History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: Origins of Modern Nationalism

Symbolic Art click here for audio part 1

From about 1865 until the Great War began in 1914, artistic endeavor experienced something of a metamorphosis, the heart of which was an argument over what constituted art.

Bouguereau exhibit
A typical Academy painting by Adolphe-William Bouguerau, who said, "In painting, I'm an idealist. I see only the beautiful in art and, for me, art is the beautiful. Why reproduce what is ugly in nature?"
In the first half of the 19th century, schools of painting had certain standards and particular subjects that were considered acceptable by the "Academy". For example, classical subjects and settings were appropriate, as were Biblical subjects, so long as they were handled in an accepted manner. Mild eroticism was appreciated by those in the know. But the post-Napoleonic revolutionary spirit, a desire for newness, compounded by new forms of nationalism, the experiences of empire, and wars for unification, created an experimental era for art.

 

Influences of Imperialism

Contact with other cultures influenced many artists, especially the flat perspectives of Japanese painting and the tribal arts of Africa.

Gauguin, Paul
The Vision After the Sermon
(Jacob Wrestling with the Angel)

(1888)

Gaughin and other painters used the traditional life of Brittany, in northern France, to create exotic landscapes. In this picture, women are seeing a vision after hearing a sermon. Notice the flat perspective.

Impressionism


Edouard Manet, Dejeuner sur l'herbe
(Luncheon on the Grass) 1863

Edouard Manet, Olympia (1863)

These pictures by Manet represent a break with the traditions of 19th century painting, though Manet did not intend this. Although other painters had used realism to depict the plight of the poor or the elegance of the natural world, Manet's Luncheon on the Grass shockingly showed two clothed men with a naked woman (some called it "Who's For Lunch?") and Olympia looked like a Parisian prostitute, looking right into the "camera". His background of Dejeuner is impressionistic; the trees look like vague impressions of trees and don't have much detail.

Monet's Water Lilies

Claude Monet was another French painter, but in a very different mode. Monet's Water Lilies (1902) shows the ultimate extent of impressionism, as he painted the same subjects over and over in different light, examining the impressions of light, shadow and subject in a controlled environment.

Impressionism was, like romanticism and realism, a response to the industrial world. Now considered typical art, the impressionists were trying to do something very different.

Vienna Succession

Not everywhere did artistic norms change so radically; in Eastern Europe the painterly tradition was suffocating other artists. The response was the Viennese Succession movement.

One of the great works of the succession was Klimt's Beethoven Frieze(1902).

Art of the Western World:
Episode 8: Into the Twentieth Century

Now you can play Beethoven's 9th for yourself and look at this.

 

Expressionism click here for audio part 2

Edward Munch, The Scream (1893)

Munch was a Norwegian painter who specialized in images of psychological angst. He led the movement called German Expressionism, which focused on expressing the inner life of the mind. This paralleled efforts in psychology, particularly by Sigmund Freud, to access the subconscious.

Munch's The Scream

Egon Schiele
Self-Portrait Standing
(1910)

Egon Schiele, was, by some accounts, paranoid, narcissistic, and possessed of an abberant sexuality which defied the norms of the day. Psychological profiles of him as an artist are rich with prurient references. Yet his genius drawings were recognized by artists like Klimt, to whom he wished to be a successor.

His pictures are seen, like Munch's, to represent internal torment. But many of his drawings of young girls were sold as pornography, making him a unique expressor of particular values.

Schiele self-portrait

Modern Art

Art was clearly becoming more modern. Between these years and the Great War in 1914, the symbolism of art became more abstract. Some samples:

Pablo Picasso. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. (1907)

Picasso developed the modern style of cubism, which was meant to represent looking at an image from several perspectives simultaneously. In this picture, a den of prostitution becomes a place of fear and mystery. Notice in the models on the right how cubism can distort the features, and begin to abstract them.

 

Mondrian, Piet
Composition No. II; Composition in Line and Color
(1913)

This is a picture of an object abstracted into lines and color. Mondrian believed in divine order, in society as well as in art. Some have said his work is impressionistic, an effort to distill the experience with an object to keep its energy while rejecting it as an object with which one must relate. We head more and more toward geometric abstraction.

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