Modern Art, from Daumier to Picasso


Free admission

Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion - Level 1



Defying the rigour advocated by classical painters, preferring line and colour as well as stable and balanced forms, the Romantic artists were poorly received in their time. They were considered too bold, their style too free and subject matter too elusive.



The water is alive; it splashes on the hulls of ships sailing on the river; it has just washed up on the shingle beaches. One of the most beautiful expressions of the Impressionist style is found in scenes of water. More than just a way of painting, Impressionism was also a way of living. With the invention of tubes of paint, artists could set up their easels outdoors in Île-de-France or on the coast of Normandy and paint from nature. The shimmering reflections on the water allowed them to capture fleeting atmospheric effects. Afflicted with eye problems at the end of his life, Camille Pissarro took refuge on the first floor of a hotel room in Rouen to capture, on canvas after canvas, the beauty of river traffic, raising it to the level of art. Claude Monet, exalted by the surf, would paint his series of "cliff" canvases at different times of the day, varying the intensity of the light. Sirens are a favourite motif in Auguste Rodin's body of work. Monet and Rodin, two geniuses of their time, would exhibit together at the gallery of Georges Petit, a great promoter of Impressionism.



In the early 20th century, modernity, seen as a corollary to the progress of civilization, swept away all artistic dogmas, putting paid to one aesthetic revolution after another. On the canvases of the day, colours and shapes were no longer required to imitate nature and could offer a rich panoply of expressions. Lyonel Feininger, a violinist, caricaturist and painter, lived through the various stages of this epic upheaval. An American of German origin, he resided for a while in Paris and exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants, where he discovered Cubism. In 1912, he spent time among the famous groups of German Expressionists known as "Die Brücke" (The Bridge) and "Blaue Reiter" (Blue Rider) alongside the abstract painters Klee and Kandinsky. After the World War I he joined the Bauhaus, the institute of arts and crafts founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919. Although close to the Fauves, the French Expressionist Georges Rouault traced a solitary career. He was passionate about the circus, and here he portrays acrobats in colours outlined in black, a characteristic of the style of this former apprentice glass painter. At the same time, Matisse's palette was flourishing in Nice. Using one of his favourite motifs, the window, Matisse beckons the Mediterranean coast into his studio apartment. Meanwhile, Fernand Léger was developing the syntax for a new pictorial language in which the canvas does not explain the world, but expresses movement and power through sharply defined images.



Portrait-painting experienced a revival in Europe in the 1920s because the face of society had changed after the disaster of World War I. Traumatized and disillusioned, people rejected the old order to celebrate youth and modernity – the euphoria of the "Roaring Twenties." Otto Dix, obsessed with the horrors he had witnessed in the trenches, adopted an implacably realistic style. He founded the German movement "New Objectivity," firmly denouncing the social unrest that prevailed in the fledgling Weimar Republic. In order to thank Hugo Simons, an art lover and Jewish lawyer who had brilliantly defended his artistic freedom in a trial against dissatisfied client, Dix affectionately portrayed him as an intelligent and vital man.



Two mature works, two men in love, two great artists of the last century, exalting at the ages of 90 and 80, respectively, in carnal love. Since his youth, Picasso had often portrayed his erotic passions on canvas. The Catalan master said he wanted to "express the nude, not just make a nude like a nude, express a breast, express a foot, a hand, belly…" At a time when conceptual art and minimalism were dominating the art world, these silhouettes are disturbing, foreshadowing the daubings of graffiti artists or the loose style of a Basquiat. British sculptor Henry Moore, who shared Picasso's penchant for the female figure and sensuality, took his inspiration from so called "primitive" cultures, notably that of the Toltec. Moore also gleaned scraps from everyday life (stones, bones, etc.) to build his monumental sculptures with organic shapes inspired by nature.