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Friday, November 9, 2012

20th Century Art Influences

Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh
If we were to try and name three living artists likely to have the greatest influence on art in the 21st century, not one of them would be a painter. In looking for painters, we'd have to scour the earth to even come up with three names to propose. Of course, this would require a bit of prognostication which is never easy, especially in looking ahead into art history, with its notoriously fickle tastes. From this perspective one hundred years ago, the art historian would have had similar difficulties but the names proposed would most certainly have all three been painters. In hindsight, the likely candidates--Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, and Claude Monet. (I'm fudging a little with van Gogh, who wasn't alive one hundred years ago.)

The Old Mill, 1888, Vincent van Gogh
But let's take van Gogh first. One hundred years ago, though dead for more than twenty years, he was pretty much still an unknown--a wild card. He had no pupils, his work only a few buyers, but among the next generation of artists, those of the new century his influence was on a par only with that of Cezanne. That influence was mostly one of color. The list of those who owed this misunderstood little man from Auvers a debt of gratitude for his groundbreaking exploration of expressionist color would include, Henri Matisse, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Edvard Munch, Erich Heckel, Emile Nolde, Maurice de Vlaminck and Andre Derain. These men form the very foundation of modern art insofar as color is concerned.

The House with Burst Walls, 1892-94,
Paul Cezanne
The other two, Cezanne and Monet, both artistic rebels, yet strange as it may sound, they were old school. At the turn of the century, they would have been the easy choices among art critics projecting their influence into this century. In fact, Claude  Monet would almost be considered  "establishment" in the early 1900s, so well-launched was his Impressionism by this time. His influence was not so much in France but on the international scene, anywhere artist still painted landscapes, he was like a god. Cezanne, on the other hand is considered the father of modern art and rightly so. Without a Cezanne there would not have been a Picasso, a Duchamp, a Rouault, a Kandinsky, or a Mondrian (at least not in the form we know them). His daring flirtations with abstract masses, paralleling those of Monet in color, made possible the main body of what we have come to recognize as twentieth century painting. These three artists not only paved the road for the others but pointed it in the direction art would take for the next fifty years.
The Artist's House at Argenteuil, 1873, Claude Monet


  1. I like this post a lot.

    And, just to be obnoxious... who ARE your picks for three living artists likely to have the greatest influence on art in the 21st century?

    1. My picks would be, top of the list:
      1. Steven Spielberg
      2. Gary Trudeau
      3. Dale Chihuly or Jeff Koons (toss-up)

      Of course there are probably others in film/video who will be more influential but I limited myself to one from each of the different media. (I hedged a little in 3-D.)