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An Overview of Modernist Art

Updated on July 4, 2012

The Context of Modernist Art

The Modernist art movement came after the 19th Century Art Movement. It covers all the experimental Art sub-genres of the first half of the 20th Century. In Art History the Modernist Movement is a very broad movement which covers a wide variety of sub genres. If these sub-genres can be said to share any common features it is the belief that the world was changing and that Art should reflect this new modernity. As a rule therefore, art from the Modernist period tends to be much more experimental than what had gone before.

Sub-Genres of Modernist Art

There are 14 sub-genres within the Modernist Art movement with many of these crossing over. They are:

Fauvism- from the term 'wild beasts' this genre uses bright and wild colors and simplified scenery.

Primitivism- more of a trend than a distinctive sub-genre where artists looked to primiitve art forms to inspire them.

Expressionism- this was art work that used strong colors and distorted figures. It looked at issues of belonging and alienation

Cubism- This tradition takes normal objects and often presents them in the manner of a still life but it portrays the image from many different viewpoints.

Futurism- a sub-genre that developed in Italy and celebrated the speed and technology of modern life through its use of aggressive lines to convey movement.

Dadaism- was influenced by the First World War. They argued that morality and aesthetics had been destroyed by the war and this is reflected in their anti-sentimental approach to Art.

Suprematism- rejected all the conventional aspects of art in search of spiritual reality

Constructivism- an umbrella term to describe abstract geometric works of art that are constructed from materials or components

Neo-Plasticism- Although there are other artists within this sub-genre it is connected to the work of Mondrian. It includes paintings using primary colors and geometric lines

Surrealism- Art that came straight from the unconscious without being thought about or shaped by reason, morality or aesthetics.

Spatialism- an Italian movement which abandoned the reliance on painting and made radical statements on artistic tradition.

Abstract Expressionism- This originated in New York after WWII. It set out to depict universal emotions

Social Realism- Art which is realist which makes some kind of social comment.

Major Artists of the 19th Century


  • Derain
  • Matisse
  • Rouault


  • Gauguin
  • Moore
  • Picasso


  • John Everett Millais
  • Peter Van Cornelius
  • Edward Burne-Jones


  • Heckel
  • Kandinsky
  • Kollwitz


  • Picasso
  • Braque
  • Leger


  • Balla
  • Severini
  • Carra


  • Arp
  • Duchamp
  • Man Ray


  • Lissitzky
  • Malevich


  • Tatlin
  • Gabo
  • Vantongerloo


  • Mondrian
  • Huszar
  • Reitveld


  • Dali
  • Miro
  • Kahlo


  • Crippa
  • Dova
  • Fontana

Abstract Expressionism

  • Pollock
  • Rothko
  • Gottlieb

Social Realism

  • Goldin
  • Bratby
  • Whiteread

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Artillerymen- Kirchner-DerainThe Moon and the Earth- GauginMondrianThe Weeping Woman-PicassoSpatial Construction - RodchenkoFountaine- DuchampSpeeding Automobile- BallaProun 19D- LissitzkyRise and Monty on the Lounge Chair- Goldin
Artillerymen- Kirchner
Artillerymen- Kirchner
The Moon and the Earth- Gaugin
The Moon and the Earth- Gaugin
The Weeping Woman-Picasso
The Weeping Woman-Picasso
Spatial Construction - Rodchenko
Spatial Construction - Rodchenko
Fountaine- Duchamp
Fountaine- Duchamp
Speeding Automobile- Balla
Speeding Automobile- Balla
Proun 19D- Lissitzky
Proun 19D- Lissitzky
Rise and Monty on the Lounge Chair- Goldin
Rise and Monty on the Lounge Chair- Goldin

Some Famous Artworks from the Modernist Period

  • London Bridge- Derain
  • The Moon and the Earth- Gauguin
  • Artillerymen- Kirchner
  • The Weeping Woman- Picasso
  • Speeding Automobile- Balla
  • Fountaine- Duchamp
  • Enbankment- Whiteread
  • No.19- Rothko
  • Proun 19D- Lissitzky
  • Tableau 2- Mondrian
  • Nature- Fontana
  • Rise and Monty on the Lounge Chair- Goldin
  • Spatial Construction- Rodchenko


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