Twentieth Century Literature: Art Gallery Visit: Modernism in Context

We had a fabulous time at the gallery today exploring how Modernism brought such a dramatically new way of seeing, expressing, singing “its” vision of reality. Rodin, Van Gogh, Picasso, Kirchner, Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon broke vehemently with their immediate past and brought a wholly new way of expression. This new way matches almost exactly the kinds of change taking place in the literary world at this time too: reality becomes fragmented and is seen from multiple perspectives; the surface of things is ignored and the internal heat and conflicts are displayed. Artists are no longer celebrating their bucolic relationship to the natural world -as they did in the Romantic period (witness John Glover)- nor are they telling long-winded moralistic stories -as was typified in the Victorian era- nor are they honouring the rich with glowing garments – as they did in the mid 18th Century. No, none of this: the modernists were trying to get to the Truth of things (along the lines of what Joseph Conrad had argued in his “Preface” to the Nigger of Narcissus). And Truth meant many things: for Bacon it was the truth of his inner, chaotic experience and also the truth of what lay behind the veneer of the Papacy. For Picasso it was the searing painful truth of his relationships. For Van Gogh it was the inner truth of the peasant’s face, full of delicate feeling, full of humanity.

But most impressively for Rodin, it was the truth of the emotion and feeling experienced dramatically differently by six different Burghers of Calais who were on the verge of execution. That horrific moment is what fascinated Rodin. He had to get to the truth of that life and death moment experienced so amazingly differently (in posture, in facial gestures, in clothing) by each of these brave men:


For your Blog Questions for this week take any of the questions that focus on Modernism and use this as the basis for your Blog. Of course if you want to share a more personal experience of these paintings then please go for it!

Q.1 How does Rodin’s sculpture of the Burghers of Calais challenge the art works (especially the sculptures) of all the art that came before it? Imagine yourself as one of the figures. What emotions are portrayed by this figure? Can you see differences in the emotional states of the figures? What is the psychological complexity of their decisions?

Q.2 How do Picasso’s paintings of nudes express his experience of the world in the 20th Century? What is it in the colours and the shapes that give us a clue to his vision? How do his images of naked forms compare with Kirchners?

Q.3 What does Bacon’s portrait of the Pope indicate about his view of religion?

Q.4 What psychological perspectives on human experience are expressed through Lucian Freud’s paintings.

Q.5 In summary how do Modernist paintings express a different level of reality to earlier forms of painting?

Q.6 Which Australian modernists add to your understanding of the nature and purpose of modernist art?

Q.7  Of all the paintings seen today, which is your favourite painting and why?

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