Contextual Studies – Lecture Three

High Modernism: A New Purpose for Art. 


William Hoffman Hunt – ‘The Awakening Conscience‘ (1853/4)

This traditional painting is a Pre-Raphaelite which was painted in the mid-nineteenth century using oil paint on a white canvas. The painting depicts an upperclass male and female in quite a cluttered music room which gives the sense of an urgency or something very fast has happened in terms of narrative. The male has his hands around the female as she appears to push his hands away. The most important thing in this image is the facial expression and the direction of vision within the characters as these characteristics explain the whole narrative of the painting. The narrative speaks of an upperclass man whom has brought the gift of music to his mistress. However the mistress is captured at the point of her ‘awakening conscience.’ The moment she is overwhelmed with guilt causes her to look out of the window, towards freedom.

 This particular Hoffman Hunt painting is painted using oil paints. He uses very fine, realistic brush strokes which gives this polished image an almost photographic look. His brush strokes are also very traditional in terms of perspective as the painting has unbelievably brilliant depth. There is also an incredible attention to detail. The clutter around the room, the decor and especially the cat under the table playing with a dead bird, which is a direct metaphor to the narrative. Hoffman Hunt is telling his female viewers, or projecting his thoughts on equity and behavior. He is essentially telling them how they shouldn’t behave.


Henri Matisse – ‘Portrait of Madame Matisse/ The Green Line’ – (1905)

Matisse, a pioneer in modern art, painted a portrait of his beloved wife Amélie Matisse. There is a huge difference between this painting and the more traditional Hoffman Hunt and that is the lack of narrative. This was the era of Avant-Garde, translates to Vanguard, meaning experimental or pushing for new ideas. The title ‘The Green Line‘ comes from the line in the middle of her face to break up the composition. He uses a variety of colour to create an almost illusive depth to his portrait. The portrait of his wife looks almost oriental which is a representation of Paris’ treading fashion during that period. 

 This painting, in comparison to ‘The Awakening Conscience‘ is not realistic. The brush strokes are visible, where as in the works of Hoffman Hunt, it’s very clean and polished to give it that photorealistic look. The brush strokes in ‘The Green Line’ are very hard and textured within the painting, it gives it a sense of quickness and spontaneity as though the artist was working fast to capture the moment. Matisse also uses very bold and unnatural colour when he presents his work. He is renowned for being uninterested in subject matter and detail, his real interest lies in composition and colour. There is a huge difference in terms of depth between the two images. Matisse uses different shades of colour and harsh, horizontal brush strokes to create depth in the facial features. Hoffman Hunt uses light and size to create his beautifully crafted depth.


Piet Mondrian – ‘Composition‘ (1921)

This painting, which was mentioned in a previous post as being revolutionary in terms of visual culture, ventures further away from even Matisse. This abstract painting has no subject matter at all, it also carries no depth and has no expressive brush strokes. It’s a very clean, bold and geometric painting with almost no similarities to it’s Pre-Raphaelite predecessor. However, when compared to Matisse, although they are very different, they do hold some similarities that link the two together. They are very different, Matisse is figurative, whereas Mondrian is abstract, which is probably the most different characteristic. They both, however, use a similar pattern. The background in ‘The Green Line’ uses very similar geometrical and colour patterns giving them both a similar composition. They both belong to the modernist movement which all have the same characteristics.

  • Modern Art is the subjective view of the artist whom can use creative freedom to express those views.
  • Modern Artists excuse narrative from their art.
  • Modernists have a creative essence that eliminates specific details.
  • All modern art is autonomous, the art is independent and doesn’t rely on the outside world.


James Abbot McNeill Whistler – ‘The Old Battersea Bridge: Nocturn Blue and Gold‘ (1872)

This painting is incredibly important in terms of modern art. Whistler, after being insulted by Pre-Raphaelite Brother, John Ruskin, went to court to defend his painting which was criticized as ‘a tin of paint thrown over a canvas’. Whistler of course won the case, despite having only won a penny, won something far greater for the rise of modernism… recognition.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s