The modern art period ran from the late 1800s into the late 1900s, and represented a period of incredible experimentation in art where, at first, creatives sought to simply break painterly traditions of the past, but soon came to re-imagine what art even was. The period included so many fascinating and important movements that any true list of key artists would run to tens of names or more, but these are just five of the most well known, wildly creative, and defining modern artists of the period.
Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest modern artists
Born in Spain in the late 1800s, Pablo Picasso had a natural artistic talent, spending much of his youth painting in a conventional, traditional manner until he became aware of the work of Henri Matisse, who was gaining attention for his intensely coloured fauvist artworks. The break from tradition inspired Picasso to experiment with his original artworks as well, and soon a good humoured and inspirational rivalry developed between them. This drove each to push his experiments and ideas further and wider as the modern art spirit of experimentation took hold.
Picasso was a prolific painter, sculptor, and maker of art prints, he was crucial in the development of cubism, constructed sculpture, and collage, whilst also working with neoclassical and surrealist ideals. One of the most famous of artists in his own lifetime, Picasso was certainly one of the most outstanding modern artists and is often considered as one of the greatest painters to have lived.
Henri Matisse, Picasso’s friend, and greatest rival
Of course, where there is Picasso there is also Matisse, another of the foundation stones of modern art. He created works in various media including paper cut outs and collage which featured more prominently in his later career, but for much of his life concentrated heavily on painting. Matisse is often recognised as a leading fauvist art figure, and for his exceptional use of colour throughout his career.
Much like Picasso he embraced making significant changes to his style and approach throughout his career; flattened forms and patterns, classical painting, simplified forms, and collages were all linked together by the expressiveness and bold colour of his artworks.
Andy Warhol defined pop art
Divisive to many, his blending of celebrity culture, commercial graphics, and collaborative screen printing processes defined pop art perhaps better than any other artist, but also horrified many of the proponents of the abstract expressionism which pop art sought to challenge and break away from. Ultimately he attained a celebrity status himself, and also a brand, in effect becoming an original artwork even as many questioned whether his art prints and groundbreaking video art could truly be considered art at all.
Often still controversial today, Warhol is nevertheless the most famous of American artists, with some of the most widely recognised and expensive artworks in the world to his name, and a reputation for bringing together creative, unique individuals to see if equally creative and unique ideas could be inspired to emerge.
Salvador Dali led a wave of surrealist modern artists
Alongside Warhol and Picasso one of the most recognisable artists of the 20th Century, both in person and through his work, was Salvador Dali. Best known as a painter he also worked with film, sculpture, photography and writing, and became one of the most important figures in Surrealist Art, which rejected realism or rationality in favour of exploring the unconscious mind and how it could drive creativity.
It was perhaps the perfect artform for the eccentric character that was Dali, who had been inspired by movements such as impressionism, cubism, and the avant-garde. Joining the surrealist movement in the late 1920s he developed a method of creation which involved inducing paranoia and systematic irrational thought upon himself. The results extensively used symbolism and recurring images, and many of his creations remain amongst the most well known artworks, and widely sold art prints, in the world.
Vincent Van Gogh bridged impressionism to expressionism
Another huge name in the world of art, and popular awareness of it, Vincent Van Gogh was a post-impressionist who famously sold only one painting in his poverty stricken life, only to become incredibly famous and influential after his death. His early work shows little of the style that was to come, as he matured and mixed with avant-garde artists, seeking a move away from impressionism. He began to develop and gradually incorporate the expressive brush strokes and use of colour he became best known for.
His influence would stretch into fauvism and expressionism, and the modern movement as a whole, with his masterpiece The Starry Night often considered one of the most important early works of modern art. Van Gogh’s life ended in suicide after a life of battles with depression, psychosis, and a world not ready to comprehend his incredible vision and artistry.