Throughout history, art has evolved, grown, gone back in time and explored beyond the limits that society and pre-conceived ideas put upon it. From 1889 to 1914 art was constantly changing and evolving, as it had been before and as it continued doing after. It was constantly playing with people’s and convention’s taste and opinions, to become one of the most delightful and experimental artistic periods in history.
In 1889, Vincent Van Gogh painted The Starry Night, which, being one of the most emblematic paintings in history, reflects the experimental relation between art and the painter’s emotion, as well as challenging naturalistic representations of colour and shape through broad strokes. Throughout his work, Van Gogh expresses an interest towards a colourful expressionist style, which evolves from French Impressionism.
Claude Monet’s The Water-Lily Pond (1899) exemplifies Impressionist style, where light dominates the painting to transmit the observer’s impression rather than the realism of the landscape, offering a colourful, bright atmosphere. Throughout his life, Monet experimented with the eye’s perception of reality and light, studying it, for instance, through the series of the Rouen Cathedral during the 1890s or the Westminster series from 1899 to 1905. Impressionist artists such as Pissarro, Degas, Renoir, Cassatt and Morisot contributed to the French artistic circles and are also essential figures in the Impressionist movement.
Related to such styles but created in Norway rather than France, The Scream (1893) by Edvard Munch exteriorises the painter’s feelings and mentality by the creation of a red, chaotic atmosphere that transmits anxiety, fear and despair. Found in an entry of his personal diary, Munch wrote “the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red … there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord … and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”
The start of the twentieth century also witnessed experimental vanguard art such as Picasso and Braque’s cubism. Picasso’s famous proto-cubist painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was painted in 1907, previously to his Cubist Period where he experiments with geometry and deconstructs images. Also, he engaged in a project together with Braque, using grey colours to represent figures aiming at deconstructing reality in order to simultaneously depict diverse perspectives of it. The cubist movement can be seen as an almost philosophical focus on reality and perception.
The large diversity of the end of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth century gave room for even more different forms of art to coexist. From Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters such as Moulin Rouge: La Goulue (1891) to Composition VII (1913), by Kandinski, the period brings together commercial illustration with the start of artistic abstraction. The Kiss (1908) by Gustav Klimt, the main figure of the symbolist movement in Vienna, is well known for its beautiful decorative style, using gold leaf and representations of flowers. Only two years later, Matisse painted Dance (1910), a bright tricoloured canvas that depicts a rhythmic and energetic group of dancers, and Portrait of Madame Matisse in 1906, which expresses emotion through bright, dissonant colours, being one of the best examples of Fauvism. The period allowed Austrian symbolism, abstract art, Fauvism and the emblematic posters of the French Belle Époque to blossom at the same time.
Already settled into Impressionism and Expressionism, this period is composed by the richness of not only French’s Belle Époque artistic circles and movements, but also experimental vanguards and Norwegian and Austria’s unique works of art.