

Among the top exponents of stained glass art included: Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Joan Miro (1893-1983), Harry Clarke (1889-1931), Sarah Purser (1848-43) and Evie Hone (1894-1955).

Modern Photgraphers

Modern photographic art (1870-1970) is indebted to the pioneering efforts of Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) and Edward Steichen (1879-1973). Otherwise, modernist photography is highlighted by the pictorialism of Man Ray (1890-1976); the landscapes of Ansel Adams (1902-84); the architectural photos of Eugene Atget (1857-1927), and Bernd and Hilla Becher; the fashion shots of Norman Parkinson (1913-90), Irving Penn (1917-2009) and Richard Avedon (1923-2004); the portraiture of Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79), Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) & Walker Evans (1903–1975); and the street photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004).


Which are the 25 Greatest Modern Paintings?

Here is a chronological list of the finest examples of modern painting (1870-1970), as selected by our Editor.

Impression, Sunrise (1873) Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.
By Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876) Musee d'Orsay, Paris
By Renoir (1841-1919)

The Gross Clinic (1875) University of Pennsylvania.
By Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882) Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
By John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

Religious Procession in Kursk Gubernia (1883) Tretyakov Gallery.
By Ilya Repin (1844-1930)

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-6) AIC.
By Georges Seurat (1859-1891)

Cafe Terrace at Night, Arles (1888) Yale University Art Gallery.
By Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

The Scream (1893) oil tempera & pastel, National Gallery, Oslo.
By Edvard Munch (1863-1944)

Girl with a Fan (1902) Folkwang Museum, Hessen.
By Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

The Large Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) (1906) National Gallery, London; Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA.
By Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)

The Kiss (1907-8) oil & gold on canvas, Osterreichischegallerie, Vienna.
By Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
By Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

La Danse (1910) Hermitage, St Petersburg.
By Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912) Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.
By Giacomo Balla (1871-1958)

Nude Descending a Staircase No.2 (1912) Philadelphia Museum of Art.
By Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)

Seated Nude (1916) Courtauld Institute, London.
By Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)

Le Coquelicot (The Corn Poppy) (1919) Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, Albi.
By Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)

Girl with Gloves (1929) Private Collection.
By Tamara de Lempicka (1895-1980)

American Gothic (1930) oil on beaverboard, Art Institute of Chicago.
By Grant Wood (1891-1942)

Guernica (1937) oil on canvas, Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid.
By Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Nighthawks (1942) Art Institute of Chicago.
By Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-3) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
By Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)

No.1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) (1950) National Gallery, Washington DC.
By Jackson Pollock (1912-56)

Woman 1 (1950-2) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
By Willem De Kooning (1904-97)

The Listening Room (1952) Menil Collection, Houston.
By Rene Magritte (1898-1967)

The Screaming Pope (1953) William Burden Collection, New York.
By Francis Bacon (1909-92)

Four Marilyns (1962) Private Collection.
By Andy Warhol (1928-86)

Which are the 25 Greatest Modern Sculptures?

Here is a chronological list of the best modern works of sculpture (1870-1970), as compiled by our Editor.

David (c.1872) Bronze, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
By Marius Jean Antonin Mercier (1845-1916)

Statue of Liberty (1886) Copper, Liberty Island, New York Harbour.
By Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904)

Little Dancer aged Fourteen (1879-81) Bronze, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
By Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

The Kiss (1888-9) Marble, Musee Rodin, Paris.
By Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

Standing Nude (1907) Musee National d'Art Moderne, Pompidou Centre, Paris.
By Andre Derain (1880-1954)

The Kiss (1907) Stone, Hamburgerkunsthalle, Hamburg.
By Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957)

Walking Woman (1912) Denver Museum of Art.
By Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964)

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) Museum of Modern Art, NY.
By Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916)

The Large Horse (1914-18) Original in Philadelphia Museum of Art.
By Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918)

End of the Trail (1915) Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, USA.
By James Earle Fraser (1876-1953)

Fallen Man (1915-16) New National Gallery, Berlin.
By Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881-1919)

Constructed Head No. 2 (1916) Nasher Sculpture Centre, Dallas.
By Naum Gabo (1890-1977)

Statue of Lincoln (1922) Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC.
By Daniel Chester French (1850-1931)

Woman with Guitar (1927) Private Collection.
By Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973)

Mount Rushmore Presidential Portraits (1927-41) South Dakota.
By Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) and his son Lincoln Borglum (1912-86)

Adam (1938) Harewood House, Leeds, UK.
By Jacob Epstein (1880-1959)

Fighting Stallions (1950) Hyatt Huntingdon Sculpture Garden, S. Carolina.
By Anna Hyatt Huntingdon (1876-1973)

The Destroyed City (1953) Schiedamse Dijk, Rotterdam.
By Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967)

Sky Cathedral (1958) Assemblage, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
By Louise Nevelson (1899-1988)

Walking Man I (1960) Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence.
By Alberto Giacometti (1901-66)

Divided Head (1963) Bronze, Fiorini, London.
By Cesar Baldaccini (1921-98)

Locking Piece (1963-4) Henry Moore Foundation, Millbank, London.
By Henry Moore.

The Motherland Calls (1967) Mamayev Kurgan, Stalingrad (now Volgagrad)
By Yevgeny Vuchetich (1908-74)

The Dachau Memorial (1968) Munich, Germany.
By Nandor Glid (1924-97)

The Majdanek Memorial (1969) Lublin, Poland.
By Wiktor Tolkin (1922-2013).


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