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An Introduction to Modern Art: Early Styles, Movements, & Influences


What is Modern Art? Who is Alfred H. Barr, Jr.? Barr’s 1936 flow chart from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Cubism & Abstract Art exhibition Modern styles and artistic tendencies Barr left out of his narrative *Click the Bullets*


Click on an artist or movement to call up an image Back

Vincent Van Gogh, Self Portrait, 1888: 

Vincent Van Gogh, Self Portrait, 1888

Sonia Terk-Delaunay, Composition, 1938: 

Sonia Terk-Delaunay, Composition, 1938

Vladimir Tatlin, Corner Counter-Relief, 1914-15: 

Vladimir Tatlin, Corner Counter-Relief, 1914-15

Georges Seurat, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte, 1884-86: 

Georges Seurat, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte, 1884-86

Henri Rousseau, Sleeping Gypsy, 1897: 

Henri Rousseau, Sleeping Gypsy, 1897

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, Schroder House: 

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, Schroder House Utrecht, Netherlands, 1924

Odilon Redon, Evocation of the Butterflies, 1898-1916: 

Odilon Redon, Evocation of the Butterflies, 1898-1916

Pablo Picasso, Girl with Mandolin, 1910: 

Pablo Picasso, Girl with Mandolin, 1910

Francis Picabia, Amorous Parade, 1917: 

Francis Picabia, Amorous Parade, 1917

India, Portrait of a Princess (page from Shah Jahan Album), Mughal Period (1526-1756): 

India, Portrait of a Princess (page from Shah Jahan Album), Mughal Period (1526-1756)

Georg Muche, Haus am Horn: 

Georg Muche, Haus am Horn Weimar, Germany, 1923

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Yellow, & Blue, 1921: 

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Yellow, & Blue, 1921

Joan Miro, Harlequin’s Carneval, 1924: 

Joan Miro, Harlequin’s Carneval, 1924

Fritz Lang & Otto Schultze, Metropolis film still, 1927: 

Fritz Lang & Otto Schultze, Metropolis film still, 1927

Henri Matisse, Joy of Life, 1905-6: 

Henri Matisse, Joy of Life, 1905-6

Kasimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition “Airplanes Flying,” 1914: 

Kasimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition “Airplanes Flying,” 1914

Meret Oppenheim, Fur Breakfast (photo by Dora Maar), 1936: 

Meret Oppenheim, Fur Breakfast (photo by Dora Maar), 1936


Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret), Still Life, 1920

Central Africa, Kota Reliquary Figure: 

Central Africa, Kota Reliquary Figure

Koryusai, Early Summer Evening, 1770s: 

Koryusai, Early Summer Evening, 1770s


Vasily Kandinsky, Improvisation 30 “Cannons,” 1913


Robert Delaunay, Windows on the City, 1912


Paul Cezanne, Gardanne, 1885-86


Constantin Brancusi, Newborn II (photo by artist), 1923


Umberto Boccioni, The City Rises, 1910-11


Paul Gauguin, Vision After the Sermon, 1888


Commonly, Modern Art is thought to: Stress the artist’s individual achievement and vision Evolve toward greater degrees of abstraction Explore light, color, volume, texture, movement, and other elements involved in visual perception Develop out of dialogue between and amongst artistic communities Challenge popular artistic traditions and values Back Relate to contemporary social, religious, and political issues


Alfred H. Barr, Jr. During his lifetime, Alfred Barr was a curator, connoisseur, teacher, theoretician, critic, and generally influential fixture in the art scene. He became the first director of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1929. In 1936, Barr mounted Cubism and Abstract Art at the MoMA. The flow-chart he composed to accompany the exhibition was the first compelling historiography of modern artistic tendencies. The chart, like the exhibition, emphasized cubism as the most influential modern art movement and posited abstraction as the goal of modern artistic endeavor. Barr’s chart influenced the ideas of many students, historians, and critics of modern art for decades after the exhibition. Even at the time of its publication, Barr’s model was criticized. For instance, one of the artists exhibited in Cubism and Abstract Art, Vasily Kandinsky, questioned whether the modern artistic impulse was toward abstraction, noting he created both realistic and abstract works. Kandinsky also took issue with Barr’s emphasis on formal developments in modern art, noting his work developed from religious as well as stylistic concerns. Similarly, a scholar contemporaneous with Barr, Meyer Schapiro, criticized Barr’s assumption of realism and abstraction as pure absolutes separate from experience. Contemporary revisionist art historians have rejected Barr’s temporal and spatial evolutionary model, drawing attention to the complex cultural, political, personal, and historical issues which inform the work of individual artists. In short, Alfred Barr’s conception of modern art is very selective and limited. It is not gospel. Back


Barr’s diagram presents an artistic evolution. He disregarded artists who didn’t fit the story he wanted to tell. Barr offers us the European male version of modern abstract art history. He ignored artistic input from women, ethnic minorities, and artists living outside Europe. Also, Barr did not consider non-academic art, like graphic art, photography, and textile design. Similarly, Barr’s focus on abstraction led him to exclude art which is more figurative or realistic. Today, scholars emphasis the shortsightedness of Barr’s history of early modern art. Here are some artists Barr excluded from his modernist canon. Click on the artist’s name to view an image. Tshyela Ntendu Nina Hamnett & Winifred Gill James Van Der Zee E. McKnight Kauffer Augusta Savage Kathe Kollwitz Diego Rivera Claude Cahun Home Natalia Goncharova Qi Baishi


Tshyela Ntendu, The Train, 1926, Zairian


Nina Hamnett & Winifred Gill, Omega workshop dresses, c.1913, British


James Van Der Zee, Portrait of a Young Girl on the Telephone, 1926, African-American


E. McKnight Kauffer, Poster for the London Underground, 1931, British


Kathe Kollwitz, Hunger, 1922, German


Augusta Savage, Gamin, c.1930, African-American


Diego Rivera, Bolivar Amphitheatre mural, “Creation,” 1922-3, Mexican


Claude Cahun, Self-Portrait, c.1921, French


Natalia Goncharova, Potato Farm, 1908-09, Russian


Qi Baishi, The Quiet Delight of the Lotus Pond, 1924, Chinese hanging scroll

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