Modernism and Modern Art Movements 19th & 20th Centuries

Modernism was a cultural movement which spread across Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is difficult to define, but generally it was viewed as a move towards change. The fully industrialised world of the time had a particular impact on more traditional ways of living and traditional forms in the arts. People began looking at new possibilities for more innovative creations and activities.

A key precursor in the change of painting was the invention of the camera. The photographic image replaced the function of the painting, forcing the painter to do more than just record the person or event as he saw it.



A 19th century art movement rejecting Realism and Impressionism and their representation of the visual and concrete world. The Symbolists sought to express mystical and spiritual ideas through colour and line. They used these elements to express emotions and thoughts that were beyond literal descriptions.

Edvard Munch (1863-1944), The Scream, 1893
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), The Kiss, c. 1907



Surrealism can be understood as the art of the imagination and dreams. The Surrealists was wanted to create art based on or using their subconscious thought. They were greatly inspired by the philosophical writings of Sigmund Freud, (The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900).

The Surrealists also used art-making techniques such as automatism, whereby the artist would draw freely, allowing his hand to move with minimum conscious control. This kind of unconscious art was also achieved by throwing paper on the floor or allowing the paint to drip from the brush.

Joan Miro (1893-1983), The Birth of the World, 1925
Rene Magritte (1898-1967), The Treachery of Images, 1928-9 and Personal Values, 1952 Salvador Dali (1904-89), The Persistence of Memory, 1931



Cubism is recognised as a style of painting invented by Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) in the 20th century. Inspired by Cezanne’s theory of reducing form to its geometric shapes, these artists used collage and paint to make 2D images of 3D objects, and places, from multiple viewpoints.

The initial influence was African art, particularly African masks. Picasso’s, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 is often cited as the first Cubist painting.

Cubism can be divided into 2 phases:

Analytical Cubism (1907-1912)

The first phase of Analytical Cubism began with a limited colour palette of earth colours and greys. They tried to represent figures, landscapes and still life as they might be seen from a number of different viewpoints. They dismantled the objects, reducing them to geometric shapes and then reassembled them.

Example: Braque, Young Girl with Guitar, 1913

Synthetic Cubism (b1912)
The second phase of Cubism welcomed the introduction of collage and found objects. They also mixed sand and saw dust to their paint in order to create different textures.

Example: Picasso, Collage, 1913


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