20th Century Art: From Expressionism to Cubism

Three main currents of influence ignited creativity, and guided painting at the turn of the twentieth century: Expressionism, Abstraction, and Fantasy. (Janson and Janson, 2004, p. 802). Expressionism is a form that focuses on the expression of the artist’s feelings, emotions, and their perception of the world around them. One of the art movements that Expressionism covers is the Fauves. Abstraction can be classified as an art form that focuses on the formality of structure within a piece of art and includes art forms like cubism. Finally, fantasy, emerges as an art form that is classified by its use of one’s imagination, and irrational structures. (p. 802).Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½


Fauvists, or “wild beasts”, as coined by art critic Louis Vauxcelles (Janson and Janson, 2004, pp. 802-803), utilized the artistic techniques developed in the previous Post-Impressionist era. They incorporated the insanely bold color palette of Van Gogh, with the figurative distortion of Gauguin, to create a new Expressionist style of art that boldly stated MODERN ART. Henri Matisse was one of these young modern artists who embraced this style. His painting The Joy of Life (p. 803) demonstrates the boldness of color choices, and the vibrancy of flowing lines and fluidity of the implied motion of its subjects. Its primitive figures stand out against the background as if they had been removed from a cave painting and transplanted onto a modern canvas.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

In Germany the Expressionist Movement had also taken up followers. Die Brucke, a German Expressionist group of Bohemian painters experimented with art styles and boundaries. Erich Heckel, one of these artists moved the style to woodcuts, and created pieces like Woman Before a Mirror (Janson and Janson, 2004, p. 806) that really expressed this style in a new form. German painters like Kirschner used vibrant color, primitive characters, and experimental lines to create impressionistic pieces like Self-portrait with Model. (p. 805).�¯�¿�½

Russia also had its fair share of Expressionists. One master artist, Kandinsky used Fauvist elements to create pieces of art that contained mystical qualities. The Bride of the Wind is one of these mystical pieces. Simple lines of color that are laid together against a dark background created the movement, structure, and narrative of this piece. The characters are brought to life through the interplay of colors that create figures and forms seemingly without borders.�¯�¿�½


Within the realm of Abstraction came the art style known as Cubism. This style focused on the volume and space of sharp structures within a composition. In Analytic Cubism, faceted shapes were used to create the subjects within the painting. This styles was clearly illustrated through Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of Ambroise Vollard. (Janson and Janson, 2004, p. 811). Synthetic Cubism, on the other hand, advanced Cubism to a bolder form that combined, or collage, Cubist structure together to create a composition. The leading artist in this genre was George Braque who greatly contributed to this form’s creation and development. Braque’s work included Newspaper, Bottle, Packet of Tobacco. (pp.812-813). Picasso also worked with Braque in the development of this art form and made contributions like Still Life with Chair Caning (p. 813) that demonstrates the “paste up” style that started the Synthetic Cubism Movement.


Janson, H.W. & Janson, Anthony F. (2004). History of Art: The Western Tradition. (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-Prentice Hall.

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