Contextual Studies – Lecture Four

Modernity and Modernism:


The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 to commemorate the beginning of the French Revolution one hundred years earlier. The Eiffel Tower itself is a work of modern art, it was made of iron to symbolise freedom and the industrial revolution that took over Paris. The tower was the tallest standing structure of its time and was designed by an Engineer named Kristof Eiffel. During the planning of the huge monument, Eiffel envisioned his sculpture as a humanoid figure in the center of Paris, the four legs also represent the four corners of the world which projects the message of global modernity. The tower opened to the public nine days after the exhibition. The aerial view gave a whole new perspective to the public, inspiring artists to play with space on their canvases. This historical event is one of many that kickstarted modern art, the new perspective of aerial views also made some critics and artists open to the idea of modernism.

The modernist era made for huge advances in technology, in 1822 (premodernism) the first ever permanent photograph was developed by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce a French inventor. Photography was quite a slow process for the most part of the 19th century. The camera’s were huge and took a very traditional path in terms of art. Only the rich and famous were to be photographed. In 1885, roll film was invented by George Eastman which opened doors to filmmaking and photography. In 1888 photography as an artform became more accessible to the public as the first Kodak box camera was invented. The Kodak camera was small, compact and easy to carry. This changed the world of photography.


In the late 1880’s, machines took over the world and replaced many workers in mills, factories and farms. A lot of people didn’t like the idea of machines, many believed that they would turn on humanity and destroy the world. These sorts of ideologies inspired modern art and are still around in the postmodernist era.

Metropolis (1927)


The Card Players (1881 – 1955) Fernand Leger

There was a new world and it was hitting cities like London and Paris extremely hard. In 1879 the first Edison electric light bulb was produced on a mass scale and houses slowly started to convert to electricity, in 1893 the first Thomas Ford Automobile was invented, in 1892 the diesel engine was invented, in 1895 the first moving image camera was invented, in 1909 the first flight across the English Channel was completed successfully. All of these things made a huge impact on modern art. The creation of the light bulb meant that lighting had changed, artists now started to paint light in orange or blue. The Kodak camera, which was easily acquired stole the limelight and the business from traditional portrait painters which meant that they needed something new. The new modern age had liberated artists from an accurate representation, it allowed them to experiment with shape, size and colour. As the cities boomed, artists were more likely to paint city life rather than rural life. The modern era came out of nowhere, but it took a grip of the world and changed it forever.

I, Robot (2004)

These ideas still inspire works of art even today, this trailer from the 2004 film I, Robot is extremely similar in terms of subject matter. The film is about the takeover of robots, they replace other machines and humans, taking jobs and throwing the human race into a lazy void. However, things go wrong and the robots are evil and attempt to take over the world.

 Obviously at the time of early modernism, technology and the industrial take over happened extremely quickly and it was very new to the world. It scared people because it was so new and it took over rapidly. These fears started to change the way some artists made their art.


The Card Players (1881 – 1955) Fernand Leger

This abstract cubist painting by Leger depicts the broken and fragmented images of soldiers playing card games. Their bodies are made of almost a mechanical looking material, the painting itself looks incredibly industrial in terms of subject matter. Leger belonged to the cubists. Cubists were inspired by sharp shapes and distorted subject matters. Cubist paintings also have more than one focal point, the aesthetics of the painting, more specifically the composition, makes your eyes scan the canvas to take the whole piece in.


Three Women (1921) Fernand Leger

Three women, painted in 1921, is a more figurative painting than its predecessor. The painting itself is still abstract in terms of aesthetics, but the subject matter is much easier to put together. The piece is put together using bright and unnatural colors for the time, much later in the late sixties and early seventies, modern art had inspired the world to embrace its wacky laws and eventually, colors like these became the norm. The piece is made up of patterns which aesthetically are created with distorted shapes. The three women depicted within the painting look extremely robotic due to the emphasised joints.


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.

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,

Contextual Studies – Lecture One

The importance of Fine Art in wider visual culture: Piet Mondrian, (1872 – 1944)

Fine Art, particularly modern art. has inspired visual culture since the early 20th century with its unique design and unexpected impact in modern society. Artists such as Piet Mondrian has created work that has inspired and impacted visual culture throughout the 20th century and even today long after his death.


Piet Mondrian ‘Composition With Red, Blue and Yellow‘ (1930)

This particular painting, which was completed in 1921, has inspired fashion, architecture, engineering and even product design. The images below depict a modern-day Kleenex box, a car, a building and a still from Katy Perry’s ‘This is how we Do‘ music video.





As you can see, Mondrian has had a huge impact on modern visual culture, even today his work is still inspiring to those in all creative industries. And it’s not just Mondrian in today’s limelight. Modern Artists such as; Pollock, Dali, Matisse, Picasso and Monet can still be remembered through things you walk by every day. In a way, their inspirational work has made them all live forever.

What I Should Consider When Looking at Fine Art:

  • Colour takes a till on art when it is viewed online or even in a book as it loses it’s authenticity of colour when it is photographed. To fully understand an artist and their work I must make sure that the colour composition is absolutely right when viewing it online and if I can help it, I should view it in a gallery.

picasso weeping woman

Pablo Picasso ‘Weeping Woman‘ (1937)

This is an image I found of Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ online, with a quick search in google. However, this is only one version of the painting. Below, you will see two more of the same painting, but there is a difference in colour. One is darker in the areas of white, while the other appears blue.

download (1)

Picasso, Weeping Woman 1937.jpg

As you can see, it is absolutely imperative that the colour is correct when referencing or even viewing a piece as you may analyse something that doesn’t even exist.

  • Scale is also important when looking at art as viewing a piece in a non-physical form could mean that you miss the point of the piece entirely. When looking at art you must always look at the piece as it is exhibited or you will not get the experience and emotional energies that you would when visiting a gallery that displayed that particular art. Of course you won’t get those experiences looking at the images online, but you would be far more educated if looking at the exhibited images.

Autumn Rhythm Number 30, 1950  by Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock ‘One‘ (1950)


Salvador Dali ‘The Persistence of Memory‘ (1931)

As you can see, the images appear to be of similar size when viewed as a scale photograph or copy of the piece. However, this is not the case with these two pieces. ‘One’, in reality, is much larger than ‘The Persistence of Memory’.



These are the real size of these pieces as they are exhibited. I have found images with people in them so that you can get a real sense of the scale of these artworks.

  • Viewing non-physical versions of art can also eliminate the texture of the canvas it is created on. The lack of depth of a two dimensional copy can take something away that is supposed to be there.


Here is another image of Mondrian’s ‘Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow.’ This image however is a photograph of the original from 1930. As you can see it has much more texture than the re-created version above.

  • The location of artwork is equally as important as the other three points. The location of a piece can make an incredible difference to the outcome of the display. There could be other factors to take into consideration about the environment around the painting. Lighting is extremely important in all artwork as the way the piece is lit could determine the perception an audience has about a piece.


Ron Muek ‘A Girl

As you can see this sculpture is placed directly in the middle of the room due to its enormous scale. This sculpture wouldn’t work if it was placed against a wall or even dangling from the roof. This is because Muek wants his audience to take in all of his sculpture and not be limited to how they can view it. The space around the piece becomes part of the sculpture as the viewer can fully immerse themselves and become part of the artwork presented to them.