In the latter half of the 19th century, in the verdant countryside near Aix-en-Provence, Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), busily plied his brush to landscapes and still lifes that would become anchors of modern art. With compact, intense dabs of paint and bold new approaches to light and space, he mediated the way from Impressionism to the defining movements of the early 20th century and became, in the words of both Matisse and Picasso, “father of us all.”
Pioneered by Picasso and Braque, Cubism has been described as the first avant-garde art movement of the 20th century. With inspiration from African and Native American art and sculpture, its practitioners deconstructed European conventions of viewpoint, form, perspective to create flattened, fragmented, and revolutionary images.
Painter, sculptor, writer, filmmaker, and all-round showman Salvador Dalí (1904–1989) was one of the 20th century’s greatest exhibitionists and eccentrics. One of the first artists to apply the insights of Freudian psychoanalysis to art, he is celebrated in particular for his surrealist practice, with such conceits as the soft watches or the lobster telephone, now hallmarks of the surrealist enterprise, and of modernism in general.
When is a urinal no longer a urinal? When Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) declared it to be art. The uproar that greeted the French artist’s Fountain (1917), a porcelain urinal installed in a gallery, sent shock waves through the art world establishment that reverberate right through to today.
Lucian Freud (1922–2011) was interested in the telling of truths. Always operating outside the main currents of 20th-century art, the esteemed portrait painter observed his subjects with the regimen and precision of a laboratory scientist. He recorded not only the blotches, bruises, and swellings of the living body, but also, beneath the flaws and folds of flesh, the microscopic details of what lies within: the sensation, the emotion, the intelligence, the bloom, and the inevitable, unstoppable decay.
With motion and machines as its most treasured tropes, Futurism was founded in 1909 by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, along with painters Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, and Gino Severini. With affiliate painters, sculptors, designers, architects, and writers, the group sought to subsume the dusty establishment into a new age of sleek, strong, purified modernity.
From the towering Sagrada Família to the shimmering, textured façade of Casa Batlló and the enchanting landscape of Park Güell, it’s easy to see why Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) gained the epithet “God’s architect.” With fluid forms and mathematical precision, his work extols the wonder of natural creation: columns soar like tree trunks, window frames curve like flowering branches, and ceramic tiling shimmers like scaly, reptilian skin.
Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) was not cut out for finance. Nor did he last particularly long in the French Navy, or as a tarpaulin salesman in Copenhagen who did not speak Danish. He began painting in his spare time in 1873 and in 1876 took part in the Paris Salon. Three years later, he was exhibiting alongside Pissarro, Degas, and Monet.
From court portraits for the Spanish royals to horrific scenes of conflict and suffering, Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828) made a mark as one of Spain’s most revered and controversial artists. A master of form and light, his influence reverberates down the centuries, inspiring and fascinating artists from the Romantic Eugène Delacroix to Britart enfants terribles, the Chapman brothers.
In this TASCHEN Basic Art introduction to Impressionism, we explore the artists, subjects, and techniques that first brought the easel out of the studio and shifted artistic attention from history, religion, or portraiture to the evanescent ebb and flow of modern life.
From impossible staircases to tesselated birds, Dutch artist M.C. Escher (1898–1972) crafted a unique graphic language of patterns, puzzles, and mathematics. Dense, complex, and structured by intricate principles, his work is at the same time decorative and playful, toying constantly with optic illusions and the limitations of sensory perception. For mathematicians and scientists, Escher is a mastermind. For hippies, he was the pioneer of psychedelic art.
The work of Henri Matisse (1869–1954) reflects an ongoing belief in the power of brilliant colors and simple forms. Though famed in particular for his paintings, Matisse also worked with drawing, sculpture, lithography, stained glass, and collage, developing his unique cut-out medium when old age left him unable to stand and paint.
Italian-born Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475–1564) was a tormented, prodigiously talented, and God-fearing Renaissance man. His manifold achievements in painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, and engineering combined body, spirit, and God into visionary masterpieces that changed art history forever. Famed biographer Giorgio Vasari considered him the pinnacle of Renaissance achievement. His peers called him simply “Il Divino” (“the divine one”). For…
Famed for his motto “less is more,” Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) was one of the founding fathers of modern architecture and a hotly-debated tastemaker of twentieth-century aesthetics and urban experience.
The rebel hero of Abstract Expressionism, Jackson Pollock (1912–1956) careened through his life like a firework across the American art landscape. Channeling ideas from sources as diverse as Picasso and Mexican surrealism, he rejected convention to develop his own way of seeing, interpreting, and expressing.
One of the leading lights of the Impressionist movement, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) remains a towering figure in art history with enduring public appeal. Sun-kissed, charming, and sensual, his work shows painting at its most lighthearted and luminous, while championing the plein air and color innovations of his time.