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Friday, May 6, 2011

Nineteenth Century Influences

Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with
Straw Hat, 1887-88
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 it's notoriously fickle tastes anyway. 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).

Self-Portrait (watercolor),
1895, Paul Cezanne
But let's take van Gogh first. One hundred years ago, though dead for almost ten years) he was pretty much still an unknown--a wild card. He had no pupils, his work had 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.

Self-Portrait, 1886, Claude Monet
The other two, Cezanne and Monet, both artistic rebels, yet strange as it may sound, were old school. At the turn of the century, they would have been the easy choices among art critics projecting their influence into the twentieth century. In fact, Monet would almost be considered
"establishment" in 1900, so well-launched was his Impressionism by that time. His influence was not so much in France but on the international scene, anywhere artists 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.

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