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A Brief Survey of
Modern (American) Art
Part Two

The Twentieth Century
began with continued development of naturalism and realism

Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975)
A regionalist
Created a rugged naturalist style
Often depicted depression-era American workers

Benton's "Island Hay," 1945

Grant Wood (1892-1942)
regionalist; taught public school, college
Created what is probably the most famous painting in the US

"American Gothic," 1930
See more paintings by Wood here.

Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Expressed loneliness, emptiness of city life
More modern in style

by far Hopper's most famous picture, "Nighthawks," 1942
"I didn't see it as particularly lonely . . . .  Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city."
See more paintings by Hopper at the Artchive.


Andrew Wyeth (1917-  )
Known for painting objects and people in rural Pennsylvania, Maine

"Big Game," 1987

"Dryad," 2000
See more paintings by Wyeth at the Artchive.

Abstract Expressionism
began in the 1940s
The dominant form of painting around the world since WWII
Centered in NYC; also called the New York School
The painters' styles are extremely diverse, joined more by conceptual background than by similarities in image

Abstract expressionism grew out of . . .
Abstract art, developed by Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) (see the Artchive), known for brilliant color, complex design
Kandinsky taught at the Bauhaus school in Berlin and formed Der Blaue Reiter group of artists
another artist famous for abstraction is Piet Mondrian

Mondrian's "Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue," 1921
See more paintings by Mondrian at the Artchive.

and . . .
Surrealism, based on the artist's representation of the subconscious, the spontaneous, represented by
Max Ernst (1891-1976)
See these classically surrealist examples
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)
"Fountain," 1917, 1964
Rene Magritte (1898-1967)
(see this example, this example, and this example from this page)
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
See a large selection of his work here.

A leading abstract expressionist was
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Began as a regionalist painter, student of Benton
Influenced by Mexican muralists (Orozco, Rivera, Siquieros); see his "Blue (Moby Dick)" 1943, with strong surrealist overtones
Developed "drip painting"
Employed by Works Projects Administration (WPA), one of the New Deal programs pioneered by Franklin Roosevelt to support artists during the Depression
Known for action painting, previously the style of Lee Krasner, Pollock's wife

a characteristic work made through drip painting, Pollock's "Full Fathom Five," 1947

"On the floor I am more at ease, I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around in it, work from the four sides and be literally 'in' the painting."
-- Jackson Pollock, 1947

"Full Fathom Five is one of the earliest masterpieces of Pollock's drip technique. The actual origins and initial development of this technique have never been fully explained, except by reading back from fuller photographic evidence produced about 1950, two or three years after this work was painted. Like other practical breakthroughs in twentieth-century painting, 'creative accident' seems likely to have played an important part, as Pollock probed and tested methods of paint application which promote the continuousness of line rather than the broken lines inevitable in the constant reloadings and readjustments of conventional brushwork. His solution was to pour from a can of domestic paint along a stick resting inside the container, so that a constant 'beam' of pigment came into contact with the canvas (which he left unstretched on the studio floor). The character of the line was determined by certain physical and material variables that could be combined in almost infinite permutations: the viscosity of the paint (controlled by thinning and dilution); the angle and hence speed of the pouring; and the dynamics of Pollock's bodily gestures, his sweep and rhythm, especially in the wrist, arm and shoulder. 'Like a seismograph', noted writer Wemer Haftmann 'the painting recorded the energies and states of the man who drew it.' In addition Pollock would flick, splatter and dab subsidiary colors on to the dominant linear configuration."
--Nicolas Pioch,

Also see Pollock's "Lavender Mist: Number 1, 1950"

Other action painters

Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Also an action painter, though he created more recognizable images.
See some of de Kooning's work at the Artchive.

Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
known for color-field painting--painting with large fields of a single color.
See some of Rothko's work at the Artchive.

Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)
often combined color-field and action painting
See Motherwell's work at the Artchive.

>> Other Art of the Twentieth Century >>