Paul Cezanne – 1839-1906
That “Cezanne is the father of us all” is a quote often attributed to both Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and it might equally have referred to him as the father of all modern art.
We find in the landscape work of Cezanne an entirely new treatment of the line, the plane, and the perception we give to dimensional space. In this revolution, we see why the likes of Picasso praised Cezanne so highly, indeed the way he shows the line allows us to see the setting as if from many views somehow. With this quality, his work paves the way for the advent of cubism – as cubism does for all modern art.
Equally important was his technique of using colour. Going far beyond his contemporaries post-impressionist practice, Cezanne’s use of colour informed many new techniques of modern and even abstract art.
Pablo Picasso – 1881 – 1971
Since the Renaissance masters – Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael – no individual had produced such a weighty influence on the history of art as did the life and works of Pablo Picasso.
A child prodigy, Picasso was already a master of the naturalist technique by adolescence. Indeed the promise of his work was so intimidating that his father, who was also his teacher, chose to quit his own painting career permanently. Early portraits by the young Picasso – like his ‘Portrait of Aunt Pepa’ – have been hailed as the greatest in the history of Spanish painting.
Having reached a level of excellence that could rival the entire history of painting while still so young – Picasso was placed exceptionally well for the revolutionary life he would go on to live.
Along with painter George Braque, it was Picasso who engineered and developed the art of Cubism, and with this the inspiration for all of the greatest 20th-century art. Like no other, it was Pablo Picasso who smashed through the boundaries put on art, forever redefining art practice.
Wassily Kandinsky – 1866 – 1944
Wassily Kandinsky is the father of abstract art, as well as the theorist who set out and substantiated the ideas for all abstract art to follow.
Kandinsky began his art career very late after being struck so impressionably by an exhibition of Claude Monet’s Haystacks in Russia in 1896. He reported being at once almost frustrated by the artist since he could not make out the subject (a haystack) in the painting. At the same time, he encountered in Monet’s work a synaesthetic experience which drove him to give up his promising career teaching law to move to Munich to study art.
It was the theory of Kandinsky that the role of the artist was that of a prophet. His studies and tuned sensibilities should have a delicate sensor of the world and life around him, and therefore on things which would follow. From this point, we must give credit eternally to Kandinsky for seeing ahead and in his way prophesying the following century of art.
The Impressionism of artists like Monet, Van Gogh and Manet had turned away from representations of nature to depict the quality of perceptions themselves in turn toward the object of our sense. Kandinsky took this philosophy further to the point of abandoning the subject of the art piece entirely, leaving only the colour and the form. This distinction between subject and object is still today one of the most discussed issues in contemporary art theory.
Egon Schiele – 1890 – 1918
Egon Schiele finds his place on this list thanks to the unique influence his works have had on a more personal, figurative face of Modern Art. Schiele was an early and influential sign of expressionist painting, a style which he developed independently, having broken away from the style of his mentors: Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka; visible in Schiele’s early work.
While so much of modern painting marks a break from figurative works, Schiele stands up as a modern master of capturing the human form and face.
Jackson Pollock – 1912 – 1956
Finally and perhaps most controversially on our list of most significant artists is American abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock. The nature of his work makes him still today a highly controversial figure in art history, though his achievements merit him a place in a long tradition of rule breakers, and his influence on art ever since.
Abstract expressionism is the art movement which made New York City the Western center of art in the mid-twentieth century, as well as being the first important movement born in the states. The roots of the movement are varied, from the abstract art and Bauhaus of Kandinsky to the fascination with the unconscious and automatic technique pioneered by Andre Breton and the surrealists, and eternally indebted to the work of Sigmund Freud.
Just as Picasso had, Pollock annihilated conventions traditional to an artwork. His technique of action painting allowed for the total spontaneity of the artist, setting the unconscious free. The standard use of an easel for painting was exchanged for a canvas set down on the floor and attacked from all sides by the artist using drips, splashes, and unconventional tools including industrial objects.