The birth of Modern Art

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The birth of Modern Art in Europe can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution, from about 1760 up until about the mid 1800s. This period saw rapid changes in manufacturing, transport, technology and scientific development which profoundly affected the social, economic and cultural conditions of those living at that time.

Inventions during this time included the telephone, the electric light, the combustion engine and x-rays. 1918 saw the first powered flight. Darwin produced his Theory of Relativity and Sigmund Freud wrote his Introduction to Psychoanalysis.

Urban centres boomed, with greater migration to cities (particularly as industrial jobs increased), as the railroad, steam engine and subway opened new opportunities for people to move greater distances. It also became possible for people and goods to travel between countries with greater ease, leading to greater exchanges of ideas.

However, the period from the mid 1700s also saw great political upheaval in France, with a number of revolutions and wars, up until about 1871 (The Franco-Prussian war), which resulted in the Siege of Paris and subsequently the Paris Commune, where workers unsuccessfully attempted to take power through the formation of communes, or workers’ councils.

From the mid 1800s, Emperor Napoléon III appointed Georges-Eugene Haussmann to make major changes to Paris. He was directed to ‘bring air and light to the centre of the city, unify the different neighbourhoods with boulevards, and the make the city more beautiful’.  The centre of Paris up until this time was overcrowded, dark, dangerous and unhealthy, with traffic circulation being a major problem. Although his changes met with a great deal of opposition and the displacement of many people, they did result in a more modern, industrious and vibrant city.

Then, from 1871 up until World War I, Paris became a relatively peaceful city which attracted large numbers of writers and artists. The turn of the 20th century was termed La Belle Époque, or “the beautiful era”, in part because of the  cultural development that occurred at that time. Entertainment for the general public was a fairly new phenomenon – in cafés, cabarets, the theatre and at the Moulin Rouge, for example.

Paris became ‘the come to ‘ city, and as a result was the primary force for change in the artworld, until about the 1930s, when many artists fled to America to escape the coming war. Other centres, in Germany, Italy and Russia, also saw the rise of avant-garde art.

This is an excerpt from my online art appreciation program


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