20 October – 13 November 2016
The Modernist art movement is defined by some of the greatest names in history, Manet, Picasso, Moore, Brancusi & Cezanne. The term ‘Modern art’ is usually associated with art in which the traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of experimentation.
Modernism refers to the broad movement in Western art and literature that gathered pace from around 1850, and is characterised by a deliberate rejection of the styles of the past; emphasizing instead innovation and experimentation in form, materials and techniques in order to create artworks that better reflected modern society. A succession of art movements make-up the collective term and its origins can be found in the realism of Gustav Courbet in the 19th century, culminating in abstract art of the 1960s. Modernism has also been driven by various social and political agendas. These were often utopian, and modernism was in general associated with ideal visions of human life and society and a belief in progress.
Experimenting with form and function was a chief concern for Modernist artists. Rejecting conservative, realist representations they opted instead to experiment with colour, material and technique. It is during this period that we see artists venture out of their studios and paint en plein air; utilising newly available materials, such as acrylic paint which allowed them to experiment with different techniques, and placing a greater emphasis on the process of creating a work of art rather than the artwork itself. This idea was espoused by French artist and critic Maurice Denis (1870–1943) who in his dictum of 1890 stated that:
‘a picture – before being a war-horse, a nude woman, or some sort of anecdote – is essentially a surface covered with colours arranged in a certain order.’
The effects of Modernism would be keenly felt in New Zealand. The introduction of the La Trobe scheme, the brainchild of William Sanderson La Trobe (1870–1943), would have a profound effect on the development of Modernism in New Zealand. La Trobe hoped to attract staff with qualifications from British institutions like the Royal College of Art in London. Importing art teachers from overseas – particularly Europe – would, he hope, foster professionalism in the training of New Zealand artists. A number of artists came and were spread thinly throughout New Zealand. Two were particularly influential: Robert Nettleton Field (1899–1987) and Christopher Perkins (1891–1968). The scheme played a key role in the development of a distinctly New Zealand style of art. It reinvigorated the tired local scene and liberated a younger generation of artists stifled by stylistic conservatism.
The Modernists exhibition at Jonathan Grant Galleries explored the influence of Modernism on early 19th century British and New Zealand artists. The exhibition featured key works by: Felix Kelly, Christopher Perkins, Charles Dixon RI, Leon Underwood & Frances Hodgkins.
Photo Courtesy of Artsdiary
Oldany House Overlooking the River Alde Near Aldeburgh, Suffolk
Oil on board
28 x 28 cm
Signed & dated 1955
Illustrated in Country Life, September 12, 1957