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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Topics in Western Art: Romanticism and Romantic Art: Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) (CONT.)

By Alexandra Jopp

Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)  (CONT.)

About the Artist

The Independent: "Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) is the great painter of loss and longing. He painted Romantic landscapes – ruins, forests, mountains, oceans, nights. He said: "Close your bodily eye, so that you may see your picture first with your spiritual eye; then bring to the light of day that which you have seen in darkness, so that it may react on others from the outside inwards." He composes scenes in mystic symmetry. He obscures things in mist or distance. He puts a mute element bang in the middle – a back-turned figure, a rugged cross. And the imagination rushes in."


Friedrich’s introspection paralleled his religious convictions and inspired him to paint nature scene combined with mysticism. Friedrich was once quoted as “the spirit of the world which is God reveals itself visibly and completely in nature…” (Siegel 35). The spiritual elements often make contact with the tangible forces of nature in Friedrich’s paintings. This is illustrated in the painting Monk by the Sea, where the monk stands at the seashore and looks into the distance at the morning star thinking of death, or perhaps praying while holding his head and hands in a gesture of silent meditation. The painting shows a tiny figure of a man in contrast to a large expanse of the sea that only serves to deepen the religious meaning of the picture. This same spiritual connection can be seen in another of Friedrich’s paintings, Wanderer Above the Sea Fog, which depicts a similar mixture of religion, contemplation and nature. Similar to Monk by the Sea, the figure in the picture seems to invite the viewer to self reflect and evaluate themselves. Both of these pictures were accomplished with almost ten years difference and in both of them, we can recognize the figure of the artist by his blonde hair. It’s interesting to note that later on his life, the artist would draw his self-portraits in monk’s clothes.

In the same year after Friedrich completed Monk by the Sea, he also painted Abbey in the Oak Forest. In this painting the artist sticks with the monk motif and depicts them carrying a coffin to the ruined Abbey. These two paintings definitely related to each other. This is evident by evaluating pieces, where it becomes evident that both scenes are really a projection of Friedrich’s own life. In the Abbey in the Oak Forest, Friedrich seems to be imaging his own funeral and contemplating the end of life, which relates very closely to the Monk by the Sea, where the monk is in deep contemplation and attempting to commune with God.

According to Vaughan, Friedrich lived his religion and believed that “the study of nature, God’s creation, was a religious act” (“Romanticism and Art” 151). This manifested itself in Friedrich’s fervent drive to manifest the word of God into his pictures. In essence, Friedrich’s paintings were icons to him, a snapshot of the glory of God on Earth.

Friedrich promoted the preeminence of spirit in all of his works. Naturally, the question arises as to what was the intention of the artist. For example, they could be interpreted to be about the painful remoteness of man from God. Since his art is not full of images or plots, Friedrich’s motifs are often combined or sometimes repeated. As we can observe, he repeats his forest paths, empty seacoasts, deserted landscapes, cemeteries, monks, and ships in twilight (or fog), ships in an open sea, or people in the moonlight. His religious motifs are often hidden but always palpable. The source of light, as projected by moonlight, sunrise, or sunset seems to strengthen the connection between the material and ethereal worlds.


In one of his footnotes, the artist admits that it is not a joy or fun that moves the human soul in its aspiration to be supreme. It’s interesting to note that none of his paintings contain images of joy. This sense of sadness is conveyed in Friedrich's paintings by portraying scenes of desolate landscapes, cemeteries, and silent figures in vast and in union with nature. They all have something in common, which is that they appear to be deeply spiritual and often times melancholy. Friedrich doesn’t simply paint an image; he imbues his painting with a strong spirit that strikes the viewer with awe and personal reflection. Friedrich himself stated, “the painter should not just paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees inside of himself…” (Siegel 11). In essence, Friedrich did not simply occupy his thoughts with the external world, but rather, turned his creative eye inward in order to probe the inner workings of his soul and to place it on canvas.

Friedrich’s inspiration is drawn from his spiritual freedom and his fondness of nature. He conveys subjective feelings and emotions of individual figures in his paintings by expressing them in such a dramatic way. According to David d’Angers, a prominent French sculptor of the time, Friedrich inspired him so much that he once stated “Friedrich…[is]…the only landscape painter who has so far had the power to move all the faculties of my soul, the painter who has invented a new genre; the tragedy of landscape” (qtd. in Kristina Van Prooyen 16).

Friedrich’s paintings seem to talk to us in philosophic language by conveying melancholy and solitude. They talk to us about existence, God, death, infinity, and hope. Feeling of isolation in Friedrich’s paintings is solitude before solemn and silent nature. It is a spiritual union between nature and man. In this picture, it appears as if the subjects look at the viewer as if the Apocalypse is coming. It is easy to feel this way, even though there are no obvious symbols of death. The painting Monk by the Sea, one of Friedrich’s earliest works carries symbol of death in the lonely figure of the monk walking along the Baltic seashore. In romantic consciousness of the artist death has seen as a blessing and revival to a better existence. We can see these symbols of death and of hope for a new life in another his powerful painting Abbey in the Oak Forest. In this picture, we see between the dry branches of the oak trees, the birth of the sunrise and in Monk by the Sea, we see the ray of light that rises above the sea horizon. Transitive conditions of nature - from darkness to light, from light to the twilight, undoubtedly came from Friedrich’s penache for symbols. His paintings depict mystical, thoughtful, and profound metaphors that are peculiar to his art. In front of his figures, nature opens into a vast landscape with the tincture of a romantic haze with every element carrying a subtle meaning. Thus, a cemetery means death, ship means a human life, and a harbor means the end of a wanderer’s voyage. According to Vaughan, Friedrich’s friend Dahl, said, “…Friedrich saw in particularly tragic way…the limits of what can be represented in painting” (qtd. in “Romanticism and Art” 142).

Style, Use of perspective – depth and lines

Friedrich depicts a style that is unique to him. One of his hallmark characteristics is to place figures’ back to the viewer. It’s interesting to note that Friedrich never painted the faces of the people portrayed in his pictures. This leads one to speculate that perhaps the paintings, which depicted images of deep contemplation, were far too personal. Perhaps Friedrich wanted to leave the interpretation up to the viewer, rather then giving away too much.

Another unique element of Friedrich’s style is his choice of colors used in his motifs. As an example, comparing the painting Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon to Wanderer above the Sea Fog. Both of the pictures were painted within a one-year difference. According Rewald, “both paintings feature the same elaborate rendition of detail and smoothing of individual brushstrokes; the difference in the use of color are due to the difference in motifs” (27).

Distance in Friedrich’s paintings also conveys a sense of fear or charm. Taking Monk by the Sea as an example, the writer Heinrich von Kleist wrote “…because of its monotony and boundlessness, with nothing but the frame as a foreground, one feels as if one’s eyelids had been cut away” (qtd. in Vaughan, “Romanticism and Art” 147). Indeed, the space that has been depicted in this painting absorbs the viewer’s attention despite its simplicity. The painting is really simple: two horizontal lines - one is an unbroken line of the horizon that separates sky from sea and, the second is the, bending line of the seashore with one vertical line of a tiny figure on it. These vertical lines that depict figures in Friedrich’s paintings go through his landscape over and over again, as evidence by the funeral procession of monks who are making their way in twilight to the ruined Gothic Abbey. These paintings have one thing in common – a man is always alone in nature and painted very small in contrast to the landscape. This technique heightens the feeling that the viewer is looking at the picture from a height. By drawing small figures, Friedrich probably wanted to emphasize the distance and expanse of the picture. When figures appear in the foreground, they always turned their backs to the spectator gazing in the endless expanse in order to highlight the distance that exists. The same technique is used in Abbey in the Oak Forest, where the artists contrasted elements of near and far, dark and light as the funeral procession moves through the open grave towards the cemetery along the empty wintry path of background.

The German Romantic attitude toward nature is spiritual, contemplative and poetically philosophical. Caspar David Friedrich epitomizes the romantic period through his profound landscapes. Although many of his paintings are not easy to understand, each carries an embedded message and compelling meaning. In order to understand them, one must look at them with Friedrich’s eyes, to see the world from Friedrich’s perspective. Wackenroder once stated “a work of art can only be grasped spiritually by the same emotion which has produced it” (Qtd. in Siegel 139). True, Friedrich had a profound and contemplative soul; and he portrayed the silence and enigma of the universe in the way he felt it. His art is melancholic and symbolizes man’s dramatic end. According to Brown, Friedrich was well know for using “…symbol and allegory” in his paintings and used “…crystalline colour, mysterious viewpoints and [a] unique blend of realism and mystery 148). In his art we see the artist’s tendency toward self-examination and his work actually representing his own soul. Friedrich’s art transcends the normal boundaries of nature; past the sky and the ocean and into the inner most recesses of our soul.

There is a sensation of eternity and infinity of life and a distinct grief embedded within his pictures. The artist selected those conditions of nature that could draw the viewer into his world through the daily acts of nature that we take for granted (e.g. moonrise, early morning and sunset). Friedrich was both a priest of the soul and a poet of nature.

Works Cited

Brown, David. Romanticism. Singapore: Phaidon Press Limited, 2001.

Koerner, Joseph Leo. Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995.

Monrad, Kasper. Friedrich and Two Danish Moonwatchers. Caspar David Friedrich: Moonwatchers. Ed. Sabine Rewald. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001. 23-29.

Siegel, Linda. Caspar David Friedrich and the Age of German Romanticism. Boston: Branden Press Publishers, 1978.

Vaughan, William. Friedrich. Singapore: Phaidon Press Limited, 2004.

---. Romanticism and Art. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1994.

---, et al. Caspar David Friedrich 1774-1840 Romantic Landscape Painting in Dresden. London: The Tate Gallery, 1972.

Van Prooyen, Kristina. “The Realm of the Spirit: Caspar David Friedrich’s artwork in
the context of romantic theology, with special reference to Friedrich Schleiermacher.”

Journal of the Oxford University History Society 1. (2004): 1-28.

“Romanticism.” Encarta World English Dictionary. 1999.

Topics in Western Art: Romanticism and Romantic Art: Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)

By Alexandra Jopp

Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840), a major figure in the German Romantic movement, was born in Pomerania, studied in Copenhagen, and later settled in Dresden. Pomeranian landscapes are depicted in many of his works: the sandy beaches along the Baltic seashore, the meadows, the forests, and of course the sea. Friedrich was well known for his melancholy pictures, often times depicting solitude and contemplation. His striking imagery, radical sense of design and understanding the nature and its variety of moods have made his art far beyond our comprehension. It seems Friedrich wished to convey a sense of mystery and enigma. Friedrich was indeed enigmatic and seemed to delve into the human spirit and the sub-conscious of the human being. His desire was to couple man with nature and show the symbiotic relationship between the two. Rewald supports this notion by asserting that Friedrich was:

One of the European artists who created a new awareness of nature and made landscape painting one of the most fertile genres of the nineteenth century. Friedrich’s landscapes usually adhere to a severe underlying symmetry. They are also relatively empty (p.12).

Swans in the Reeds, 1832.

On The Sailing Boat (1819).

The feeling of emptiness penetrates all of Friedrich’s work and leaves the viewer contemplating his or her own existence as it relates to the painting.

During some of his early years while studying in Dresden, “…Friedrich worked on a variety of subjects, including plants, rocks, ruins and landscapes. Three drawings dating from the years 1799—1800 deal with the so-called wanderer theme: Cottage with Wanderers, Landscape with Wanderer, and Forest with Resting Wanderer (Siegel 23). These drawings appear to form a trilogy and perhaps tell the viewer something about Friedrich himself. This idea is supported in the picture entitled Forest with Resting Wanderer, the most poetic drawing of the trilogy with a lonely small figure resting with his back to the viewer and his head bent in deep thought; lost in contemplation of the world of nature. This picture conveys Friedrich’s hallmark style of feelings of loneliness, melancholy, and solitude in nature. Man placed respectively as being tiny compared to the immenseness of nature; lost in silent communication with the universe and thus becoming one with nature. Landscape would remain the main subject of Friedrich’s paintings while working in Dresden, Germany. His paintings epitomized pessimism, loneliness, suffering and a sense of nature versus humankind. Friedrich’s main goal for his paintings was to bring the human being and spirit into union with nature.

The Tree of Crows.
1822, Louvre.

Chalk Cliffs on Rügen, (1818). 90.5 × 71 cm. Museum Oskar Reinhart am Stadtgarten, Winterthur, Switzerland.

Examples of Friedrich’s Paintings

The following section will interpret and analyze seven key pictures representing Friedrich’s work during his lifetime and will explore the background of each picture and their artistic styles.

Picture 1: Two Men Contemplating the Moon, 1819

Two Men Contemplating the Moon, 1819.

One of his most famous motifs was that of two intimate figures, seen from behind, gazing at the moon Friedrich painted three versions of this theme, one of which—Two Men Contemplating the Moon (Monrad 23). At first glance, this picture bears the normal characteristics of Friedrich’s work, involving man in communion with nature. However, this picture is asymmetrical, and the landscape relatively crowded.
In the left hand side of the picture, two men dressed in blue are noticeable. The Norwegian painter, Dahl, who believed that the two figures represented two of Friedrich’s pupils, his brother-in-law Christian Wilhelm Bommer and August Heinrich (Qtd. in Rewald 14). However, this fact seems to be disputed by Vaughn who contends that the picture featured Friedrich himself (on the right) (“Friedrich” 158). Whoever the two are, they seem to admire the light of the setting moon, which floats across the night sky. Moonlight shines upon the rocky uphill path that is lined by a fir tree and uprooted dead oak, a large rock, and a broken branch. The moon appears in the center of the picture in full view. The two figures are seen from the back so that the viewer can identify them with nature. According to Rewald, “pensive foreground figures were among Friedrich’s favorite motifs… [and people were]…usually seen from the back.. [in order to create]… the Romantic sense of yearning” (30). Painting figures with their backs to the viewer was a well-known artist’s technique during the Romantic period. It is interesting to note that Friedrich’s figures do not look up at the sky but rather look slightly above the moon or they look down, which accentuates their state of self-expression. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, a contemporary of Friedrich’s, seems to describe the mood of this painting. He wrote: “Why has looking at the moon become so beneficiary, so soothing and so sublime? Because the moon remains purely an object of contemplation, not of the will. Furthermore, the moon is sublime, and moves us sublimely because it stays aloof from all our earthly activities…” (Rewald 12). In this painting, landscape and figures assume equal importance. The size of the people is very large compared to other people painted by Friedrich. Their presence contributes to the symbolic meaning of the picture.

Picture 2: Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon, 1824

Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon, 1824.
According to Rewald, “Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) [once] said that this image of two friends captivated by the magic of a moonlit night” (33). The subject of the moon was popular during the Romantic Period. The moon continued to captivate Friedrich throughout his life.
This painting is slightly different from some of his other moon motifs. The most obvious difference is in the change of the title from two men to a man and a woman. Another difference that is quite apparent is the distance between the two figures in the picture. Compared to the two men portrayed in the moon scene, there appears to be a greater distance between the man and the woman. In this picture, the woman’s hand seems to simply rest on the man’s shoulder. Standing stiff, the man and woman serve as pictorial devices for Romantics’ sense of longing and yearning. Rewald suggests that the two figures portrayed in the scene are none other then “Friedrich and his wife Caroline” (33).

The use of light also appears to be quite different between the first moon picture and the 2nd. While the painting from 1819 has a brown sky with a halo moon, the sky in the picture representing the man and woman is purple, indicating that it is early in the evening. This has the effect of giving less visual attention to the moon. It also creates a striking difference between the foreground and luminous background of the painting. The same elements such as the uphill path, an oak tree and the evergreen fir tree are present as was in the first picture featuring two men. The perspective of this painting appears to change from one picture to the next, with the fir tree appearing closer in the picture of the two men and further away in the picture of the man and woman. Similar to the 1819 picture, the man’s right hand remains in the same position as in the previous painting yet the man’s walking stick is absent in his later picture.

Picture 3: Two Men Contemplating the Moon, 1830
Caspar David Friedrich (German, Greifswald 1774–1840 Dresden)
Two Men Contemplating the Moon
ca. 1825–30
In the third variant of Two Men Contemplating the Moon, Friedrich reintroduces the two men. This painting has more similarities with the one that had been drawn in Dresden in 1819 with the exception of how he uses light. In this painting his sky is transparent and light. The main features remain the same, such as the two men, the narrow path, the dead oak tree, the rock and the broken-off branch. This contrasts with the picture of the man and woman, where all of these elements were missing. According to critique, Friedrich did not bother with any under drawing in this picture, and he painted so fluidly so that the forms are considerably less detailed than in the other two versions. According to Rewald, “suffused with rose-mauve light, this last version conveys the greatest sense of serenity” (34).

This painting is very realistic and romantic and belongs to the same subject category as the picture “Moon Watchers”. These pictures capture the detail of a dead oak tree with immense branches and “moss-covered” roots. The entire landscape involves atmosphere and light. The color changes in the sky can be seen to change from rust to a rose color in between the version of the pictures (Rewald). Both the figures and the evergreen fir tree look alive while other elements such as the dark rocks, dead oak and a cut-off tree looks desolate. The second picture, Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon, uses a contrast between the ground, which is painted in dark colors with a tinge of yellow, to the light sky, which is characterized by the use of purple and yellow. Friedrich changes the light and even the color scheme, with a version in deep nighttime blacks. However, the shape of trees stays put, even down to a beautifully observed pattern of roots. Friedrich seems to convey mysteries to the viewers of his paintings, and in this case, leaves the viewer contemplating the figures that are staring out into the abyss. These paintings leave the viewer with a romantic feeling and the vastness of nature.

Picture 4: Moonrise over the Sea, 1822.

Moonrise over the Sea, 1822
Caspar David Friedrich (German, 1774–1840)
Oil on canvas; 21 5/8 x 28 in. (54.9 x 71.1 cm)
Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Friedrich enjoyed painting the area known as Pomerania, a region located between East Germany and Poland. This area comprises the southern coastland encompassing a part of the Baltic Sea. Friedrich dedicated much of his time depicting landscapes such as sandy beaches along the shore of the Baltic, lonely ships approaching in the harbor, and the wide expanse of the open sea. His painting Moonrise over the Sea combined all of these elements. Friedrich often times painted the calm surface of the sea. The sea contrasts with the warm tonalities of the sun, where the full moon is hidden in violet, yellow and blue clouds; indicating an approaching storm.
Moonrise over the Sea depicts two women, one of whom was probably the artist’s wife, and a man sitting on a rock on the seashore gazing out upon the water at the transparent horizontal line. Two sailboats seem to be approaching from a long voyage. This picture is somewhat less focused on the “meaning of life” motifs that Friedrich painted in some of his other works (e.g. Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog) or the seascape Monk by the Sea, which seems to symbolize the line between life and death. This picture also focuses much more on dreams and expectations of people, as symbolized by the approaching ships and the anticipation of the people on the shoreline. Similar to other works by Friedrich, we cannot see their faces of the figures but can imagine that their excitement.
Picture 5: Monk by the Sea, 1809-1810
Caspar David Friedrich
Monk by the Sea c.1809
Courtesy bpk Berlin/Jeorg P Anders/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Oil on canvas
110x171.5 cm

The image of a monk standing by an empty sea soon became an icon of German Romanticism. However, in the twentieth century the 'Caspar David Friedrich effect' underwent various interpretations, including absorption into Nazi art, and compared to the "abstract sublime" of American Colour Field painting.
Monk by the Sea by Friedrich captures the spectator’s attention with an immense sea that dominates the landscape. This is perhaps Friedrich’s greatest seashore picture. Friedrich’s use of lines is quite simple in this picture yet elegant. According to Joseph Leo Koerner, Friedrich’s uses diagonal lines in such a way that the “... foreground and background are set against each other as horizontal versus vertical, figure versus ground, finitude versus infinitude and detailed treatment versus generalized” (119).
In addition, as we can see Friedrich achieved infinity between two horizontal lines that divide the line of the seashore and the line of the horizon. The horizon is very low which makes the sky to dominate in the picture. Friedrich also paid close attention to the sky, since he was a very religious man and painted the sky in such a way as to reach transcendence with his spirit. It also seems that the sky is painted in much more dense colors than the sand, providing for additional contrasts between the foreground and the background. The colors are especially important, as they provide warmth to the picture; the sand is gray-white; the sea is green-black; the sky is blue-gray-white. The sea and sky fuse together to create an ethereal feeling with a hint of romanticism. According to Siegel, “there is silencing, a forgetting of all existence, when we feel as if we had lost everything; a night in our soul, when no glimmer of a star, not even rotten log gives us light…Now I looked straight ahead, quiet and lonely” (p. 136). Combined with the image of the monk, the total image conveys a sense of isolation and loneliness.

Ultimately, the artist leaves some ambivalence in the picture, in essence forcing the viewer of the picture to look out among the seascape as the monk is. In essence, Friedrich attempted to transcend our physical world and the world of the soul.
Picture 6: Abbey in the Oak Forest, 1809

Abbey in the Oak Forest, 1809-10: Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin
Exhibited in Berlin, this is perhaps one of the most desperate and sand pictures ever painted by Friedrich, even surpassing the desolation presented in Monk by the Sea. In this picture, the artist connects his religion to his creativity and attempts to convey spirituality by using nature and the Gothic styled ruined Abbey. Friedrich portrays a funeral procession in front of the ruins of the old Abbey that has been converted into a cemetery. The barren oak trees, bushes and two cross sticking out from the snow all set the context for the picture. All of these elements convey deathly silence and a dark and cold atmosphere.

The painting seems to be divided into two sections. The first section relates to the gloomy lower half of the scene that represents death and despair, whereas the second section focuses on the upper light half that represents hope and celestial revival. The white sky seems to form a crescent halo thus strengthening the bonds to God and bridging the gap between this mortal world and the world beyond man.

Friedrich also attempts to convey a unique perspective by making the trees larger, the closer to the center of the canvas, so that the ruined front gate of the abbey is highlighted. The abbey therefore seems to rise above the loneliness and melancholy of the slowly moving funeral process of monks that are bearing a coffin among the dead oak trees. The theme of the painting is death and hope for salvation.

This painting was destroyed by bombing in 1945 and exists only in reproduction. Koerner best summarizes the feelings of this picture in his statement:

And it arrests you on the Dresden heath, before the thicket in winter, when what you thought were just alders in the snow are fragments of your darkest history (244).

Picture 7: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
In the painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, Friedrich paints a traveler who is standing above the fog and confidently gazing into nature. In this moment, his encounter with nature becomes an encounter within himself. It seems like the traveler is caught into his own reflection into his life, full of experience and life changes. His position is romantic and confident in the same time. The wanderer’s position of the fog provides him a sense of confidence over nature. Friedrich made a distinction between the fog and a man who is standing straight up on the cliff. The man calmly looks out into the abyss of the turbulent forces of nature at work at his feet. One particularly striking point about this picture is how the artist achieved the dynamic “…interplay between clouds and mountains, this seamless mix of blank uncertainty and brilliant clarity, was achieved in paint” (Koerner 186).

It’s interesting to note that the face of the figure does not turn towards the viewer; therefore, one can only suggest his mood by the pose he stands in. We are thus invited to take on his point-of-view and to experience his emotions before the grandeur of the scene before him. The whole idea of the painting illustrates a sublime passion in nature. The picture also creates a degree of fear and trepidation in the viewer. This painting Friedrich used as a great example of how human life can integrate into natural movement. It is also a reflection of solitude upon vast landscape.

The Sea of Ice, 1824.

Two Men by the Sea, 1817.

Landscape in the Riesengebirge,1875. Hermitage, St. Petersburg 

Solitary Tree (Village Landscape in Morning Light) (1822) Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Sunday, 26 June 2011



Extreme phase of Modern Art in which ideas are presented in diagram or in description, rather than in conventional execution as a painting or sculpture.

Term embracing various forms of art in which the idea for a work is considered more important than the finished product, if any.

Conceptual art became a major, international phenomenon in the 1960’s although its manifestations had been very diverse; Photos, Texts, Maps Diagrams, Sound Cassettes and Videos, etc. had been used as communication media. Most conceptual artists deliberately rendered their productions visually uninteresting in order to divert attention to the idea they express.

Exponents and admirers of Conceptual art see it as posing questions about the nature of art and provocatively expanded its boundaries. To the general public, and to modern critics, it usually seems pretentious and hollow.

Some names connected with this wave are: Joseph Kosuth, Daniel Buren, Ed Ruscha and Robert Barry, who offered the following as serious artistic commentary.

All the things I know
But of which I am not
At the moment thinking-
1.36 pm. June 1969



Sometimes used as an alternative term for Abstract Expressionism.

In 1952, the critic Harold Rosenberg invented this term to emphasise the sheer physical activity involved in the creation of the large, spontaneously executed, abstract expressionist paintings like those of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline among others. In this sort of work, the paint is dripped, splashed and poured over the canvas, which is often laid on the floor rather than placed upright. 
Occasionally buckets of paint were literally hurled at the canvasses, letting a completely random result stand for fine art. 

JACKSON POLLOCK   Convergence, 1952

FRANZ KLINE   New York, 1953

Free Form, 1946

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956)

One: Number 31, 1950

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956)


Originally used to describe the work of untrained artists who, nevertheless, had some innate ability. Some artists have, however, taken up the style, and it has become a more recognisable school. Among the best-known genuine naives are Grandma Moses in the USA, Douanier Rousseau in France, and Alfred Wallis in England. Modern naives include Beryl Cook and Martin Leman.
Naïve artists are not necessarily untrained or amateurs. Sophisticated artists may also deliberately affect a naïve style. 
BERYL COOK   Dining Out
BERYL COOK, In the Snug

Tiger in a Tropical Storm 1891

(Sometimes called Surprised )
(The Hold House Port Mear Square Island Port Mear Beach, 1932)
GRANDMA MOSES    Halloween, 1955
GRANDMA MOSES    Let Me help 



Movement in Modern Art, especially painting, in which form and colour alone are the emotive forces, without recognisable reference to nature.

Abstract Expressionism was the dominant school of painting in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, centred in New York, but practiced internationally.

Rising out of the art of the 1940’s and even earlier in the work of Kandinsky, abstract pictures came into vogue with the work of Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock. It was soon extended to the work of the New York painters – Gottlieb, De Kooning, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline.

The painters who embraced this style shared a similarity of outlook rather than of style, an outlook characterised by a spirit of revolt against tradition and a demand for spontaneous freedom of expression.

John Piper 1903-1992 Abstract, 1935. Tate Gallery, London.

Arshile Gorky. The Liver is the Cock's Comb (1944), oil on canvas, 73 1/4 x 98" (186 x 249 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY

Arshile Gorky, Waterfall, 1943, oil on canvas, 60 1/2 x 44 1/2 in., Tate Modern, London, purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery, © 2010 Estate of Arshile Gorky/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


People were shocked when these big, unlovely female figures surfaced in de Kooning’s Abstract Expressionism, but in fact they had never been entirely absent (he subsequently painted also some larger compositions on landscape themes).
De Kooning’s emphatic painterliness contrasts with the graphic character of Pollock’s best paintings: de Kooning is very much a man of thick paint and loaded brushes. What is less apparent is the care, the slow development and the many corrections that went in to such paintings.

Woman, I 1950-1952. MoMa

Willem de Kooning (American, born the Netherlands. 1904-1997)

Saturday, 25 June 2011



Generic, non-specific terms covering art that in various degrees departs

drastically from the natural appearance of things. At its extreme, abstract art makes no reference whatsoever to nature, an aspect sometimes called ‘non-figurative’ or ‘non-objective’.

An art form in which the essence of a subject is stated in a brief or simplified manner, with the emphasis on design and little or no attempt to represent form or subject-matter realistically.

A term that, in its broadest sense, can be applied to any art that does not represent recognizable objects, (much decorative art, for example), but which is most commonly applied to those forms of 20th century art in which the traditional European conception of Art as the imitation of Nature, is abandoned.

Kandinsky is usually credited with having made the first entirely non- representational picture around 1910, and since then modern Abstract art has developed into many different movements and ‘isms’. However, two basic tendencies are recognizable within it;

a) The reduction of natural appearances to radically

simplified forms, exemplified in the work of Brancusi,

b) The construction of art objects from non-representational basic forms as in Ben Nicholson’s reliefs.

Untitled (First Abstract Watercolor). 1910.
Pencil, watercolor and ink on paper, 49.6x64.8 cm. 
Musée National Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France.



A sleek, geometric, elegant style of decorative art, set against the world’s economic depression between the two world wars, in the 1920’s and 1930’s; and embracing painting, buildings, furniture, fashion, jewellery, sculpture, ceramics, interior design, vehicles, ships, graphics, etc.

Notable examples are - the fashions of Paul Poiret, influenced by the Ballets Russes); the Odeon Cinema designs; Chryselephantine figurines, (bronze and ivory); Ceramics by Clarice Cliff; Sunray motif on gates and doors of suburban houses. Art Deco brought fashion into the workaday world.

It was a reaction to the austerity and deprivation occasioned by World War 1.
ELEVATOR DOOR: Chrysler Building. New York 

“Jazz Age” designs; Early Sky-Scrapers (Chrysler Building, New York); Exotic, new materials - glass, leather, fabrics, metals, platinum, onyx, ebony, chrome, plastic, lacquer, agate, coral, bakelite, tortoiseshell, jade, rhinestones, jet and moonstones.




A movement in Art and Literature originating in France and flourishing in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Characterised by a fascination with the bizarre, the incongruous and the irrational. It was conceived as a revolutionary mode of thought and action, a way of life rather than a set of stylistic attitudes, and in this, resembled Dadaism, its principal source.

André Breton, the main theoretician of the movement said its purpose was ‘ to resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality – a super reality’. He and the members of the movement drew liberally on the theories of Sigmund Freud concerning the subconscious mind and its relations to dreams, but the way in which they set about exploration of submerged impulses and imagery varied greatly.

Some artists – Ernst, Masson and Miró cultivated various spontaneous techniques such as frottage, in an effort to eliminate conscious control. It was in painting where Surrealism received its widest expression. It was an art of paradox where the exact pictorial description of objects and figures is paired with their irrational combination. Dali and Magritte and others painted in a scrupulously detailed manner to give hallucinatory sense of reality to scenes that make no rational sense.
In Surrealist constructions and assemblages, as well as some paintings, the unexpected and startling juxta-positions of unrelated objects was used to create a sense, not so much of unreality, as of a fantastic but compelling reality outside the everyday world.

A quote from the poet Lautréamont gives a clue to the Surrealist’s search: ‘Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table’.
With its stress on the marvellous and the poetic, Surrealism offered an alternative approach to the formalism of Cubism and the various types of Abstract art. It was a fundamental source for Abstract Expressionism.

Salvador Dali
The Persistence of Memory

Real Space, Real Time: Environments, Happenings, and Fluxus Events

Painter, printmaker, and occasional sculptor. The iconic abstract expressionist, he forged a singular style of great expressive power. Skeins of dripped, poured, and flung paint dominate his key all-over paintings of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

"At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act- rather than a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyze or express an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event." 
- Harold Rosenberg in The American Action Painter

"The most powerful painter in contemporary America and the only one who promises to be a major one is a Gothic, morbid, and extreme disciple of Picasso's Cubism and Miró's post-Cubism, tinctured also with Kandinsky and surrealist inspiration. His name is Jackson Pollock." - Clement Greenberg in 1947

By Alexandra A Jopp

Allan Kaprow, in the 1958 essay “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” formulates the standards for the style in art that became known as “happenings.” Kaprow employed the term to describe what was occurring in given surroundings. The term appears toward the end of the essay in which Kaprow suggests two ways in which Pollock’s legacy might continue to develop: “One is to continue in this vein. Probably many good ‘near-paintings’ can be done varying this esthetic of Pollock’s without departing from it or going further. The other is to give up the making of paintings entirely – I mean the single flat rectangle or oval as we know it.” In other words, Kaprow suggests that the possibilities are to continue to develop an action type of painting (as Pollock did; however, Kaprow notes that while Pollock created some magnificent paintings, he also “destroyed painting”) or to “hop right into real life.” Kaprow writes that, to do this, new materials and new subjects should be used: “Objects of every sort are materials for the new art: paint, chairs, food, electric and neon lights, smoke, water, old socks, a dog, movies … they will disclose entirely unheard-of happenings and events, found in garbage cans, police files, hotel lobbies, seen in store windows and on the streets, and sensed in dreams and horrible accidents.” This is reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp and other Dada artists, for whom any material and subject could be turned into art.
Jackson Pollock aka "Jack the Dripper" painting in his East Hampton studio.
Jackson Pollock. Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). 1950.
August 8, 1949 issue of Life Magazine
In Assemblages, Environments, Happenings, Kaprow suggests that “environments” and “happenings” are similar, that “they are the passive and active sides of a single coin, whose principle is extension.” While most early happenings were caught in a routine that suppressed change, Kaprow argues that “the use of standard performance conventions from the very start tended to truncate the implications of the art.” He offers an explanation for the evolution of happenings, explaining that they grew out of action painting to “assemblages” and extended into environments, which marked the shift in outlook toward a rejection or sense of abandonment of the experimental, Modernist position which had prevailed up to the end of the 1960s. Kaprow’s attempt to define happenings as an art form, similar to theater, that takes place in a specific time and location with an arrangement and content that are logical extensions of the environment stands in opposition to Michael Kirby’s definition. In his introductory essay on happenings, Kirby states that happenings are a new form of theater, a “purposefully composed form of theatre in which diverse alogical elements, including nonmatrixed performing, are organized in a compartmented structure.” Thus, he suggests that happenings are not plastic arts, and he expands the term beyond environmental sculpture, action painting, etc. In addition, he proposes that happenings are events that include both the creator and the viewer.
by George Maciunas, 1963.
In “Fluxus: A Brief History and Other Fictions,” Owen Smith writes that, with the increase of information on Fluxus and its growth, the history itself must remain open. According to Smith, the term was introduced by George Maciunas in 1961 to describe an avant-garde group of artists and composers centered around John Cage. Fluxus, Owen asserts, was interested in “originality, fresh thinking, not imitations or overworked forms.” Fluxus became an experiment of ideas, and, in this sense, it set itself apart from Pop art and aided the move toward Conceptualism.
Taking its name from the Latin word for "flow," the international Fluxus movement advocated purging the world of bourgeois, commercial, and professional art. The interdisciplinary movement included books, boxes, manifestos, posters, photographs, films, and performance relics: art that crossed boundaries between painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and performed events. In 1989, the Walker Art Center acquired a remarkable collection of more than 500 objects and documents related to Fluxus.

"Fluxus is not: a movement, a moment in history, an organization. Fluxus is: an idea, a kind of work, a tendency, a way of life, a changing set of people who do Fluxworks."—Dick Higgins
Artist: various
Institution: Walker Art Center

Fluxus artists often collaborated in the creation of artworks, valuing the idea of community and collective spirit over the individualism of an artist in traditional art. The group produced many multiples, books, and publications such as newspapers, which enabled them to work together and produce something that expressed their philosophy of anti-art while serving a social function. Many of these editions were hand-assembled; the Fluxus artists, unlike other artists at the time, did not outsource production to external fabricators. These editions were unlimited, intended for mass production, and sold at low prices to underscore the ideal of accessibility while condemning the market-driven art world.

cc V TRE (Fluxus newspaper # 1)
Artist: George Brecht, George Maciunas

Date: 1964
Medium: Other, Newspapers
Size: open 23.0625 x 36 inches
Institution: Walker Art Center

single sheet from Fluxus Vacuum TrapEzoid (Fluxus newspaper # 5)
Artist: George Maciunas
Date: 1965
Medium: Other, Newspapers
Size: sheet 21.9375 x 18 inches
Institution: Walker Art Center
Artist: Christo (Javacheff)
Date: 1965
Medium: Mixed Media, Multiples, Other
Size: overall 3 x 15.5 x 4 inches
Institution: Walker Art Center

Artist: Robert Watts
Date: 1965/1969
Medium: Mixed Media, Multiples, Other
Size: overall 4.75 x 4 x 1 inches
Institution: Walker Art Center

Fluxus artists, like Pop artists, were interested in making artwork, performances, poetry, music, and films using the ephemera of everyday life. They celebrated the banal and the mundane in direct opposition to the subjects traditionally considered worthy of “high” or fine art.