Modern art’s explosion of diverse creativity, experimentation, and new styles led to a phenomenal number of art movements which each had its stand out practitioners. We covered some of the biggest names and early drivers of the scene in our last modern art blog including Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Warhol, and Van Gogh, but any listing of great modern artists extends a long way. Here are five more of the most important artists in the movement.
Claude Monet, the Impressionist
Another key painter from the earliest shift into modernism, Monet was the founder of impressionist painting; an approach which focused on capturing something as the artist saw it. Not a photo-realistic, tightly composed and lit still frame, but a looser style of simple brushstrokes focused on giving the impression of movement in the clouds, or of the sunlight reflecting from the water; the artist’s impression of their perception of nature.
Monet’s early drive as an artist was to capture the beauty of the French countryside, and so he developed a method of re-painting the same scene multiple times in different weather and light conditions; fascinated by the changing colour, form, and light. He painted the water lilies in his garden around 250 times throughout his career. The freedoms sought in his impressionist original artworks, and the break from artistic tradition, were both crucial steps towards the emerging modern art period.
Jackson Pollock, the action painting modern art artist
Probably the best known of the Absract Expressionist action painters, American modern artist Pollock worked through a process using a horizontal canvas. This meant he could move around from all sides, dripping, pouring, and splashing the paint across the entire canvas, and very physically using his body to do so.
He developed an early interest in the Mexican muralists who would later inspire the Chicano movement, and during an experimental workshop with David Alfaro Siqueiros where he first tried using poured liquid paint, and soon adopted the technique as his go-to method. Given a commission to create a mural for Peggy Guggenheim, his work was noticed by critics who described his talent as volcanic. Sadly, he struggled with alcoholism throughout his life, with it often intruding on his creativity, tragically he died in his forties in an alcohol related car accident.
Francis Bacon, the undefinable creator of nightmares
The undefinable Bacon is often left out of lists of modern art artists, even though his work can hardly exist to any other art period, and may exist within a movement of its own. Often dark in nature, he described his own work as rendering the brutality of fact, even as it morphed through variations in style, tending to rest for years at a time on a single theme or motif.
Bacon often worked in triptychs and diptychs, with subject matters including crucifixions, screaming popes, and lonely figures, which were often warped, deformed or mutated into unsettling, nightmarish imagery. Although bleak and existential in his work, Bacon was a charismatic and social person who enjoyed great success through his life, becoming the most expensive living artist before he passed away in his early 80s.
Marcel Duchamp, the everyday object modern art artist
A French painter, sculptor, and writer, Duchamp impacted heavily in many areas of modern art, including conceptual art, dadaism, cubism, and work with plastics; where his contribution is considered the equal of Picasso and Matisse. In his youth he played with post-impressionist styles, and so fell into cubism, seeking to add movement and transition to it to represent the fourth element of time.
He came to reject painterly expression for the technical, finding beauty in everyday objects and producing his famous urinal sculpture as part of the Dada movement. He would go on to create futurist pieces on glass, kinetic optical illusion sculptures, collaborations with surrealists, art installations and a remarkable tableau piece as his final artwork, after disappearing from the art world for years to play chess.
Paul Cézanne, the father of us all
Widely credited with forming the bridge between impressionism and cubism, Cezanne used simple, short brushstrokes and planes of colour to build up a complex whole which reached beyond the impressionists. His original artworks married their approaches to a more natural flow of colour and form with more classical compositions and structures.
He often worked with thick daubs of layered paint applied with a pallet knife, and joked that it took him 20 years to realise painting was not sculpture. Architectural influence remained in his forms and compositions which often drew on simple geometric shapes, only becoming more systematic and ordered as he grew older. Referred to by other modern artists like Picasso and Matisse as “the father of us all”, who influenced Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, and a long list of the masters of each.