You will only find revolutions in painting and sculpture style here.  The history of fine art is full of revolutionary movements some of which have caused nearly as much fuss as political revolutions.








Donatello, 1386-1466 (80)
Italy
David, c1420-1460
Bronze
158 cm (h)
Bargello: Florence
 
Donatello was a force for change in the early renaissance. Basing his work on antiquity Donatello crafted his figures in a more “human-like” way allowing them to show emotion and personality. This was a considerable move way from the solemn, formal representations of classical times. He invented new ways of incorporating perspective into relief carving, depicted motion in his sculptures and he was a seminal influence on Michelangelo (1475-1564). From 1404 to 1407 he worked with Brunelleschi (said to be the inventor of perspective) in Rome and later in Ghiberti’s studio in Florence helping with the design and construction of the doors of the Florence Bapistry. Donatello lived to the remarkably old age of 80.
 
David was the first life-size statue to go on public display since antiquity. The work shows a youthful David in the softly curved early gothic style rather than a classical warrior. He is naked and vulnerable. The overlarge sword emphasises this and his success against Goliath must be attributed to his faith in God rather than any physical advantage. The figure looks demurely downwards to minimise the events which have lead to Goliath’s death though the left arm with its hand holding the stone which killed his adversary is propped jauntily against the hip as a final flourish of victory. “David” was a revolutionary work; from now on sculptors would consider personality as an important component of their compositions.







Caravagio, c1571-1610
Italy
 
The taking of Christ, 1602 
oil on canvas
134x 170 cm
National Gallery of Ireland
 
Caravagio died aged 39 after a tempestuous life. Known for his unpredictable personality and heavy drinking his life revolved around brawling, financial problems and unsavoury associates as much as painting. He was the first to emphasise the effects of light and shade contrasts in painting. Known as chiaroscuro the technique adds drama and passion to compositions. Largely untrained, Caravagio simply drew on canvases and painted directly over the drawing rather than proceeding via separate drawn studies which was the accepted way. He completed major religious paintings and was considered by the church to be a suitable artist to help promulgate the counter reformation which was then gathering speed. His lifelike, sometimes violent compositions led the way for the portrayal of emotion and drama in painting using light and shade.
 
Only the moon and a man holding a lantern illuminate the dramatic moment when Judas kisses Christ to indicate to the Roman soldiers whom it is that he has betrayed. A reflection flashes across the picture taking us to Christ’s slightly averted but calm face. Judas strains to complete his act of treachery. St John the Baptist flees on the left and the lamp holder on the right is standing on tip toe to take in the action. The picture is a study in light and shade-chiaroscuro. Apart from lighted faces, lighted armour and shoulder in the foreground the rest of the composition is dark with only Christ’s clothing slightly illuminated to indicate his importance in the composition. The mixture of pulsating highlights and deep gloom in Caravaggio’s pictures caused a revolution in the technique of showing light in painting.





Claude Monet, 1840-1926
France
 
Vetheuil, 1879
Oil on canvas
60 x 81 cm
Felton Bequest NGV (I)
 
Monet was a leading figure in the Impressionist movement in Paris mid 19th century. He practised “Plein Air” painting- that is painting out-of-doors directly on to the canvas. He began his career around the Normandy coast taking careful note of the effects of light on the sea, land and sky under the tutelage of Eugene Boudin (also represented in the NGV (I)). In his twenties Monet began to paint the effects of light by laying brushstrokes of different colours side by side to create he effects of reflection. This gives the canvas an “unfinished” appearance which was derided by the critics of the day. Teaming up with Renoir, Pissarro, Manet and Degas Monet began to exhibit in an alternative venue to the more academic Academy-the Salon des Refuses. This venue exhibited pictures refused in official shows at the Academy itself. Critics had called the pictures “Impressions” and the group took their name from this. Monet lived well into the 20th century and saw his work accepted as an authentic way to paint; he enjoyed considerable personal wealth and fame towards the end of his life. Major works include pictures of gardens, water lilies, haystacks, Rouen Cathedral, the Thames and its surrounds in London and portraits of his two wives.
 
In this magnificent picture (one of his best) Monet captures the effect of light on the clouds and their reflections in the water with dabs of reds, yellows, blues and greens side-by-side. The whole seems to shimmer and move on the canvas. The village-Vetheuil-lies on the opposite bank its church spire drawing us across the river and into the clouds. We can see how the painting style adopted by Monet and his fiends would have upset Academicians used to realism. Modern art started with the Impressionists as they began to concentrate on painting “mood” and “feeling” into representation. 






Paul Cezanne 1839-1906
France
 
Still Life with Apples, 1904-06
Oil on Canvas
69 x 93 cm
Museum of Modern Art NY
 
Cezanne is said to be the father of modern (i.e. 20th century) painting. Never an Impressionist he was, never-the-less, friends with the main figures in the movement at various times. Born illegitimate he suffered from depression all his life and when his early paintings were rejected by the Salon he was badly affected. Joining with the Impressionist painters he exhibited with them in the Salon des Refuses in 1874 and 1877. It was not until 1882 that one of his pictures was accepted by the Salon. Rather than being interested in the effects of light, Cezanne was interested in the structure of nature and created art which appealed as much to the intellect as to the eye. He made complicated still life pictures where the emphasis was on shape and relationship of shape rather on simple representation and he created tension and interest in his pictures by placing carefully modulated patches of colour side-by-side. Mass was often only defined using colour as in the present picture.
 
In this picture Cezanne has painted a selection of fruits and a flower pot sitting on a crumpled napkin all on a bare table. The table top tilts precariously towards us so we are viewing it from the front and top simultaneously.  Also the angle between its end on our left and the front is greater than a right angle so the front of the table is not a straight line either. This means our angle of view of it changes in the one picture.  We view the table straight on or from slightly right simultaneously 
The apples on the left appear in imminent danger of rolling off each other and the table. Cezanne used these geometric devices to add interest to the picture but also to tell us how the scene had appeared to him at the time of painting as he tried to show us the different views he had of it. Because of his use of simultaneous, multiple views he was a considerable influence on cubist painters. 
Cezanne also used colour and outline to show depth and shape, particularly to show the solidity of his subject. In this picture hardly any of the fruit pieces has a continuous outline, interruptions occur with other pieces of fruit or the cloth to show relative position. Colour also is used to help show position.







Andre Derain: 1880-1954
France
 
Self Portrait with a Cap, c1905
Oil on canvas
115? x 85? cm
Private collection
 
Derain was a founding member of the Fauves: the “animal” painters. His life was complicated by accusations of “bad character” and later of being a Nazi sympathiser and ended when he was run over by a truck. Fauve art portrayed emotion and decoration using brash, pure colour often applied arbitrarily. Early pictures caused a sensation and the appellation “Fauve” (animal) came from a remark by a French critic. Derain was influenced by Cezanne but took the master’s ideas on the use of colour to an extreme never envisaged by him. He painted landscape and figurative work and was a collector of African art as well as being an early supporter of Cubism.
 
“Self Portrait” shows the subtlety of which this fierce style is capable. The carefully moulded face with its splodges of high colour reveals something of the character of the sitter. The Fauves, despite their apparent violence towards their subjects were much more interested in exploring psychological worlds and attacking the prevailing view of what was “good” in art than simply creating unsettling works. Derain’s self portrait reveals inner warmth and an acute appreciation of the viewer, involving us in the picture. Sun and shade on the face alleviate the outlandish green and add warmth. The simple three-part landscape behind the face is an integral part of the picture’s structure helping us to travel around it.  The green patches scattered throughout help hold the composition together.  Fauvism was seen as an revolutionary departure by a public only just becoming comfortable with Impressionism.






Giorgio de Chirico, Italian
1888-1978
 
The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, 1914
Oil on canvas
88 x 72 cm
Private collection
 
De Chirico was a metaphysical painter: painting the paranormal. His works presage the Surrealists and all the important Surrealist painters were influenced by him. Metaphysics deals with the far-fetched, the imaginary, the abstract and the supernatural. De Chirico’s pictures often deal with enigmatic juxtapositions. In the present work why is the girl placed against a white colonnaded building? His early work relied heavily on architecture-particularly Renaissance architecture often submerged in a Mediterranean-blue sky. Figures often inhabit these places at unusual times- in the heat of the day or at night. De Chirico’s later work revolved around the bizarre with interiors full of strange and apparently unrelated objects. However he is best known for pictures produced between 1909 and 1919. 
 
 
A young girl bowls her hoop past an empty, open wagon into a piazza dominated from this end by an outsize figure- possibly a statue. One side of her journey is safely laid out by the reasoned, calculated arches of the building on the left-symbols of order and civilisation: things understood. The other side starts in unsettling gloom. This physical reality is reinforced by the uncertainty created by the open, empty wagon (what are we to put into it, what came out of it?) and the well-understood arches now being in dimmed light. She moves onward to a brightly-lit space: to enlightenment perhaps or at least understanding. But what of the ominous shadow she has to cross? Does it tell of a town square with comfortable reminders of the past or is our hoop runner heading into unchartered territory with a warning posted at its start. Our minds can roam all possibilities.






George Braque, France
1882-1963

House at l’ Estaque, 1908
Oil on canvas
73 x 60 cm
Private Collection
 
Braque, along with Picasso was co-founder of the “Cubist” movement. An early Fauve painter he, too, was heavily influenced by Cezanne’s incorporation of structure into pictures. He trained as a house painter and decorator retaining the discipline learned there all his life. He met Picasso around 1907 and joined in developing a system of recording images where the object; figurative, landscape or still life, was seen from several different directions simultaneously. These views were recorded on the same two-dimensioned space thus giving a three-dimensional view of the subject in a new and revolutionary way. 
 
House at l Estaque shows sections of a house without windows or doors in a fractured landscape. In this highly intellectual view of a simple subject Braque shows an arrangement of sections of the house and their individual relationships with the surrounding landscape. Indeed there is often little attempt to distinguish the house from its surrounds. Thus different views of the house are shown in different parts of the picture with their attendant vegetation. By looking at the picture as a whole we are able to see how it fits into its garden and the result is a harmonious, flowing composition. Cubist pictures can be very involved and the present example is one of the more accessible. Cubism itself was accepted from the start as a revolutionary way of viewing space and the objects which inhabit it.





Vasily Kandinsky, Russia
1866-1944
 
 
Painting No 201, 1914
Oil on canvas
163 x 123 cm
Museum of Modern Art, New York
 
Kandinsky is said to have painted the first abstract painting, i.e. a painting which was not necessarily “of something”. A painting which relied for its initial impact on interaction with the viewer’s emotions rather than their intellects. A considerable intellect himself, Kandinsky studied law and economics and was a writer, lithographer and wood engraver. Also an essayist he wrote the influential “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” in 1912 where he explained his theories of the interaction of colour with the emotions and his theories of abstract composition. His pictures resonate with the spiritual and a sense of beauty even though containing no easily recognisable object to which we might relate. As though asking us to make up our own minds, many of Kandinsky’s pictures are labelled unhelpfully as is the case with the present picture. Kandinsky was influenced early in his life by Cezanne and he later became a seminal influence on the Abstract Expressionists.
 
 
Kandinsky improvised with colour. His swirls and arabesques of modulated colour illustrate an imaginary and perceptive journey. Subject matter (things) are excluded or merely hinted at as their form and function might interfere with our intellectual appreciation. Kandinsky saw spirituality in the use of colour and his pictures invite us to share it with him. His compositions have a “wholeness”. We need look no further.
So what should we take away from this picture? At the most basic level we could enjoy the use of colour and shape as they combine to make a picture which holds together. At a more substantial level we could allow ourselves to be drawn into the picture to appreciate what the artist is telling us about the effect of his creation on our intellectual persona.





Kasimir Malevich, Russia
1878-1935
 
 
Suprematism Nonobjective Composition, 1915
Oil on canvas
80 x 80 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Ekaterinburgh
 
 
Malevich spent his early artistic life working in the Impressionistic style, followed by excursions into figurative work influenced by Cezanne, then the Futurists and finally Picasso and Cubism. His contribution to art history though is as the inventor of Constructivist Painting. As a constructivist, he abandoned any form of representation and began making pictures containing only geometric shapes as a means of moving painting away from “Academic Art” (i.e. art favoured and propagated by art academies which tended to be very conservative). His pictures are pictures in their own right-they represent nothing and we must appreciate them as simply pictures. He formed a movement called “Suprematism” whose aim was to follow the “pure art of painting”. His most radical painting was of a black square on a white background which illustrated his view that art should neither be illusory nor representational. Not surprisingly Malevich’s ideas ran foul of the art world’s more conservative practitioners and ultimately of the Soviet Government, even though his constructivist pictures could be seen as metaphors for building and order- ideas close to the heart of good communists.
 
In Suprematism Nonobjective Composition, Malevich leads us very definitely along the path of non-representational painting. Coloured regular shapes hover and rotate in free endless space. The carefully chosen shapes and colours combine to make, at least, a pleasing geometric pattern. However Malevich saw these works as evoking “pure feeling”, i.e. feeling not influenced by our needing a familiar image to relate to. Plane shapes projected this sensation better than any other vehicle as Malevich saw them as the least contaminated by our wish to see pictures as depicting “something”.





Andy Warhol, America
1928-1987
 
 
Campbell’s Soup Cans 1962
Synthetic polymer paint on thirty-two canvases
51 x 41 cm
Museum of Modern Art New York
 
Beginning his working life as a commercial artist Warhol became the cult leader of Pop Art. Pop Art “celebrates” the repetitive nature of modern American existence, its dependence on advertising and image and debasement of difference. His subjects included commercial products, film stars, political leaders, and the unavoidability of death. Alcohol and drugs played a large part in his chaotic, lavish lifestyle and he was once nearly murdered by a deranged gunman. His studio was an abandoned factory- a location consistent with someone who made “mass-produced” art. He made wry commentary on a society in love with commercialism and much of his work was silk-screen prints which he, or his assistants added colour to. He made many series of pictures each series based on the same subject to reinforce the “ease” of modern reproduction. 
 
Warhol’s soup can pictures epitomise his removal of the mystique from art. He uses a very familiar image, repeated 32 times-one for each variety of soup-to reinforce the idea that art is for everyone and is everywhere. Here is mass-produced soup portrayed in mass portrait. Advertising repetitiously dulls the senses and emphasises abundance and uniformity. Creativity is dulled and mass culture rules. Is Warhol asking us to carefully assess modern life or is he simply tearing it down. 





Jackson Pollock, America
1912-1956
 

One (Number 31, 1950)
1950
Oil and enamel on unprimed canvas
269 x 533 cm
Museum of Modern Art New York
 
Pollock’s life was complicated by alcoholism, depression, drug use and philandering. Driving whilst drunk, he was killed in a car accident along with a female companion at the age of 44. He began as a painter of vehement realistic scenes from American life and during the depression joined a government sponsored group producing easel paintings of landscapes and figurative scenes. In 1937 his work began to move toward abstraction and surrealism and then toward pictures where he moved around large canvases spread on the floor flicking and throwing paint on to the canvas from all sides. By this means Pollock claimed that he became part of the picture and rather than representing a visual subject the picture became a portrait his emotional energy. His view was that the completion of a picture was not as important as its creation and his use of enamel supports this view as it deteriorates much more quickly than oil paint. All of his Abstract Expressionist paintings, though, have a hidden unity which appears as a result of his intellectual energy rather than any planned composition exercise. Pollock was the leading “Action Painter”, a division of Abstract Expressionism where pictures were created by violent movements of the artist and paint around the canvas. In his day he was also the leading attraction in the Abstract Expressionist movement. Given his gross departure from accepted technique and outrageous lifestyle-influenced creations it is surprising that Pollock did not suffer more ostracism by the art community. Two mitigating factors were his friendship with the influential critic Clement Greenberg who championed his cause, and his marriage to the artist Lee Krasner who organised his day-to-day and financial affairs as best she could given his volcanic temperament.
 
 
One (Number 31, 1950) is an Action Painting masterpiece. The space is a field of creative energy, vitality and determination: determination to create a picture in which the artist is totally involved as both creator and maker. The virtuosity and rhythm of the picture decry a description of it as “random”. There is nothing random about Pollock’s pictures. Each drip, spurt and splash carefully orchestrates the final image. The result is a picture of emotional energy, productively and faithfully recorded as a moment in the artist’s life. This huge canvas has depth, wholeness, flickers with life and obeys all the rules of composition. 






Yves Klein, France
1928-1962
 
 
Blue Monochrome 1961
Dry pigment in synthetic polymer medium on cotton on plywood
195 x 140 cm
Museum of Modern Art New York
 
 
Klein pushed the boundaries of modern art. His single-colour pictures were made with colours he invented. This one, made with “International Klein Blue”, is typical. By suspending pigment in a polymer base he produced strong, vivid colour which was the same whether the paint was wet or dry. Single-colour pictures were made with the aim of depersonalising colour and making it a “substance of its own being” rather than having emotional content. Apart from single-colour pictures Klein painted pictures out-of-doors to record the effects of wind and rain, he created pictures with flame-throwers, he exhibited no pictures in an empty white gallery to create an “Exhibition of Emptiness”, he made pictures where naked women rolled around in paint on canvases, the performance viewed by an audience dressed in dinner suits. Klein had no formal training in painting and supported himself originally as a judo instructor.  
 
Blue monochrome allows us to immerse ourselves in colour leaving behind any associations which that colour might have. This spiritual assessment of colour is consistent with Klein’s involvement with eastern religions. Blue was the colour of infinity and we stand “in” infinity when we allow ourselves to submerge into Blue Monochrome. Here painting has moved almost as far from representation as is possible.







Dame Laura Knight, England
1877-1970
 
 
Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring
1943
Oil on canvas
Imperial War Museum, London
 
 
Laura Knight won silver and bronze medals for portraiture at the Nottingham School of Art which she began attending at in 1890. In 1918 she settled in London with her artist husband Harold Knight and she was the second woman to be made an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1927.  She became a full Academician in 1936. She is known for her pictures of women and children, pictures of Ballet and Circus performers and for her pictures ennobling the role of women during the Second World War. She is included here as a representative of the very few women who achieved any sort of recognition in the previous seven hundred years of the history of painting! Women have been a largely ignored force in the history of painting.
 
Ruby Loftus bends authoritatively over her lathe making a vital component for an artillery piece. She is in full command but does nothing to over-emphasise her important part in the war effort however the lathe chuck to her right almost forms a saintly halo. She does work of national importance and work once thought suitable only for men. Knight was made an official war artist in 1942 and her personal achievements and portraits of women doing skilled work in factories did much to put aside the fiction that some work was for men only.