Art History: Grade 4 Lesson 8

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ART AS IT CHANGES - Portraits & Landscapes & Beyond

Introduction

1. The Cafè, 1949,  Tsugouhara Foujita, Japanese (1886-1968), , National Museum of Modern Art, Paris. Reproduction print
2. Woman with red hair, 1917, Amadeo Modigliani, Italian (1884-1920), National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Reproduction print.

Two artists who did not shatter or break away from the surface of things are Modigliani and Foujita. We recognize the two women, but notice how differently they are painted. However, both of these artists were influenced by ideas and techniques first introduced by Picasso. Modigliani strongly admired African primitive art; notice the small simple shape of the head and the long neck. Foujita admired Picasso's fine sensitive drawing and the cubist's flattened space in his buildings.
 

3. Ginevra dei Benci, , Leonardo da Vinci, Italian (1452-1519), , National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Reproduction print.

Extraordinarily keen observation, imagination, and the ability to detach himself from the world around him contributed to Leonardo's greatness as an artist. At fifteen he was apprenticed in Andrea del Verrocchio's studio and probably served six years before he was admitted to the painters' guild and permitted to set up shop for himself.

In Leonardo's apprentice days, artists were thought of as mere craftsmen; art was not to be taken up by the higher classes. Leonardo hastened the artist's change in status. As an apprentice he lived in his master's house and began his study by grinding colors and other drudgery. The, as his skill increased, he was allowed to paint the simple parts of whatever work Verocchio happened to be working on. Sometimes older apprentices helped the younger with basic techniques. Leonardo also learned from the work of his predecessors in the frescoes of nearby churches or sculptures in public plazas. When the Medici family of Florence did not become his patron, he went to Milan and the despotic Lodovico Sforza. There he was valued less for his painting than for his creation of extravagant events and intellectual stimulation.

Some of the characteristics of his paintings are: ideal human beauty, muffled outlines, a barely perceptible smile, rippling hair showing his fascination with coiling motion, his keen perception of nature and experimental modeling of the figure by a contrast of light and dark in order to give a three-dimensional effect. He was interested in experimenting with oil which had been introduced from the north to be used instead of the traditional egg tempura. He spent years studying the atmosphere and how to create the illusion of it in painting. He felt that landscapes were not merely backdrops; rather man was thought of as an integral part of nature.

The portrait of Ginevra Benci was probably painted when he was 22. It was the custom for young ladies to have their portraits done at about the time of their wedding. A piece of the painting has been cut off the bottom which may have continued the lady's hands. Notice the cool emotions and melancholic mood with sombre twilight tones. The juniper tree behind Ginevra's face has the Italian dialect word 'ginevra'. The background is veiled in a thin mist which produces a dream-like atmosphere through which Leonardo believed the innermost nature of natural objects may be sensed more deeply.

4. Harbor Scene, 1923, Paul Klee, Swiss (1879-1940), , Ateneum Gallery, Helsinki. Reproduction print.

Paul Klee worked with Kandinsky in germany, sharing many of his ideas including the deep universal meanings to be found in the simple, primitive and child-like. He wanted to look at the world through the eyes of a chld untroubled by reason. Notice the casual doodle-like lines of the buildings; in spite of their appearance, the lines were carefully drawn. He felt thathe pained the truth as much as Constable. Now truth was to be found in ideas, and feelings conveyed by color and line - rather than by a true representation of nature which we know only through our senses.

5. Forest with a Squirrel, , Franz Marc, German (1880-1916), , The Kunsthaus, Zurich. Reproduction print.

Franz Marc also tried to convey the universal or general rather than the particular. He most liked painting animals but tried to tell us how all animls are one with nature; they blend into the background. Find the red squirrel; can you see the fluff of his tail repeated in blue and yellow swirls? Can you find a large green swirl that turns into a squirrel's face? Find the trees and shattered light of the forest. Marc carefully chose his colors to express certain feelings.

6. Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2, 1912, Marcel Duchamp, French (1887-1968), , The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Reproduction print.

Marcel Duchamp used the same ideas in his painting. The cubism is combined with a mechanical person moving down some stairs. Duchamp kept asking questions about the nature of art and reality; he was interested in ideas, not merely visual products. Although this painting shocked the world, Duchamp carried his ideas much further. By taking a shovel, signing it and setting it up as a work of art, Duchamp forced us to really look at the shovel and wonder what art was.

This painting is so outrageous that even the most open-minded modern artists of its time disliked it. Strange;y enough, today it is considered one of Duchamp's tamer works of art.

In Nude Descending a Staircase, Duchamp combined ideas of two schools of art that couldn't agree on what art should look like. One group said that art should express speed and motion, as machines do. These artists called themselves 'futurists'. The other group, the 'cubists', thought that more attention should be paid to an object's shape. Duchamp used the blocky shapes of the cubists to paint a body in motion. It caused a scandal! When Duchamp submitted this painting to an exhibition of modern art, his brothers, who were on the selection committee, rejected it!

The painting was displayed shortly afterward in the 1913 New York Armory Show, the first major exhibit of modern art in the US. Curiosity-seekerd turned out to look at the odd creations known as modern art. The painting singled out time and again was Nude Descending a Staircase. It made Duchamp a celebrity.

The idea for this painting was probably inspired by early photographs of people in motion. Can you see the nude in this painting? She appears not once but several times. The arms, legs and head overlap and blend, mimicking the effect of motion. If you concentrate, you can see the roundness of the head, the bent arm, and the long legs.

Duchamp made only a few more paintings after this one, and then he began producing objects that were not quite sculptures, but not exactly paintings. He wanted to shake up the whole idea of what art could be. His 'ready-made' art includes a bicycle wheel mounted on a stool, and a bird cage filled with small cubes of marble and a thermostat.

Considered peculiar at first, Duchamp's objects are now at home in some of the world's most important art museums. Duchamp's creative way of seeing made modern art truly modern.

7. Composition, , Wassily Kandinsky, Russian (1866-1944), , Private Zurigo Collection. Reproduction print.

Kandinsky shared ideas with marc and Klee, trying to regain truth and reality which they felt had been lost because the senses had been the only source of knowledge. They felt that colors and shapes spoke their own language and could express ideas, feelings and truth about something. (Red - fire - excitement. Grey - rain - sad.) Kandinsky was interested in primitive art to bypass the refined veneer of civilization and arrive at the external which belongs to all times and cultures. He was the first to paint totally abstract, using his imagination alone without the inspiration of the material world.

8. Composition #2, 1921, Piet Mondrian, Dutch (1872-1944), , The Kunsthaus, Zurich. Reproduction print.

(Pieter Cornelis "Piet" Mondriaan, after 1906 Mondrian)

Mondrian also tried to arrive at the universal in his art. He saw painting as a model of universal harmony or true beauty and believed that as man developed so he would replace painting by a total environment in which he could live in harmony. The pictoral elements are reduced to their simplest and most rigid terms - only horizontals or verticals - never a diagonal for this would disrupt the harmony. Only primary colors are used. Although we do not live in total peace, our modern cities do look like the world Mondrian dreamed of.

9. Marilyn Monroe, 1961, Andy Warhol, American (1928-1987), , . Reproduction print.

10. Man with a Golden Helmet, c.1650, Rembrandt (Rembrant Harmenszoon van Rijn), Dutch (1606-1669), oil on canvas, Kaiser-Friedrich-Museums-Verein, Berlin. Reproduction print.

11. Senecio (Head of a man), 1922, Paul Klee, German Swiss (1879-1940), oil on gauze, Kunstmuseum, Basel. Reproduction print.

 

INTRODUCTION

This lesson is meant to be a review of the entire year. After mentioning some major historical events, the children could make a human time line, trying to fit the painting into the correct time slot. This is also a lesson for comparisons of portraits, landscapes and abstractions. Emphasize the vast change from the Renaissance.

The Renaissance was an intellectual awakening which brought change to all of learning. The first three lessons of the fourth grade cover this period from the 14th. to the 17th. century. As the artists are discussed and their paintings shown, keep in mind some of these characteristics of the Renaissance:

a. Man and his everyday word took precedence over the spiritual (even in the Church). Note the interest in the antiquities of the Greco-Roman world.
b. Artists were trying to imitate and understand nature. They studied anatomy, and emotional expression as well as botany and mathematics.
c. Vesatility in performance and scope of interests were the chief aim of education. The artist must master geometry, optics and perspective as well as be a master of various art media.
d. The discovery of moveable type made books more readily available and aided the spread of knowledge.
e. Women enjoyed a higher place in society.
f. The scientific discoveries and world exploration brought a questioning of church authority with its increasing concern in worldly affairs and political power. The Reformation began in the North.
g. The importance of the individual was asserted in all areas, even in the interpretation of the word of God.
h. The merchant and artisan classes rose to challenge the position of the landed nobility.

20TH CENTURY

No longer satisfied with the surface of things and art as an imitation of nature, artists tried to break through into the essence of things or inner realities. For example, think of an apple. If I painted it, you might only see one side because the paper is flat. Does that tell us everything about the apple? The other side might have a yellow spot - we can't see it. We can't see the inside or know the taste or how it would look with a bite out of it. Or I could paint my feelings about apples The feeling of eating a hard juicy apple or the aroma of warm applesauce, pumpkins and cider. Could I do this without painting any of the real objects? These are the kinds of questions artists startied asking themselves after Picasso. They were not satisfied to show us only one side of the surface.

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