Ways to support us
About The Art Story a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Org
Modern Art Collage

Modern Art

Started: 1850
Ended: 1970
Modern Art Timeline
"Art cannot be modern. Art is primordially eternal."
1 of 9
Egon Schiele Signature
"The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of art's audience. Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public."
2 of 9
Paul Gauguin Signature
"Art is a line around your thoughts."
3 of 9
Gustav Klimt Signature
"There is no such thing as good painting about nothing."
4 of 9
Mark Rothko Signature
"Art is a harmony parallel with nature."
5 of 9
Paul Cézanne Signature
"The time has passed for our sensations in painting to be whispered. We wish them in the future to sing and re-echo upon our canvasses in deafening and triumphant flourishes."
6 of 9
Umberto Boccioni Signature
"Only that subject matter is valid (for making art) which is tragic and timeless."
7 of 9
Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb
"Yet it is also the trajectory we expect art to take: away from tightness, order and control, towards expressivity and abstraction. As Rembrandt invents himself in paint, so he invents Modern Art as he goes."
8 of 9
Art Historian Mark Hudson
"If painters still observe nature, they no longer imitate it, and they carefully avoid the representation of natural scenes observed directly or reconstituted through study. Modern art rejects all the means of pleasing that were employed by the greatest artists of the past: the perfect representation of the human figure, voluptuous nudes, carefully finished details etc."
9 of 9
Art Critic Guillaume Apollinaire

Summary of Modern Art

Modern art represents an evolving set of ideas among a number of painters, sculptors, photographers, performers, and writers who - both individually and collectively - sought new approaches to art making. Although modern art began, in retrospect, around 1850 with the arrival of Realism, approaches and styles of art were defined and redefined throughout the 20th century. Practitioners of each new style were determined to develop a visual language that was both original and representative of the times.

Overview of Modern Art

Detail of <i>Marilyn Diptych</i> (1962) by Andy Warhol

The rapid growth of industry and the progress of technology propelled artists to represent the world in new and innovative ways. The result was an art that took on new colors, alternative forms, emotional expressions, and experiments in abstraction.

Do Not Miss

  • Modern photography refers to a range of approaches from Straight Photography, New Vision photography, Dada and Surrealist photography, and later abstract tendencies.
  • The Sublime via feelings of terror, awe, and infinity have for centuries been represented by important artists.
  • The artistic history of the US stretches from indigenous art and Hudson River School into Contemporary art. Enjoy our guide through the many American movements.
  • Postmodernism is a broad period of artmaking that occured after the period known as modernism - a period that was driven by a radical and forward thinking approach, ideas of technological positivity, and grand narratives of Western domination and progress. Neo-Dada and later Pop artists are considered the first postmodern movements.

The Important Artists and Works of Modern Art

Impression, Sunrise (1873)

Artist: Claude Monet

In this seminal work of modern art, Monet's loose handling of paint and his focus on light and atmosphere within the landscape scene are all key characteristics of Impressionism, which is widely considered the first fully modern movement. Monet's use of abstraction evokes what the artist sensed or experienced while painting the scene, which was a highly unusual approach for a painter to adopt at the time. The title of the work, Impression, Sunrise not only provided critics with the name that the movement would later receive, but also conveys the transitory, fleeting and subjective nature of the painting. It is Monet's visual impression of what he observed during that sunrise.

The Large Bathers (1898-1906)

Artist: Paul Cézanne

The Large Bathers is one of the finest examples of Cézanne's exploration of the theme of the modern, heroic nude within a natural setting. The series of nudes are arranged into a variety of positions, like objects in a still life, under the pointed arch formed by the intersection of trees and the sky. Cézanne was attempting a departure from the Impressionist motifs of light and natural effect and instead composed this scene as a series of carefully constructed figures, as if creating sculpture with his paintbrush. He was more concerned with the way the forms occupied space than with recording his visual observations. This destruction of regular illusionism and the radical foray into increased abstraction is considered an important precursor to Cubism.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

For Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Picasso gathered inspiration from a variety of sources, including African tribal art, Expressionism, and the Post-Impressionist paintings of Paul Cézanne. Assimilating these seemingly disparate sources in one piece was a new approach to art making and conveys just how much artists' perspectives expanded with the rise of modernism. The painting originally raised significant controversy for its depiction of a brothel scene and for the jagged, protruding, and abstract forms used to depict the women. It is also widely considered the artwork that launched the Cubism movement. The multiplicity of styles incorporated within this work - from Iberian sculpture referenced in the women's' bodies to the sculptural deconstruction of space derived from Cézanne - not only represent a clear turning point in Picasso's career, but make the painting an incredibly distinct achievement of the modern era.

Useful Resources on Modern Art

Special Features
video clips
Special Features
Do more

Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Modern Art Definition Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
First published on 25 Jan 2015. Updated and modified regularly
[Accessed ]