Lee Krasner may not be a name you immediately recognize, but her husband, Jackson Pollock, definitely is a staple in the abstract expressionist community.
Lee Krasner worked tirelessly for over 50 years, continuously pushing the boundaries and her work forward.
She was known for reinventing herself and creating various pieces that range from collage, cubist drawings, assemblage, and abstract expressionism.
While some believe Jackson Pollock overshadowed her, she was one of his biggest fans and one of the most essential crusaders in his legacy.
“I happened to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock, and that’s a mouthful. I was a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent.”
Born in 1908 to Russian-Jewish refugee parents in Brooklyn, Lee knew that art was her passion from her early years. She would attend the Women’s Art School at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design.
The Museum of Modern Art opened in 1929, and she said, “It was like a bomb that exploded…nothing else ever hit me that hard until I saw Pollock’s work.” She would paint murals for the Works Progress Administration.
She studied with Hans Hofmann in 1937 when she joined the American Abstract Artists Group. She was in the middle of the exciting New York art scene.
In 1942, Krasner and Pollock were brought together by being included in a significant exhibition, French and American Painting for Graham.
When Krasner decided to knock on Pollock’s apartment door to view his work. This moment was the start of their relationship, which would impact her career.
Krasner introduced Pollock to many influential artists, like Hoffman, Janis, de Kooning, and art critic Clement Greenberg. The two married in 1945 and moved to Long Island.
Krasner spent her days working in her personal studio, creating the Little Images series, which would be her breakthrough work and collages made from discarded Pollock scraps and her admiration for Matisse.
Pollock tragically passed in a car accident in 1956 while Krasner was in Europe. The next year, Krasner moved into Pollock’s barn studio on their property, and she continued working on her craft.
The Seasons (1957) and Gaea (1966) were the beginning of her creations, where nature was an immersive and clear theme.
Her first solo exhibition would come in 1965 at Whitechapel Gallery in London and then in 1975 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She passed away in 1984, months before her retrospective opened at MoMA.
“I never violate an inner rhythm. I loathe to force anything. I don’t know if the inner rhythm is Eastern or Western. I know it is essential for me. I listen to it, and I stay with it. I have always been this way. I have regard for the inner voice.”
Krasner is identified as an Abstract Expressionist because of her expressive works using a variety of mediums.
She has been known to cut apart her pieces, consistently revising and destroying works because she was so critical of herself. Due to this, it resulted in her body of work being small compared to other artists from the same time.
In the 1940s, she was so profoundly impacted by seeing Pollock’s work. She immediately rejected the cubist style she was embarking on under Hofmann.
During this time, the work she produced was referred to as “grey slab paintings,” and she was frustrated with these works. These works were eventually destroyed, and only one work survived this time in her career.
Little Images was her first series, which is 40 small paintings that she created from 1946 to 1949. They’re typically categorized as webbed, hieroglyphs, and mosaic, depending on the image.
The early collage images era was the beginning of her first series of collage paintings. This period was marked by her moving from the easel to the floor.
She would cut and tear shapes onto color field painting used in the 1951 Betty Parsons Exhibition. She would gravitate to a more symbolic manner during this time.
The Earth Green Series was started before Pollock passed away, but she completed the work after his death, reflecting both nature and her feelings of grief. Her intense feelings caused a shift in her art to push more boundaries and her concepts of art.
The Umber Series was developed from 1959 to 1961 when she dealt with insomnia, the grief of her husband’s loss, and the loss of her mother.
She worked during the night, having to use artificial light, so her color story was made up of dull, monochrome colors. She used an aggressive style in this series.
The Primary Series were paintings using bright colors and mimicked a floral or plant-like shape. They were large, didn’t have a focal point and the palettes contrasted one another. Unfortunately, during this time, she suffered an aneurysm, fell, and broke her dominant wrist, so she began using her left hand.
She continued to work on large horizontal paintings with rigid edges with bright colors and a second collage series made up of old charcoal drawings she had done.
After Pollock died, Krasner began to achieve recognition, like her first retrospective. In the 70s, she became part of the strong feminist movement that was occurring. The movement was quick to champion her story of living in her husband’s shadow.
The 1984 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art that took place months after her death was a big moment for her career. The New York Times said the retrospective “clearly defines Krasner’s place in the New York School.”
They also said that she “is a major, independent artist of the pioneer Abstract Expressionist generation, whose stirring work ranks high among that produced here in the last half-century.”
The Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center at Stony Brook University is one way their legacy lives on.
Until 2008, Krasner was one of four women who had a retrospective show at the institution, the others being Louise Bourgeois in 1982, Helen Frankenthaler in 1989, and Elizabeth Murray in 2004.
Her papers were donated in 1985 to the Archives of American Art and have since been digitized and are located on the web.
The Pollock-Krasner Foundation was established in 1985, and it functions as the estate for both artists, but it also assists working artists of merit with financial assistance.
In 2003, her work Celebration sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art for almost $2 million. In 2008, Polar Stampede sold for $3.2 million.
“All my work keeps going like a pendulum; it seems to swing back to something I was involved with earlier, or it moves between horizontality and verticality, circularity, or a composite of them. For me, I suppose that change is the only constant.”
While Grace Hartigan started her art career later than many of her counterparts, her impact on the abstract expressionist genre was not diminished by this.
Hartigan was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. Born in 1922, She was the eldest of four, which meant that she was not afforded the privilege of attending post-secondary, but she trained in mechanical drafting in the 1940s and studied with painter Isaac Lane Muse.
At 17, she married her first husband, who encouraged her to pursue art. She would divorce him in 1947 and get married three more times.
Hartigan moved to New York as she became serious about painting, and joined the likes of Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock. Pollock became a mentor to Hartigan, and by the late 50s, she was named “the most celebrated of the young American women painters” by Life magazine.
Hartigan lived to be 86, as she passed away in 2008 of liver failure. She left behind an incredible legacy of impressive artwork and being an iconic woman in the abstract expressionist genre.
“I cannot expect even my own art to provide all the answers – only to hope it keeps asking the right questions.”
Grace Hartigan is known for her bold experimentation, gestural brush strokes, and emotional works. Her work suggests a sense of urgency.
Early works have an organic and curvilinear form, and older paintings have more distinct figures, symbols, and mythological references. The structures and figures in her work are emotional vehicles, and they’re painted in an expressionist manner.
In 1950, her career began when a painting of hers was selected for the “New Talent” show at the Kootz Gallery by Meyer Schapiro and Clement Greenberg. The show led to her first solo exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.
In her career, these stepping stones pushed her to refine her style, as she felt she was lacking distinction and relied too heavily on Abstract Expressionism.
Goya, Velázquez, and other Old Master painters inspired her, along with Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne.
Many of her peers did not approve of her new direction, but ‘The Persian Jacket,’ a painting she completed in 1952, became a permanent fixture in the Museum of Modern Art.
She used a Frank O’Hara poem to create a series of paintings in a collaborative effort with one of his friends.
“I don’t see how you can create and not have the feeling that it is the most important, all-consuming thing.”
Other established museums followed suit. The Whitney Museum bought the 1954 ‘Grand Street Brides,’ the Museum of Modern Art bought the 1953 ‘River Bathers,’ which was influenced by Matisse.
In 1956, she began working on the ‘City Life’ painting series, which features interlocking colour planes that reflect her neighbourhood’s streets.
Later that year, she would go on to be the only woman represented in the “Twelve Americans” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
In 1958, ‘The New American Painting’ exhibition included her work, and she was the youngest artist and only woman to be included; and the exhibition travelled around Europe.
When she married her fourth husband, she moved to Baltimore in 1961. She initially regretted her move from the heart of the art scene in New York, so she tried to replicate her former studio in an abandoned factory.
Her 1957 work ‘Billboard’ was where she began to incorporate pop culture imagery into her work.
In the early 1960s, she was fascinated by Marilyn Monroe’s death and the Barbie doll launching into the mainstream. She drew upon these for her later works.
She began teaching at the Hoffberger School of Painting in 1964, becoming a part-time professor for the graduate program at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
She was known among students for her relentless critiques. The following year, she would become the director of the school, and she encouraged expressivity over everything else. She was becoming ill as she was a recovering alcoholic and suffered from osteoarthritis, but she refused to retire.
“Action/Precision: The New Direction in New York, 1955–60” and “The Figurative Fifties: New York Figurative Expressionism” were two major shows that exhibited her work in the 80s.
The last exhibition was titled “Hand-Painted Pop: American Art in Transition, 1955–62,” and it was held in LA, Chicago, and New York.
“I feel that we are living a very fragmented life, the whole world — you too. So I perceive the world in fragments. It is somewhat like being on a very fast train and getting glimpses of things in strange scales as you pass by.
A person can be very, very tiny. And a billboard can make a person very large. You see the corner of a house, or you see a bird fly by, and it’s all fragmented.
Somehow, in painting, I try to make some logic out of the world that has been given to me in chaos. I have a very pretentious idea that I want to make life, I want to make sense out of it. The fact that I am doomed to failure — that doesn’t deter me in the least.”
Grace Hartigan was the recipient of numerous awards and honours over her lifetime. Six universities and colleges in Maryland and Pennsylvania chose Hartigan to be the recipient of honorary degrees.
She was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Neuberger Museum in 2002 and the Governor’s Award in Baltimore, MA, in 2006.
Aside from her contributions to the American painting world, she was an incredible example of a fierce and independent female influence in art.
This era in art is often looked at by historians through a narrow and patriarchal lens, but she breaks through that lens. She was an extremely talented artist that demanded the attention away from her male counterparts.
She embraced the abstract expressionist movement while incorporating her own style, and it ensured her art remain relevant decades later, and it paved the way for future artists and the New Figuration and Neo-Expressionist movements.
The abstract expressionism art form sprung onto the scene in the 1940s and 1950s by some influential artists. Still, this genre can be traced back to having been popular for over a century.
The art form is denoted by its colourful spontaneity, gestural strokes and marks, and the ability to evoke emotion.
The types of abstract expressionism include action painting and colour field painting.
Spontaneous brush strokes and gestures characterize action painting, and colour field painting is characterized by artists working with a large area of a single colour.
Here are some of the best artists of the abstract expressionism art genre.
Jackson Pollock is the poster child for the Abstract expressionist movement in the 1940s and 1950s. He was well known for his drip paintings, and they were popular because of the unmatched creativity at the time.
His process coined the action painting title, and he achieved a level of fame that was comparable to what Andy Warhol would achieve decades later.
Pollock put his canvas on the floor, pouring paint, impulsively brushing and creating his masterpieces. Pollock was a leader in the genre, and he would go on to influence future artists in their work.
“The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”
Here is an interesting video documentary on Jackson Pollock.
Joan Mitchell was part of the new wave of abstract expressionists who took the genre and softened it, giving it a lyrical and emotional direction.
Another action painter, she used her gestures to become a massive part of the American movement, even though she mostly worked and lived in France.
She was inspired by Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. She is one of the genre and eras few female creators, and she received massive critical acclaim and public recognition.
“My paintings are titled after they are finished. I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me – and remembered feelings of them, which, of course, become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would more like to paint what it leaves with me.”
Watch this documentary, “Lady Painter”, about Joan Mitchell.
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Clyfford Still was lesser known than his New York School peers, but he was a pioneer in the genre, creating a style of work that had little to no clear concept or subject matter.
He worked in the colour field painting form, and the common theme in his work is the struggle between nature and the human spirit.
He was a bit controversial, being labelled as a complicated character to deal with in the art community, as he turned his back on the New York art scene.
“These are not paintings in the usual sense; they are life and death merging in fearful union. As for me, they kindle a fire; through them, I breathe again, hold a golden cord, find my own revelation.”
Piet Mondrian’s name is closely connected to Modern Art. His geometric squares of bright, primary colours with thick, black borders are famously known and regarded in the community.
He started his art career heavily influenced by Seurat and Van Gogh. Still, he eventually settled into his unique style.
The goal of his work was to attain a spiritual connection with the divine, which forced it to become increasingly abstract.
“Abstract art is not the creation of another reality but the true vision of reality.”
Here is a cool video about Piet Mondrian called “A Life in 10 Snippets”. Worth a watch!
Along with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko is one of the most famous abstract expressionists.
His style is much different than his peers, as he diffused paint over his canvas, versus the gestural brushstrokes that the genre mainly demonstrated.
His exemplary work consists of large blobs of paint stacked over each other and painted backdrops, with a bright contrast in colour. His goal was to evoke a range of emotions from his admirers.
“It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academic painting. However, there is no such thing as good painting about nothing.”
I recommend this documentary called “The Case For Mark Rothko” to learn more about the artist.
Marianne von Werefkin is a Russian-German-Swiss painter, who started to paint in the Realism style and later developed her style into Expressionism.
Marianne von Werefkin was born on 10 September 1860 in Tula, Russia. She started to paint at the age of fourteen and later became a student of Ilja Rapin, one of the most well known Russian painters. Here she is in old age, pondering imponderables.
Since her early days, Marianne faced many challenges, which contributed to creating her personality. She was seventeen when during cleaning a gun at home she accidentally shot her right hand.
This misfortune had an impact on the rest of her life as a painter because she had to use a special tool helping her to paint. Werefkin also has more issues with health such as neuralgia and hysterical epilepsy.
Marianne von Werefkin was strongly influenced by Russian realism, which reflected in her early works. Because of her talent to create realistic works she even got a nickname – “Russian Rembrandt“.
In 1893 she painted a “Self Portrait in a Sailor‘s Blouse” – a portrait of herself looking into the distance and holding a bunch of paintbrushes in one hand and leaned on her hip with another.
This work was created in her family‘s Blagodat Estate in Lithuania, where she used to come to visit her father and later her brother, who owned the property and where she had her first work studio.
Moving to Munich
In 1896, together with another Russian expressionist Alexej von Jawlensky, whom she met in Russia, she moved to Munich, Germany, where she studied painting.
Munich at that time was a very popular place for artists from Russia and Eastern Europe because of highly-regarded art school founded by Slovenian artist Anton Ažbe.
Unfortunately, instead of creating for herself, she focused on her friend. According to art historians, they were not married, not even a couple, so their relationship could be described only as friends, but at that time, Marianne encouraged Alexej‘s development as an artist and supported him to create. Later he became a father with the other woman whom he married and Marianne never got married or had a child.
Marianne was also known as an active member of a local artists community. She was very social and use to invite various people to her home, her salon, where happened many discussions about art and various ideas. She brought together not only artists but avant-garde writers, dancers even Russian politicians and aristocrats.
She started to paint again after ten years in 1906 when Alexej was not a part of her life anymore and finished her first works in 1907.
Together with another famous Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, she created a Neue Künstvereinigung Munchen – an art group, which was dedicated to the Expressionism ideas.
At that time, her inspiration to create came from French post-impressionists Paul Gauguin and Louis Anquentin, also one of the most known expressionists – a Norwegian Edvard Munch.
When Marianne use to visit her family‘s Estate in Lithuania, she got the inspiration for the country‘s landscape and culture which lead her to create paintings like “The Road”, “The Family”, “City in Lithuania” or “Police Sentinel in Vilnius” (shown below).
Werefkin developed her painting style, which mainly consisted of vivid and dark colors. In 1910, she created a new self-portrait, which was different from painting in her early days as an artist.
This one didn‘t reflect Russian realism anymore, Marianne created her painting style influenced at that time prevailing Expressionism.
The portrait is mesmerizing because of the strict look of her vivid red eyes, also red color dress and hat, yellow skin and vivid blue background and has a strong emotion, which is very specific for expressionists.
Next and Last Stop – Switzerland
Because of the First World War, Marianne von Werefkin with her friend Jawlensky moved to the neutral country Switzerland.
At first, they lived in Geneva, later in Zurich, but when Jawlensky decided to marry the mother of his child, Marianne moved to Ascona, where she lived till her death in 1938.
Her life back then was difficult because of her living conditions – she didn‘t get enough money, so she couldn‘t paint and create as much as she wanted.
Despite her financial condition, she kept active in social life and in 1924 created an artist group “Großer Bär” which focused on discussions about art.
Marianne von Werefkin‘s works as an important sign of expressionism were exhibited several times in different locations in Europe.
She together with Alexej von Jawlensky was remembered again in 2019, when the art gallery “Lenbachhaus” in Munich, Germany, where the artist spent one part of her life, created an exhibition called “Lebensmenschen”.
This exhibition started on 22nd October and will last until the 16th of February 2020.
Doris Salcedo is from Bogotá, Colombia, and was born in 1958. Her life dramatically influences her work in Colombia, and the lives of victims of trauma in Colombia.
She utilizes commonplace items in her installation work, such as furniture, grass, concrete, clothing, and flowers.
Some themes she has aimed to express are memory loss, pain, trauma, loss, and emptiness. Being an artist has been her lifelong dream.
“I always wanted to be an artist. I cannot name a date when that came to me; it has always been there. Living in Colombia, in a country at war, means that war does not give you the possibility of distance. War engulfs reality completely. In some cases, people can be killed or wounded at war, but in most cases war just distorts your life. It throws a shadow over your entire life.”
This video should give you a closer look to get you familiarized with Doris and her beliefs.
She continues, “War creates a totality and you are embedded in it. It’s like being engulfed in a reality. Political events are part of everyday life here, so art and politics came to me as a natural thing, something that has been very much present in my life from the start.”
Doris Salcedo attended Bogotá University, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1980. She majored in painting and theater.
In the early 1980s, Doris moved to New York and began sculpting, while earning her Master’s.
This is where she became influenced by other artists who were using political and challenging themes in their works.
This inspired her to draw from her home country and the heartache it had experienced with war.
She draws on her own experiences but also speaks for victims of senseless crimes and terrible issues that plague Colombia. She has interviewed victims to gain insight into their trauma to create many of her most famous pieces.
Some of her most notable installation pieces are the following:
A rough translation to ‘silent prayer,’ this piece is a series of sculptures that make up the shape of a coffin, from two handmade tables.
There is grass growing in between the tabletops. This piece symbolizes and pays tribute to the victims of gang violence, particularly the enormous gravesites where victims of gang violence are buried in Colombia.
Flor de Piel
Created in 2013 and acquired by the Harvard Art Museum in 2014, this piece was part of her solo exhibition Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning.
The tapestry measures 340 cm x 500 cm and is made up of thousands of hand-sewn rose petals. This piece was to pay homage to a nurse that was tortured to death during the Colombian war.
Located in Tate Modern in London, her installation here was a massive crack in the flooring. She is the first artist ever to change the physical building of Tate Modern.
This piece was to symbolize the wedge between victims and the social forces that divided and armed people against one another.
It also represents a significant divide between the rich and the poor. Particularly in Colombia, there is a clear divide and brokenness between cultures, and that was meant to be evoked by this piece.
Made from plywood, thread, sheepskin, animal fibers, and shoes. There are six different styles of this installation piece.
In the ‘shoes’ piece, the shoes were all worn previously by victims who had been declared missing.
Families of missing women donated the items. This piece represents being “permanently suspended between the present and the past” and bringing awareness to the memory of those who are missing, or their whereabouts are unknown.
Atrabiliarios is meant to be a portrait of disappearance and survivors mentally being distraught with no closure.
This installation piece is constructed from 1,550 wooden chairs piled between two buildings. The central theme behind this creation was a topography of war.
About Istanbul, she says, “Seeing these 1,550 wooden chairs piled high between two buildings in central Istanbul, I’m reminded of mass graves. Of anonymous victims. I think of both chaos and absence, two effects of wartime violence. What I’m trying to get out of these pieces is that element that is common in all of us. And in a situation of war, we all experience it in much the same way, either as victim or perpetrator. So I’m not narrating a particular story. I’m just addressing experiences.”
Created from 1995-1998, Unland is comprised of three sculptures. It’s meant to represent testimonies given by children who witnessed their parents murder in the Colombian Civil War.
Doris traveled across the country to collect statements from participants and how this shaped their lives. The three sculptures are called Unland: the orphan’s tunic, Unland: irreversible witness, and Unland: audible in the mouth.
Two wooden tables are fused into one, and combined by the legs being removed on each end. There are thousands of holes in the top of the table, which has human hair and silk threads sewn in. The wood has deep cuts across it, to signal the damage done in the war.
Accolades and Importance
Her list of accolades is impressive, to say the least. She’s been awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship, The Ordway Prize, from the Penny McCall Foundation, Velázquez Visual Arts Prize, Hiroshima Art Prize, Inaugural Nasher Prize for Sculpture, Nasher Sculpture Center, Rolf Schock Prizes in Visual Arts and The Nomura Art Award.
Doris Salcedo creates installation pieces that provoke thought and tackles tough, taboo subjects from objects with little significance.
She has played an important role in her Colombian culture, being a voice for victims of trauma and political injustices. Art has always been her passion for many reasons, and she has turned that into a lifelong career and been a guiding force in her niche.
“The way that an artwork brings materials together is incredibly powerful. Sculpture is its materiality. I work with materials that are already charged with significance, with meaning they have required in the practice of everyday life…then, I work to the point where it becomes something else, where metamorphosis is reached.”
Amrita Sher Gil is one of the most impressive and the most gifted Indian artists of the pre-colonial era.
India’s Revolutionary Artist
She is considered as a revolutionary woman artist and pioneer of modern art in India, and often referred to along with Frida Kahlo for aesthetically blending traditional and Western art forms.
She was born on January, 30, 1913 in Budapest, Hungary. Her mother Marie Antoniette Gottesmann was a Hungarian-Jewish opera singer, and her father Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia was a Sikh aristocrat and a Persian and Sanskrit scholar.
She developed an interest towards painting at her early childhood, by the time she was five. In 1921, Amrita’s family shifted from Hungary to the beautiful hill station of Shimla, due to financial problems.
The young Amrita started to learn painting at the age of eight, trained under Major Whitmarsh and Beven Paterman.
A few years later, she joined a famous art school in Florence, Santa Annunziata, where she was exposed to the works of Italian artists, which furthered her interest in painting.
Months later, Amrita and her mother returned to India.
Realizing Potential in Paris
In 1926, Amrita’s nephew Ervin Baktay, an Indologist aware of her amazing potential, played a crucial role in pushing her to pursue an artistic career.
At the age of 16, she went to Paris with her mother and started training under Pierre Vaillend and Lucien Simon at Grande Chaumiere, and received a formal education at the École des Beaux-Arts.
She spent five years in Paris. It was a period of experimentation, and a period of exploring her own hybrid identity. Sher-Gil was fully aware of her exotic beauty, sometimes wearing western clothing, and sometimes wearing a sari.
During the initial stages of her career, her works were profoundly influenced by Western art, reflected academic style in which she was trained. It was the Western European idiom with its naturalism and textured application of paint.
In the early 1930s, many of her pieces included paintings of her Parisian life, still life studies, nude studies, portraits of her friends and fellow students, and the significant corpus of the self portraits, for which she is often considered as narcissistic by many.
The self portraits captured the artists in her many moods-pensive, joyous and obscure, while revealing a narcissistic line in her personality.
Pitiless Eye, Melancholic Soul
In 1932, she created The Young Girls: the two women- Amrita’s sister Indira sits on the left clothed in chic European style and a French friend Denise Proutaux partially undressed figure in the foreground.
The two women, one assured the other awkward with her face buried beneath streaming hair have been as personifying two different side of the artist herself.
Sher-Gil was the youngest and the only Asian artist to be elected as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. The painting was gained wide recognition and was awarded a Gold Medal at the Parisian Grand Salon in 1933.
One of Sher-Gil’s professor predicted that her works would make more sense in the East, judging by the rich colors that she usually used in her painting.
Sher-Gil created self-portraits that represented her grappling with her own identity. These paintings often reflected troubled and introvert woman caught between her Indian and Hungarian existence.
She was profoundly influenced by the simplified and symbolically charged paintings of Paul Gauguin. It became explicit in Self Portrait as Tahitian (1934), where Sher-Gil appear in a three-quarter profile naked to the waist, and looking beyond the frame of the picture.
Her body is depicted in Gauguin’s technique of the female nude with a distant, obscure expression of her face. She self-consciously plays on her status as the exotic other in Paris.
In 1934, Sher-Gil returned to India in order to find a mode of delineation appropriate to her Indian subjects.
Decoding Indian Traditions
A few years later, 1937, in order to decode the traditions of Indian art she began her journey to the south India, a journey that shaped all her future work.
Sher-Gil was deeply moved by the plight of unprivileged people and common villagers; she explored the sadness felt by people, especially women, giving voice and validity to their experience.
It would reflect in her work South Indian Trilogy (Bride’s Toilet, Brahmacharis and South Indian Villagers Going to Market) are much different from the prevalent realist watercolor mode of Indian painting at that time.
Her artistic style and technique was indeed fairly unusual in India. Influenced by the wall painting of the Ajanta Caves, she attempted to fuse their aesthetics with the European oil painting techniques.
She had learnt to incorporate Indian traditions in her work and rediscovered her purpose in painting. Once she even wrote to a friend saying that Europe belongs to the artists such as Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse while India belongs to her.
Her artistic style was in marked contrast to that of her contemporaries in India – Nandalal Bose, Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Abanindranath Tagore, who belonged to the Bengal school, as the first modern movement of Indian art.
She considered the school retrograde and blamed it for the stagnation in Indian painting of that time.
In the following years, her work had a tremendous impact on Indian art. As an exceptional colorist, Sher-Gil was able to achieve special effects with colors that were bold and unbridled, in opposite to the pale hues in vogue among her contemporary colleagues.
Some of the best examples of her work such as Village Scene, Siesta or In the Ladies’ Enclosure represented the poor state of women and other unprivileged people.
The painting Three Girls, from 1935, shows melancholic women wearing passive expressions; their solemn brown faces a contrast to the vibrant reds, ambers and greens of their clothing.
The mood is dispirited – the women are waiting for something they doubt will ever come along. Sher-Gil lived between worlds, between West and East, in searching for a sense of belonging.
So, she understood the emptiness and loneliness of those women, since their moods were a certain reflection of her own.
In 1941, Sher Gil moved to Lahore, an undivided part of India, where the art was appreciated at that time. In this phase of her life, she produced some of her most known painting such as Tahitian, Bride, Hill Scene and The Red Brick House.
Living Free, Dying Young
Amrita Sher-Gil was a free spirit who led a somewhat careless life; she was bisexual and had numerous relationships.
Regarding her sexuality, her biographer Yashodhara Dalmia in Amrita-Sher-Gil: A Life (2006) wrote it was (partly) a result of her broad view of woman as a strong individual, liberated from the social conventions.
She formed an intimate friendship with the painter Marie Louise Chassany who was a fellow student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Some art critics believed her painting Two Women reflected their yearning for one another.
Sher-Gil saw marriage as a way to gain independence from her parents. In 1938, she married Dr. Victor Egan, her Hungarian first cousin, revealing afterward that she was pregnant; Dr Egan arranged for an abortion and performed it.
She was a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India and central figure in Indian politics before and after independence. She never painted Nehru, as she stated he was ‘’too good looking to be painted’’.
In 1941, days before her first solo exhibition in Lahore, she became ill. A few months later, she died at the age of 28.
The real cause of her death was never ascertained. The cause was believed to be complications from a second abortion performed by her husband.Her mother accused Dr Victor Egan, for her demise.
Her unfinished works reveal a move toward abstraction and incorporate richer colors that the colors seen in her previous paintings.
The artwork of Amrita Sher-Gil has been declared as National Art Treasures by the Government of India.
In 1978, India Post released a stamp of her ‘Hill Women’’. The Indian cultural center in Budapest has been named after her. The 100th anniversary of Amrita Sher-Gil’s birth was declared as the international year of Sher-Gil by UNESCO, in 2013.
The complexities of her life made her both, an outsider and insider, as did her ambivalent sexuality and identity-pushed her to constantly reinvent her artistic style and visual language.
She sought to adjust and reconcile her enthusiastic response to traditional art-historical resources with her modern sensibility.
Much has been said on the nudes of Suzanne Valadon, and rightly so.Truly, they are wonderfully composed and naturally iconoclastic in nature.
Women.Real women portrayed in natural scenarios by other women was unheard of in the late 1800s and into the 1900s.Generally women did not tackle nudes at all; the powers that be fearing the practice would corrupt delicate souls.
Valadon, exempt from propriety due in part to humble birth and in other part her choice of tawdry career as an art model, was able to express herself in ways other women could or would not at the time.She was admitted into salons (where no “decent” woman would tread) and even found herself the first woman painter of Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (SNBA), in 1894.
Here she is pictured with her son, Maurice, in 1889.
All this is quite spectacular on its own, but I would like to leave the icon smashing and feminist critique behind for a short while.I’d even like to leave the entirety of her personal life behind.Today we will look at Valadon as a genderless painter of fruit and flowers.We will examine her still lifes and perhaps see the merit the SNBA saw when they chose to add her to the pantheon of art gods.
Bouquet de Roses dans un Obus, oil on card, 1913
One of my favourites, Suzanne places roses inside an obus (cannon shell).To the roses she gives definition with her characteristic heavy lines.To the obus, however, she uses soft short strokes.
This renders an object of war nothing more than a harmless vase.The placement of the object on a kitchen sill next to feminine lilac drapes annihilates the last bit of danger to the point that the obus loses its meaning entirely.
Even knowing what cannon shells of the period look like, a viewer would be hard pressed to identify it as such.Bordering on symbolist, she keeps the colours orthodox and avoids contrivance.
It is a balanced work that evokes a timely “Frenchness”, and a little titter at the tender emasculation of a phallic object (whoops, some feminist critique slipped in).
Untitled, oil on card, 1930
Speaking of timely Frenchness, what could be more delightfully 1930s French than a blue vase stuffed with roses?Never a servant of style, Valadon takes a more post impressionist (but not quite) look at these flowers.
Her beautiful built up highlights and shadows are made somehow more realistic by the presence of clear brushwork.The flowers are lit up from within.
Her choice of perspective is ever so slightly naïve, causing the vase to float, lending extra emphasis to it as a focal point.Objects in the background are arranged firmly in reality though, grounding the whole thing on what I’m sure was a wonderfully printed tablecloth.
Valadon painted many roses, tulips, orchids and the like, but her greatest still lifes often involved the honesty of circumstance her nudes had in spades as well.
A common basket of even commoner duck eggs waits quietly for the cook, nestled in straw.The stonework is alive with colour, both in light and shadow.
Valadon does not half paint even the most simple of highlights.The way the light falls over the eggs and onto the wall brings to mind an open door; perhaps the cook has come for these blue cast beauties at last.
Basket of Duck Eggs, oil on card, 1931
Nature Morte au Lièvre, Faisan et Pomme, oil on card, 1930
Pieces like, Still life with Hare, Pheasant and Apple, convince us of Suzanne’s sense of humour.An old hare dangles almost peacefully from hind legs drained and awaiting a competent cook to relieve it of its skin in one swift pull.
The young pheasant seems to be dreaming grand, worried dreams despite its questionable life status.Apples sit pertly on a plate, as if to rub in how alive they are; not knowing they all share the same fate.
A quick laugh is had at the idea of a “nature morte” of dead animals.It’s so on the nose if it weren’t for the sombre, reverent overtones this piece would risk vulgarity.As it stands though, in characteristic Valadon style, she goes just far enough.
We feel the ambivalence of the old hare, the tragedy of the young pheasant and the haughtiness of the apples.It mirrors truth, not to mention the sanctifying warmth pervading the scene is downright Fauvist.
Given her close ties with Ganguin, this is unsurprising.Suzanne’s emotional colour vocabulary is extremely developed across her still lifes and painted portraits.
So far the emphasis has been on her later, more developed works, but what of earlier material?
Nature morte au compotier de fruits, oil on card, 1917
Again, nearly symbolist in nature, this fruit bowl is absolutely uncommon.Her slight naivete of perspective keeps a sense of stuffy refinement far away from her popular and often grossly academic subject.
Colours, simply layered, build a juicy pear and living grapes.She bothers to paint the calyx of an upside down apple though.In fact, this composition is rife with luxurious, unnecessary details.
The brocade stripes of the wall cover, blue details on the china pedestal bowl and the delicately defined wicker table stand in sharp contrast to the relatively faceless fruit.
She forces the viewer to realize detail in objects she omitted it from.Like so many excellent paintings, it is what is left unpainted that is remarkable.
Remarkable works, Valadon has many.In her time she was a immensely popular and respected artist, though time can cruelly erase that which does not fit the appropriate narrative.
Suzanne, when she is mentioned at all, is mostly talked about in terms of being a revolutionary woman (she was) or being a woman in the den of great men (Ganguin, Cezanne, Latrec…).
Her life is often cast, if cast at all, in the red glow of bawdiness thanks to the childish puritanism of our modern world.This I think, though titillating, is unfair.
Her work shows a greatness of spirit and a delicacy of soul.She mastered the concepts of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’; played with humour and nuance.
Everything about her art suggests an actualized, inspired, aspiring mind.If anything, Valadon achieved in life what most artists only achieve in death.
The respect and admiration of her peers.It would be wonderful if she were appreciated in death the way she was lauded in life.
Let us quietly appreciate a grouping of more typical Valadon still lifes and see what Gauguin saw in a talented, young art model so many years ago.
Bouquet des Fleurs 1937
White Fruit Bowl undated
Roses dans une Verre 1937
Her confident lines are instantly recognizable as is her slightly off perspective.Even working with universal subjects, she manages to make every vignette intensely personal.
Her still lifes are as intimate, in my opinion, as her nudes and deserve as much notoriety in popular art critique beyond the French Riviera.Though, it must be said again, her nudes are extremely worthy of examination.
The Future Unveiled, 1912
So please, no more of this “Mistress and Muse of Montmartre” crap that appears in so much analysis of her.When it comes to Valadon there is plenty to talk about inside the frame.
Speculating on the woman more than the work does no one any favours and has constantly robbed the present of the honest presence of a brilliant artist.Suzanne Valadon; a Crown Jewel of Montmartre.
This is her rightful place and there she will live in my heart and mind forever.
In 1960 I was a very angry young woman. Angry at men and their power. I felt that they had robbed me of my own free space in which I could develop myself.
I wanted to conquer their world, to earn my own money. Angry with my parents who I felt had raised me for the marriage market. I wanted to show them that I was somebody, that I existed and that my voice and my scream of protest as a woman was important.
I was ready to kill.
Niki Saint Phalle’s unique brand of feminist art expressed both jouissance and angst in equal measure, and explored the complex and confounding ways in which biology and culture co-construct the female experience.
She was born on October, 29, 1930 to an aristocratic Catholic family as a second of five children; her father André was a wealthy French banker, and her mother Jacqueline Harper was an American, but raised in French.
Soon after her birth, facing with aftershocks of the Black Tuesday, the French wing of the Great Depression, the Saint Phalle’s lost their fortune; her father was forced to close his finance company and they moved to the United States.
From an early age, Niki pushed the boundaries in her personal and artistic life. She attended the prestigious Brearley School in New York, which she found to be a formative experience for her, and a place where she became a feminist.
However, she was expelled for painting the fig leaves covering the genitals of statues on the school’s campus red.
Coming of Age
When she was 18, Saint Phalle eloped with Harry Mathews, a person that she knew through her father.
Both of them were artistically inclined, oversensitive, overtly rebellious romantics, and they bounded together as such. While Mathews studied music at Harvard University, Saint Phalle began exploring painting, and gave birth to their daughter Laura in 1951, when she was 20 years old.
In 1952, the couple moved to Paris, where Mathews continued to study music, learning to become a conductor, while Niki studied theater to become an actress, and she was also modelling for Elle and Vogue.
The following year, Saint Phalle was diagnosed with a nervous breakdown, and hospitalized in a psychiatric facility.
At this point of her life, she had gone through a violent nervous breakdown, caused by the facts she had married young and somehow accepted the conservative values and the lifestyle of her family that she wanted to reject so badly.
Niki was first treated with a barbarous treatment, a series of electric shocks, but luckily, she ended up in the hands of a humane psychiatrist who restored her to mental health.
She was encouraged to paint as a form of therapy; somewhere in between the shocks and analysis, she began doing her first collages, and soon after that her first paintings.
They were so original and compelling, that her husband, following her energetic example, gave up all thoughts of a musician career and began writing for the first time since 1949.
The couple moved to Majorca off the coast of Spain, where their son Philip was born in 1955. During this time, Niki developed her imaginative, self-though style of painting, experimenting with a variety of materials and forms.
During the visit to Barcelona, she was stuck by the work of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi and his park Güell, which was instrumental in Niki’s early conceptualization of the elaborate sculpture garden she would fulfill much later in her career.
Saint Phalle’s art was also influenced by other various artists such as Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Jackson Pollock.
At the end of the 1950s, Niki and her husband moved back to Paris; in 1960, she divorced Mathews, giving him the custody of their children. She met artist Jean Tinguely, with whom she would collaborate artistically; within a year, they had began a romantic relationship, and eventually married in 1971.
Niki Saint Phalle’s first solo exhibition in 1961, punctuated a dynamic period of her early career and she met a number of influential artists living in Paris at that time, whose use of found objects was to have a strong influence on her work.
On show were several of her Shooting Paintings. They were made by fixing polythene bags of paint to a board, and covering them with a thick plaster surface. Viewers were invited to shoot a rifle at the surface, popping the bags and causing the paint to run down the textured white surface.
The process of creating the artwork became a live performative event done in the public eye, and with the public’s participation, challenging traditional perceptions of the artist as a hermetic figure. Shooting Paintings involve the viewer directly and physically in the creation of the work, and leave the resulting image to chance.
In this period, Saint Phalle’s artistic work had become a bold act of defiance, reclamation of space for herself, and for women. She started to articulate these ideas and combining them with other social and political issues‒ amidst an atmosphere of radical ideas, from civil rights, anti-war and anti-violence protests to campaigns for women’s rights and sexual liberation across the West.
The Crucifixion piece, from 1963, an abstracted female figure, is made from found objects and fixed on the flat surface of the wall. It partly resembles to the method of sculptural assemblage, a combination of collage and sculpture that brings in a third dimension by adding elements that project out of a planar, two-dimensional surface.
The work responds to the genre-blending of mid-century abstraction and expresses Saint Phalle’s attitude towards the female condition, which she saw as a highly ambiguous and contentious state.
The figure comprises together suggestions and formal elements of the constructed, biological-cultural stages of womanhood: youthful and sexualized, maternal and abundant, elderly and confined.
The figure has no arms, indicating a lack of female agency and disempowerment within a society that strongly delineates woman’s roles in accordance with diminishing reproductive capacity.
Her most famous and prolific series of works, the Nanas, were inspired by a friend’s pregnancy, her reflections on archetypal feminine forms, and the vexed positions that women occupy in modern, patriarchal societies.
‘Nanas’, a French slang word roughly equivalent to ‘broads’, is a title that encapsulates the theme of the everywoman as well as the casual denigration that closely accompaniesthe rhetorical grouping of women as a social category.
The Black Venus (1965-67), a large-scale sculpture presents a non-traditional view of the goddess figure and does not conform to the stereotypes of female beauty established by Western classical art, and does not recall sculptural goddess form of the Ancient Western world.
Instead, the figure is large-limbed, black-skinned, actively in motion, and adorned in a colorful, cartoonish bathing costume.
In 1966, she collaborated with Tinguely and Olof Ultvedt on a project for Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. The trio created a large installation Hon-A Cathedral, the largest nana figure; the installation provoked a strong reaction from the public.
It is a large-scale sculptural work which viewers could enter from the vaginal opening, and could hold up to 150 people at a time. ‘Hon’ is the Swedish word for ‘she’, implying that the sculpture is both a symbol for the every-womanand a cathedral-like space for the worship of woman and femininity.
Its structure references classical architectural theories about the entrance to cathedrals and their metaphoric and symbolic relationship to female genitalia. The feature also presents the woman’s body as a place of exchange and creation, a generative space of new life by way of its exit.
That was also the period when Niki worked on Le Paradis Fantastique, a commission for the French Pavilion at Expo Montreal, Canada in 1967.
While she was working on this project with Tinguely, St Phalle’s lungs were severely damaged by polyester resin toxic fumes. Her favorite material, polyester, was the cause of her recurring health problems.
During the early 1970s, she spent some time in the Swiss mountains recuperating from a serious lung illness. In Swiss, Niki met childhood friend, Marella Caracciolo Agnelli who was a well-connected socialite with a penchant for collecting art.
Saint Phelle told her about her vision of creating elaborating sculpture garden of Tarot symbology. With Agnelli’s help, she acquired a parcel in Tuscany, Italy. In 1978, the foundations were laid, and two years later, the construction of the first sculpture began;
The Empress, an enormous sculptural building designed in the shaped of a sphinx, became her home and studio for the next decade.
Elaborately decorated with mosaics and ceramics on the outside and Venetian glass on the inside, the work maintains the aesthetic of assemblage used in many of her earlier works.
Niki spent many years completely immersed in the creation of her dream place. After nearly 20 years of intensive work, financial and health problems, the garden was opened in 1998. It contained vibrant mosaics and colossal sculptures, based on the Tarot cards symbols.
Tarot is an ancient, venerable set of cards, with picture representations of archetypal, elementary situations upon them. They described existential, human experiences and psychic states. Saint Phalle was deeply convinced that the cards have a considerable meaning.
She saw the Tarot Garden as a site which crosses boundaries into the religious and where everyone is potentially able to have a direct experience of the archetypal content of the Tarot.
The idea came from Antonio Gaudi’s Park Guell, but the garden became much more than a simple variation on Gaudi’s concept. It was her absolute, on-going concern, and a deep, captivating theme for life.
Jean Tinguely died in Switzerland, 1991, and Saint Phalle began to make a series of kinetic sculptures, his chief sculptural medium, to honor his memory.
The Grotto, Hanover (2001-2003), the final instalment in a series of semi-architectural works accessible to public is the last project Saint Phalle worked on before her death.
This particular cave was originally built in the baroque style in 1676 as a place for members of the Hanover court to escape the heat.
Niki was invited to turn the space into an immersive art environment; she created a design in response to the formal qualities of the existing architecture, and maintained the original function of the Grotto.
Grotto consists of three rooms, each decorated in different style. The central room’s (‘Spirituality’) walls feature a spiral of yellow, gold and orange mosaic pieces made of glass and ceramics, along with river pebbles and seashells.
The room on the right is set against a field of dark cobalt blue, inspired by the work of Henri Matisse.
The final room is bright and full of silver shards of mirrors, creating an impression of continuous daylight inside the dark cave. The room features sculptural figures in a range of styles from across Niki’s career, acting as a form of retrospection of her oeuvre.
Niki Saint Phalle died on May, 21, 2002, after six months in intensive care in La Jolla, California. Her death was caused by emphysema, a chronic obstructive lung disease.
Saint Phalle continually disrupted long-held conventions in art; her iconoclastic approach to her identity and society at large made her an early and important voice to both the development of early conceptual art and the feminist movement.
Herwork often combined plastic art and performance in new ways, blending and dismantling hierarchies between sculpture, painting and performance in a way that would influence conceptual artists and their thinking toward developing new and hybrid forms rather than refining single-medium-specificity.
As a first distinctly modern movement in painting, Impressionism emerged in Paris in 1860s, and the end developed chiefly in France during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Gustave Courbet and the Realist movement first confronted the official Parisian art establishment in the middle of the nineteenth century. The French were ruled by oppressive regime and much of the people were in the throes of poverty.
The art of that time concentrated on idealized nudes and glorious depiction of the nature, and other works of realism. Courbet though that art closed its eyes on realities of life.
In his protest, he financed a bold act, an exhibition of his work, right opposite the Universal Exposition in Paris of 1855, which led to the emergence of future artists.
Salon de Refusés
The same year, 1855, Salon de Refusés / Salon of the Refused was formed in order to allow the exhibition of works by artists who had previously been refused entrance to the officialParisian Salon, the annual, state-sponsored exhibition juried bymembers ofthe Académie des Beaux-Arts.
The 1863 Salon de Refusés exhibition caused a scandal, due to the unconventional styles and themes of works such as Manet’s Le déjouner sur l’herbe (1863).
The painting depicts the picnic of two fully clothed men and two nude women, defies the tradition of the idealized female subject of Neoclassicism in the positioning of the woman on the left who gazes frankly out at the viewer.
Édouard Manet was one of the first and most important innovators who emerged in the art scene in Paris.
By the late 1860s, Manet’s art reflected a new aesthetic – which was to be a guiding force in Impressionist work- in which the importance of the traditional subject matters was downgraded and attention was shifted to the artist’s manipulation of color, tone and texture as ends in themselves.
He incorporated an innovative, looser painting style and brighter palette focusing on images of everyday life, such as scenes in cafés, boudoirs and out in the street.
His anti-academic style and modern subject matters attracted the attention of the artists on the fringes and influenced a new type of painting that would diverge from the standards of the official salon.
Societé Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteures, Graveursetc.
In 1874, a group of artistsknown as the “Societé Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteures, Graveursetc.”/ the AnonymousSociety of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers etc., mounted an alternative exhibition in Paris that would bring about radical break from artistic conventions and launch one of the most popular movement in the history of art.
All the artists had very limited success financially and had few works accepted in the salon exhibitions in Parisian art scene.
Displaying their works in a vacant former artist’s studio, outside the confines of the famous Salon, the Impressionists presented canvases depicting quiet landscapes,scenes of everyday life, full of loose, expressive brushwork to representfleeting effects of atmosphere and light.
In that time, these paintings represented something akin to a revolution in the art world.
Eschewing both the subject matters and technique of their predecessors, the Impressionists demonstrated that contemporary life required a new language to represent the radical shifts taking place in Parisian society.
The critics responded with both awe and horror; conservative critics denounced the unfinished, sketch-like quality of their paintings, while more progressive ones welcomed their innovative depictions of modern life.
The movement gained its name after the hostile French critic Louise Leroy reviewing the first major exhibition of 1874, seized on the title of Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise (1873), and accused the group of painting nothing but impressions.
The moniker was embraced by the group, but they also referred to themselves as the ‘’Independents’’, referring to the submissive principles of the Société des Artistes Indépendents’’ and the group’s efforts to detach itself from academic artistic conventions.
Age of the Impressionists
At that time, there were many ideas of what constituted modernity. Scientific thought was beginning to recognize that what the eye perceived and what the brain understood were two different things.
The Impressionists sought to capture the optical effects of light to convey the passage of time, changes in weather and shifts in atmosphere; a split second of life, a sensory effect of a scene – the impression, an ephemeral moment in time on canvas.
Their art did not necessarily rely on realistic depictions.
Probably the most celebrated of the Impressionists, Claude Monet, was renowned for his mastery of natural light, painted at different times of day in order to capture changing conditions.
He tended to paint simple impressions or subtle hints of his subjects using very soft brushstrokes and pure, unmixed colors to create a natural vibrating effect.
His ‘’wet on wet’ technique produced softer edges and blurred boundaries that merely suggested a three-dimensional plain, rather than depicting it realistically.
His Vetheuil in the Fog from 1879 is among his finest works, offering a subtle and distinct impression of a figural form. He applied his brush rather quickly to the canvas in order to capture the exact image he wanted before the sunlight shifted or faded away altogether.
This emphasis on the fleeting changes in the natural world was a central aspect of his oeuvre that captures the ephemerality of nature and preserves it within the picture plane.
Monet’s technique of painting outdoors, known as plein air painting, inherited from the landscape painters of the Barbizon School, was practiced widely among impressionists, leading to innovations in the representation of sunlight and the passage of time, which were two central motifs of Impressionism.
As a highly skilled draftsman and portraitist, Edgar Degas preferred indoor scenes of modern life such as musicians in an orchestra pit, people sitting in cafés, ballet dancers, delineating his forms with greater clarity using harder lines and thicker brush strokes.
L’Absinthe from 1876, by Degas represents a dour scene of two lonely individuals sitting in a cafécommunicates a sense of isolation, even degradation, as they have nothing better to do in the middle of the day.
Degas heavily handled paint further communicates the emotional burden or intense boredom of his subjects. This painting, as well as his other works, alludes to the oppressive atmosphere of the city and the psychological ennui of its inhabitants.
Other artists focused on the figure and the internal psychology of the individual.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir depicted the daily activities of individuals from his neighborhood of Montmartre and portrayed the social pastimes of Parisian life, emphasizing the emotional attributes of his subjects, using vibrant, saturated colors, light and loose brushwork to highlight the human form.
In Girl with a Hoop from 1885, Renoir developed a new style he dubbed ‘’aigre’’ (sour), in which he applied thick, elongated brushstrokes complemented by hard lines to portray the young girl in the foreground.
This painting evokes the distinctly carefree mood of much of his work; he focused on representation of leisure activities and female beauty, asserting his disregard for subjects of an overtly critical nature.
Berthe Morisot was the first woman to exhibit with the Impressionists. She made rich compositions that highlighted the internal, personal sphere of feminine society, emphasizing the maternal bond between mother and child in her paintings.
Her work, “In a Park”, from 1874, Morisot combines the elements of figurations with representation of nature in this serene family portrait set in a bucolic garden.
In this quiet image of family life, she centered on the maternal bond between child and mother; her loose handling of pastels, a medium embraced by the Impressionists, and visible application of color and form were central characteristic of her oeuvre.
Together with Marie Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and Eva Gonzales, she was considered one of the four central female figures of the movement.
Mary Cassatt depicted a private sphere of the home, but also represented the woman in the public spaces of the newly modernized city.
Her workfeatures a number of innovations, including reduction of three-dimensional space and the application of bright, even garish colors in her painting both of which heralded later developments in modern art.
In her work, “At the Opera” from 1880, she depicts the Palais Garnier of the Paris Opera, which was opened in 1875, and served as a focal point for the city’s social life.
The opera, as the painting demonstrates, was not only a site for culture and entertainment, but also for seeing and being seen. The woman’s binoculars are echoed in the man’s binoculars, across the concert hall, directed at her.
The themes of urbanity are depicted in the work of Gustave Caillebotte, a later proponent of the movement, who focused on panoramic views of the city and the psychology of its citizens.
More realistic in style than other impressionists, Caillebotte’s images depict the artist’s reaction to the changing nature of modern society, showing a flaneur – an idler or lounger who roamed the public spaces of the city in order observe, yet remaining detached from the crowd, in his characteristic black coat and top hat, strolling through the open space of the boulevard while gazing at passersby.
“Paris Street, Rainy Day” from 1877, shows this tendency within his work, through the depiction of the typical urban scene; the panoramic view of the rain-drizzled boulevard presents the newly renovated metropolis, while the anonymous figures in the background emphasize the alienation of the individual within the city.
The painting centers on the apathetic gaze of the male figure, who epitomizes the cool detachment of the flaneur.
Also, his work, as well as the works by Pissaro, emphasized the geometrical arrangement of public space through the careful delineation of trees, buildings, and streets.
By applying crude brushstrokes and impressionistic streaks of color, they evoke the rapid tempo of modern life as a central facet of the late-nineteenth- century urban society.
The Impressionists proved to be a diverse group, but they came together regularly to discuss their work and exhibit. Between 1874 and 1886 the group collaborated on eight exhibitions while slowly beginning to unravel.
Many of the artists felt they had mastered the early, experimental styles that had won them attention and wanted to move on to explore other avenues.Others, anxious about the commercial failure of their works, changed course.
Although the last Impressionist exhibition was held in 1886, the movement remains one of the most popular in the history of Western art.
Considered by many to be the first avant-garde movement of the Modernism, Impressionism served as a springboard for many artistic movements of the twenty century.
If Manet bridged the gap between Realism and Impressionism, then Paul Cézanne was the first artist who bridged the gap between Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.
Cézanne learned much from Impressionist technique, but he evolved a more deliberate style of paint handling and a closer attention to the structure of the forms that his broad, repetitive brushstrokes depicted.
He wished to break down objects into their basic geometric constituents and depict their essential building blocks, and this experiment would prove to be highly influential for the development of Cubism and Fauvism.
As Philip Guston once described Abstract Expressionism as a latter-day ‘American Impressionism’; the surface quality, suggestion of light and ‘’all-over’’ treatment of form in Jackson Pollock’s work, all point to thework of Claude Monet.
Although there are many avant-garde movements that did not take stylistic inspiration from the Impressionists, the group’s rejection of an established, state-sponsored style served as a model for similarly independent exhibition groups throughout Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Wienna Secession or Die Brücke in Germany.
Photography is about a single point of a moment. It’s like stopping time. As everything gets condensed in that forced instant. But if you keep creating these points, they form a line which reflects your life.
Photography is a medium of contradictions. It is both ridiculously easily and almost impossibly difficult. Being able to see things is easy, as we need only open our eyes for stimuli to enter, but being able to capture a very specific and meaningful moment is the difficult part.
A good photo is comprised of many things, not only one must hit the shutter at the right moment in time, but the composition, color coordination, light and perspective play a significant role too.
A photographer is an editor of reality in trying to make sense of reality; he tries to distill the essence of his subject- a scene, feeling or persona, into a single, two-dimensional image.
The work of all photograph artists is about the nature of the photographic-the making of the images, rather than the taking of a photograph. As with much conceptual art, the process seems to be as important as the end result.
We’ve listed Top 10 Contemporary Photographers who are known for their passion, dedication and style.
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The legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz is probably the most well-known and well-respected living American photographer.
Annie Leibovitz began her career as a photojournalist for Rolling Stone magazine in 1970, and was the first woman to be named chief photographer at Rolling Stone at her early age of 24.
In 1983, she joined the staff of Vanity Fair magazine and Vogue afterwards, where, over four decades, she has developed a large body of work- dramatic, quirky and iconic portraits of actors, musicians, athletes, writers, business and political figures, offering a collective portrait of contemporary art.
Her signature style is crisp, well lighted and perfectly tailored to these celebrity-fuelled times.
Leibovitz deliberately conceals her subjects behind concept and costume; celebrities become sculptures or theatrical players. Her interest is not in the unguarded moment, but the staged moment; not the inner life, but the outer life.
She has been designated a Living Legend by the U.S. Library of Congress and has received many honors including The American Society of Magazine Editors’ first Creative Excellence Award, the International Center of Photography’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Centenary Medal of the Royal Photographic Society in London.
Jeffries is a self-taught and self-founded photographer based in Manchester, England. His striking series of black-and-white portraits of homeless women and men has surprised the insular photography world.
His subjects came from London, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, New York and other urban areas whom he gets to know by living rough with them; the relationship between them enabling him to capture authenticity and intimacy in his portraits.
Jeffries takes close-up head shots on his subjects, capturing the emotional expression of those who are often invisible to a majority of the population. He uses light and shadow in a religious way, and his images have been described as ‘religious iconography’.
Lee has also been on a mission to raise awareness of, and founds for, the homeless. He has published two acclaimed fund-raising books,
Homeless and Lost Angeles and donated thousands of pounds of his own money to help those he photographs.
He has taken the gold, silver and bronze titles in the annual Amateur Photographer magazine competition over the last three years, but despite the recent recognition his work continues to be self-funded.
American photographer Timothy Hogan is award-wining photographer well-known for his lighting mastery, craftsmanship and uniquely precise still-life images.
Over twenty years he shoots for international brands and advertising agencies in the beverage, technology, beauty, fashion fragrance and design industries including Chanel, Calvin Klein, Budweiser, Target, Tommy Hilfiger, Visa among numerous other companies.
His photographs integrate his impeccable eye for design, the California lifestyle with his passion of surfing and exploration.
Creative and inventive since childhood, Timothy’s history of taking things apart yields a unique ability to create elegant solutions to even the most complex image request.
His work can be dramatic and his images filled with a wealth of symbols and a vivid play of lighting and colors.
He keeps things creative but takes a craftsman’s approach to setting up the shoot; this, coupled with support from the best producers, retouchers and studios, allow Timothy to produce incredible results in photography in the high-pressure advertising world.
Hogan is one of two Hasselblad Ambassadors in the U.S. with work featured in Communication Arts, Graphics, Victor by Hasselblad and many other publications all over the world.
A French born photographer based in Hoi An, central Vietnam, Réhahn Croqueville is particularly known for his portraits of Vietnam, India and Cuba.
His passion for photographic art started a crescendo line after his first journeying to the northern regions of the Vietnam making his way down; he published his first book ‘Vietnam, Mosaic of Contrast in January 2014.
It aims to show Vietnam in a natural and spontaneous light. By capturing images of these exceptionally contrasting cultures of Vietnam, he has witnessed the complex diversity and fragility of some ethnic groups’ cultural heritage.
Collecting their traditional costumes and artifacts, he has built up the Precious Heritage Collection, which is now the core of the Art Gallery Museum in Hoi An, central Vietnam.
Réhahn was described as the photographer ‘who captures the soul of his models’; his photos is the random and natural moment, of which he captures when spending his time with his subjects.
Réhahn collaborates with BBC, Travel Live, Conde Nast Traveler, The Times, National Geographic, among others top media, on a regular basis for the purchase of his photos.
His work has been featured in every major magazine in the world; a high point in McCurry’s career was the rediscovery of the previously unidentified Afghan refugee girl that many have described as the most recognizable photograph in the world today.
McCurry has received some of the most prestigious awards in the industry, including Robert Capa Gold Medal, four first prize awards from the World Press Photo contest, Olivier Rebbot Award, and a Centenary Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Royal Photographic Society in London.
As the Chief Creative Officer for Havas North America, Jason M. Peterson’s work in advertising impacted his photography enhancing his ability to tell a story through monochromatic imagery.
From stunning cityscapes to candid street photography, Peterson aims to evoke emotion through his work. His work is moody, but crisp and clear. He works with shadows, lines and angles to draw out unique forms within composition.
His photographs, juxtaposing urban architecture with human silhouettes have a bold, graphic quality that is immediately recognizable.
The Chicago based photographer has been taking pictures for over 25 years, but recently started sharing his work widely; his alluring black and white photos have earned him an unparalleled 1 million followers on Instagram.
Joe McNally is a long-time photojournalist and internationally acclaimed American photographer.
Although the majority of his career has been spent shooting for magazines, such as National Geographic, Time or Sport Illustrated during the 90s, McNally served as Life magazine’s staff photographer, the first one in 23 years.
The photographer is known for his ability to produce technically and logistically complex assignments with expert use of light and colour, but his charming demeanour, humour and confidence make him a sought-after choice from CEO’s to celebrities to commercial and magazine clients alike.
He is one of the rare photographers who have bridged the world between advertising and photojournalism. One of McNally’s most notable projects, Faces of Ground Zero, has become known as one of the most significant responses to the tragedy at the World Trade Center.
McNally’s impressive marketing, advertising and promotional work has amassed the top-rated clients including FedEx, Adidas, Bogen, American Ballet Theatre, Nixon, Sony, General Electric, Epson, New York Stock Exchange, MetLife, Beijing Cultural Commission, and so on.
Up next, Boogie (Vladimir Milivojevich)…
Boogie (Vladimir Milivojevich)
Serbian photographer Vladimir Milivojevich, well-known as Boogie, is considered as ’one of the most influential photographers of street culture in the new millennium’.
Since his first book “It’s All Good” published by PowerHouse in 2006, Boogie has been granting his audience with rare access into a world defined by poverty, violence and disarray. His pictures of heroin addicts and gang members were pretty shocking at times.
The streets of the world are his playground. Rarely romanticizing the origin of intent behind his work, Boogie’s intimate images offer a vivid portrait of metropolitan cities around the world.
From Belgrade to Brooklyn he is a dedicated documentarian of street culture; according his own world, he isn’t trying to change the world just document it honestly. He captures human fragility with sensitivity, while his straightforward compositions submerge us into the bleak reality of the time.
Boogie has also shot commercial work for various clients including Nike, Lee jeans, Puma, Element skateboards and HBO and his work was appeared in numerous publication from New York Times to even Playboy. He’s had six book published so far.
Tomas Gudzowaty is a Polish documentary filmmaker, portrait and art photographer based in Warsaw who began his career with nature photography, and eventually turning to social documentary and sports photography.
For the past few years, Gudzowaty has resolved to focus on sport-related issues grounded in an idea of a long- standing project in which he aims to show dynamic images of people of all ages involved in sports.
Gudzowaty has made a name for himself documenting popular sports in far corners of the world, which depict a rare blend of modernity and tradition in global cultures.
He is particularly interested in atypical, non-commercial sports, outside the media mainstream such as sage yogis in India, amateur drag racers in Mexico, child polo players in Mongolia, Japanese sumo wrestler.
The Sport Features’s photographs series depicts a striking humanity, as if delving deep into each individual personality.
His works have been published in mainstream publications including The Guardian, Newsweek, Time, Photo, L’Equipe; he has exhibited worldwide and published several photo books.
As a multiple winner of the profession’s premier contests, he gained international recognition; some of these awards include Pictures of the Year, NPPA Best of Photojournalism and World Press Photo award.
If Araki is known for one thing in particular, then it his highly sexual and controversial black and white photography.
Throughout a prolific career, Tokyo-born photographer Nobuyoshi Araki has delved perhaps further that any other Japanese photographer into the themes surrounding death, sex, domination and Tokyo street scenes.
His work over a 48-year span has seen him publish more than 450 photobooks tackling a variety of subjects such as prostitution, sadomasochism, love and intimacy.
The ideas of submission, control and eroticism that are found in Kinbaku-bi, the Japanese art of rope-tying, make it the most alluring of subject matters for Araki, and the practice of depicting women in these positions has been an obsession of his throughout his career.
One of Japan’s most fearless photographers the 78-old’s skill behind the camera is still very much in demand.
His personal and sometimes voyeuristic photographs have sparked much controversy, but his graphics use of imagery has been an instrumental force in breaking taboos surrounding nudity in modern Japanese culture.
Born in Tokyo in 1940, Nobuyoshi Araki has been active in publishing, photography and filmmaking since his first solo exhibition in 1965 in Japan. Some 400 books about Araki and his work have been published to date, a testament to his prolific output and energy.
Thank you for reading this article. If you disagree or think that someone was glaringly missed, please let me know. I love to hear peoples’ thoughts.
Of course, like all lists, this one too is subjective and simply based on what I’ve seen and what I appreciate. I do think, however, that much like any other kind of artist, a great photograph taken by someone with the right eyes can make your average person stop and take stock of their own situation, and perhaps think of things in a different way.