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Art Styles and Periods - Overview

Below you'll find a short description of each of the art styles and periods included in this program.


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JMH Turner, The Slave Ship, 1840

1770 - 1840

The Romantic movement corresponds to the rapid and dynamic change in society from the late 18th Century, which culminated in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era.  It began as an artistic and intellectual movement that rejected established social order and religion as a result of this period of revolution and change.  It often featured the connections between humanity, nature, and divinity.


Romanticism idealised individualism, subjectivism, imagination and rebellious emotions over reason and established order.  

Jean-François Millet, Gleaners, 1857

1845 - 1880

Realist artists rejected the prevailing notions of academic and romantic art. Instead they presented a nonescapist, democratic, empirical investigation of life as it existed around them.


They painted ordinary people leading their everyday lives, conscientiously reproducing ignored aspects of contemporary life and society - its mental attitudes, physical settings, and material conditions of the middle and lower classes, the unexceptional, the ordinary, the humble, and the unadorned.






Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise 1872

The term Impressionism was derived from a painting by Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise, 1872 which was a view of the port of Le Havre in the mist. Monet probably intended the title to refer to the sketchy, unfinished look of the work, similar to receiving an impression of something on the basis of an exposure that is partially obscured and incomplete in its detail.


The Impressionists left their studios and went out into the countryside, using the newly invented portable and collapsible easels, and paint in tubes, so that they could observe nature more directly and set down its most fleeting aspects—especially the changing light of the sun.


Unlike the Realist artists, Impressionists  developed an interest in portraying contemporary subject matter of an informal and pleasurable kind, especially aspects of the social life of Paris and its surrounds.

Post Impressionism

There is no style or manifesto of aims common to the artists but generally Post-Impressionists continued to use the vivid colours, thick application of paint and real-life subject matter favoured by the Impressionists, but were more inclined to emphasise geometric forms, to distort form for expressive effect, and to use unnatural colours.


Some Post impressionist felt that the Impressionists had allowed their preoccupations with technique and the effects of natural light to overshadow the importance of subject matter.  These artists developed independent styles for expressing emotions rather than simply optical impressions, concentrating on themes of deeper symbolism. Through the use of simplified colours and definitive forms, their art was characterised by a renewed aesthetic sense as well as abstract tendencies.


Not so much a style of art, Symbolism was more an international ideological trend which espoused ideas of mysticism and the spiritual. It celebrated a retreat from modern, industrialised life.


Inspiration for vision making came from folk tales, mythology and rare or unusual forms of literature.  The symbolists argued that truth could be found in either a spiritual or mystical realm, and that it was the result of personal experience, rather than observation of the physical world. 


Great value was placed on the personal, the mysterious, and the irrational. Many Symbolists championed heightened experiences, dreamlike, hallucinatory revelations and the psyche as source material.

Ernst Kirchner, The Street, 1908

German Expressionism

In the years around World War I, the world was changing quickly with movement  to industrialised cities as railways began to cross Europe, electricity and other new discoveries such as the automobile, gramophone, radio transmission, moving pictures and powered flight. It was also a period of widespread political change, increased access to education, a breakdown of traditional social classes and the beginnings of women seeking greater independence, including the right to vote.Expressionist artists sought to portray emotional and subjective interpretations in response to these changes using powerful colours and dynamic compositions.There were three main groups with different ideals - Die Brücke, Der Blaue Reiter and Die Neue Sachlichkeit. Most of the German Expressionists were graphic-minded, and made prolific use of the three leading print mediums of the time - the woodcut, etching and lithograph.

André Derain, Collioure, 1905

The Fauves ( 'wild beasts' in French) were a group of French artists who applied intensely bright colours to their canvases in rough, instinctive brush strokes.


Fauvism caused shockwaves as there was often no relationship between the colour used for a subject and its actual colour.  The Fauve painters broke with older, traditional methods of perception. Details were omitted in favour of simplified scenes, featuring flat areas of pigment.


The Fauves wanted to paint what they saw  (more traditional subject matter) and to turn that act of painting into an emotional and often spontaneous journey; their work, a record of each journey, was defined by the colours and evident brush motions on the canvas.


Georges Braque Violin and Candlestick 1910

1908 - 1922

Cubists challenged traditional techniques of perspective, modeling and foreshortening.In cubist works the artists combined a large range of viewpoints (multiple perspectives) in one picture and broke down the natural forms of subjects into geometric shapes.

Cubism is generally divided into two stages - 

Analytical Cubism  - the early phase of cubism  (from about 1908-12) is chiefly characterised by the pronounced use of geometric shapes, fragmentation, multiple viewpoints and monochromatic use of colour.


Paintings produced at this time were often more detailed than later cubist works, with images often gathered tightly toward the centre of the painting, growing sparser toward the edges. Although figures and objects were dissected or "analysed" into a multitude of small facets, these were then reassembled, after a fashion, to evoke those same figures or objects.


Synthetic cubism refers to the later cubist works (from about 1912-1922)  in which the artists synthesised or combined forms, creating three new art techniques.

Frantisek Kupka Amorpha Fugue in Two Colours 1912

1911 - 1940's

Of all the art styles considered to be 'Modernist', Abstract art has been the most enduring. An abstract painting is one which does not depict the recognisable, visual world (although some painters distort either a figure or object without disguising the original subject matter entirely). Rather, paintings explore the power of line, colour and form for their own sake, in order to bypass literal perception and to tap into unconsious awareness.

Natalia Goncharova, Cyclist, 1913

1909 - 1944

In artistic style, the Futurists took the sharp geometric shapes of Cubism for their own canvases, concentrating not on still lifes and portraits, but instead on scenes such as crowds in city centres and cars and trains in flux.


They extenuated a sense of rhythm and movement by using more varied marks and colour contrasts than the Cubists, and studied photographic sequences of people in motion for this purpose.


Futurism embraced danger, aggression and new technology, and accentuated a love of speeding cars and aeroplanes.

Robert Delauney Windows Open Simultaneously First Part, Third Motif 1912

1912 - 1914

Writer Apollinaire  described Orphism (or Orphic Cubism)  as “the art of painting new structures with elements that have not been borrowed from the visual sphere, but have been created entirely by the artist himself, and been endowed by him with fullness of reality. The works of the Orphic artist must simultaneously give a pure aesthetic pleasure, a structure which is self-evident, and a sublime meaning, that is, a subject. This is pure art.” (Les Peintres Cubists, 1913)


Apollinaire drew a connection between the colorful, cubist-like canvases, and the mythological figure, Orpheus, who symbolises the art of song and lyre. The Greek legend describes Orpheus as the ideal, mystically inspired artist.

Alexander Rodchenko, Advertising poster

1919 - c.1940

Russian Constructivism developed in response to the October Revolution of 1917 and evolved just as the Bolsheviks came to power. 


Initially it acted as a lightning rod for the hopes and ideas of many of the most advanced Russian artists who supported the revolution's goals. It borrowed ideas from Cubism, Suprematism and Futurism, but at its heart was an entirely new approach to making objects, one which sought to abolish the traditional artistic concern with composition, and replace it with 'construction', that is, practical design work.

Piet Mondrian, Trafalgar Square, 1939-40

1917 - 1932

Like the Suprematists and Constructivists, many of the artists of De Stijl - which Mondrian described as Neo-Plasticism,  meaning a "new plastic art', were committed to the idea of abstract art having a purpose beyond mere decoration. Art, they felt, could create a new society which rejected individuality and embraced a collective will. 


Intending their work to look impersonal and machinelike, De Stijl artists based their work on the fundamental principles of geometry. Key was the use of straight lines, squares and rectangles, combined with strong asymmetry.  They advocated the predominant use of pure primary colours together with black and white. The composition of an artwork should stress the relationship between positive and negative elements through the use of non-objective forms, geometric shapes and lines.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917


1916 - 1924

A number of artists, poets and musicans concluded that the very idea of human betterment was a pointless illusion. For this group, the main lesson of the war, if anything, was the bankruptcy of reason, politics, technology, and even art itself.


The Dadaists sought to embody the absurd in their work on the basis that absurb art reflected an absurb society. They created collage constructions from discarded junk which they called 'readymades'.


Many of the artists affiliated with Dada made collages and updated Picasso and Braque's papier collés with the addition of ‘chance’ procedures and the addition of painting, photo-montage, and photo-mechanical processes.





Meret Oppenheim, Fur Lined Teacup, 1936

1924 - c.1945

Surrealism was an intellectual, literary and artistic movement, founded in France in 1924, before spreading across the globe.


Deeply influenced by psychoanalysis, writers and artists attempted to tap into the repressed realm of the unconscious mind in order to liberate culture from conscious logic and reason.

Oskar Schlemmer, Bauhaus Stairway, 1932

1919 -1933

The Bauhaus was not an art movement but was a German school of art, design and architecture, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919. It attempted to achieve reconciliation between the aesthetics of design and the more commercial demands of industrial mass production.  The Bauhaus was structured to challenge traditional hierarchies of of the arts, and to place fine art, architecture, and design on an equal footing to promote a closer cooperation between the practice of ‘fine’ and ‘applied’ art and architecture.


The Bauhaus style became one of the most influential currents in Modernist architecture and modern design and had a profound influence upon subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography.

Tsuguharu Foujita, Café, 1949

From 1900 until about 1940 (the advent of the second World War), Paris was a thriving centre of artistic activity that provided unparalleled conditions for the exchange of creative ideas.


A wave of artists of all nationalities gravitated to the French capital and fostered an inspiring climate of imagination and innovation. Because of the enormous influx of non-French artists living and working in Paris, a loosely defined affiliation developed referred to as the School of Paris (Ecole de Paris).


The international activity associated with this group in Paris was initially concentrated in Montmartre, but subsequently moved to Montparnasse in the early 1910s.

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Post Impressionism
German Expressionism
De Stijl
The Bauhaus
School of Paris
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