Contextual Studies – Lecture Two

The Beginnings of Modern Art


Impressionism was created in the early twentieth century by a group of controversial French artists based in Paris. Impressionism was often criticised for being too unrealistic by traditional artists and critics due to the outlandish composition and shocking style. Impressionist art is very spontaneous in terms of texture. It almost looks rushed as if to capture a moment in time as quickly as possible. The brush strokes are incredibly textured, you can see the bristles from the brush within the paint and you can see how the picture was created. There is no ideas behind impressionism, no religious, historical or even portraits of famous people of their time, it’s just life.


Calude Monet – ‘The Water Lily Pond‘ (1900)

Monet kick started the first movement in modern art with his beautiful composition and absolutely outrageous style of painting. Monet angered a lot of critics and traditional artists with this painting in particular. The almost abstract foliage and sketched bridge created one of the biggest uproars in art history. This style of painting was very new in the art world and was instantly branded as ‘not art’ because people were not used to seeing such unrealistic art. The first impressionist exhibition was set up by Monet and two other influential impressionists. Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The exhibition was held in a photography studio belonging to Nadar which included thirty artists and included 165 pieces of art. The term impressionism derived from Monet’s ‘Impression: Sunrise‘ (1873) Originally these artists called themselves ‘The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers etc.‘ 


Claude Monet ‘Impression: Sunrise‘ (1873


Realism was also quite pioneering in terms of modern art. It was created in the mid 19th century after the French Revolution in 1848, and is closer to traditional art than any other modernist movement. Realism is the representation of realistic subject matter and has prevailed as an artform throughout the modernist era. It is one of the cornerstones that built what modern art is today. Realism is a direct protest against traditional art.


Gustave Corbet ‘The Stone Breakers‘ (1849)


Michelangelo ‘The Creation of Adam‘ (1511)

As you can see from the paintings above, ‘The Creation of Adam’  is very traditional in terms of subject matter. It depicts God as he gives life to Adam, the first man on earth in Christianity. Traditional art will always depict the rich, the famous, religious or mythological figures or historical events. When you look at Corbet’s paintings, they depict the working class and normal, everyday people. This very realistic representation of lower-class life is what gives this movement the title of realism. This was the beginning of modernism, a very avant-garde movement in art history,


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