Contextual Studies 4: Modernism and the Modern World

The Eiffel Tower (1889)

The Eiffel tower was built as an iconic symbol at the centre of Paris for the International World Fayre to celebrate the industrial and technological advances.  The aim was to represent the growth of Paris turning into a city and make this build as iconic as the Crystal Palace. Although, it was built up instead of wide, and was the tallest man made structure of the world, totalling 1056ft at the time. It was built of iron as the advance in the metal making process made bigger, thinner bars to build with.


Mr Gustave Eiffel believed that art should reflect the modern world and wanted to celebrate new inventions. It had four towers that represented the four corners of the world and as it was being built it has a mass audience on a daily basis, it was a coming of new age and promise of technology. In the first year of opening one million people travelled to the top which was a new experience for them. As there were no aeroplanes it was not possible to reach these heights but some people did take the risk by hot air balloon, such as, Felix Nadar who took the worlds first aerial photograph.


“Remember that a picture, before being a horse, a nude or some kind of anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colour”  Maurice Dennis, Painter 1890.


Developments in technology


1927 Electrical Age for Women Ad

1927 Electrical Age for Women Ad


Implications for Art

Artist’s almost felt threatened by photography, as they felt that their artistic talents had been replaced modern life forced change as technology was rapidly developing.


Fernand Leger (1881-1955)

The Card Players, 1917

the card players

  • Helmets
  • Use of colour
  • Industrial looking
  • Robotic Limbs
  • Part machine part man
  • metal pipes, human eyes, and facial features visible
  • Playing cards visible
  • Medals visible
  • Insignia
  • Cubism
  • Chopped up and rearranged
  • Fragmentation
  • Semi abstract
  • Embracing new technology



Three Women, 1921


  • Abstract
  • Pattern visible
  • Graphic
  • Arranged in layers formed on top of each other
  • Collage
  • Distorted
  • Semi abstract
  • Metal
  • Machinery
  • Robotic appearance
  • No expression
  • Oiled


Mechanical Elements, 1924


  • Robotic appearance
  • Collection of machine parts
  • Abstract
  • Machine like
  • Mechanical elements
  • No expression
  • Complex metal parts
  • Fugural


Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, ‘Manifesto of Futurism’, (1909)

We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.

We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath – a roaring car that seems to run on shrapnel is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

For too long has Italy been a dealer in second-hand clothes. We mean to free her from the numberless museums that cover her like so many graveyards.

From Art in Theory, pp146-149.



The City Rises, 1910, by Umberto Boccioni

Umberto Boccioni, The City Rises,

  • Horses
  • Buildings
  • Workers
  • Blurry
  • Movement
  • Feverish brush strokes
  • Bold colour
  • Dynamism
  • Busy
  • Embracing the modern world, that art must change


Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904)


Leger found Muybridge a great inspiration as he was able to analyse movement and this fitted well with Leger, as both were futurists that were embracing the modern world. They synthesised, and analysed movement.


Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, 1912, by Giacomo Balla

Giacomo Balla, Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash

  • Abstract form
  • Fragmented
  • Several tails
  • Lead swinging
  • Repeated image of dogs leg

Dynamism of a Cyclist, 1913, Boccioni

Boccioni, Dynamism of a Cyclist

  • Abstract form
  • Votex in the middle
  • Suggestions of wheels
  • Fragmented
  • Disturbance in the air

Balla, Abstract Speed and Sound,

  • Painted onto frame
  • Real world carries on
  • Sensation of something moving
  • e.g. gust of air or car going past
  • Fragmented

Similarity with Cubism:

All of these images contain angles, and geometry created a chopped up feel that was similar to the futurists. Appeared to take style and used in their own quest to capture movement.


Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang

Attitude to modern life: not all artist’s viewed this as a new way of living positively.

The Rock Drill, 1913/14, by Jacob Epstein

Jacob Epstein, The Rock Drill,

  • Sculpture made of bronze
  • Dark in colour, almost black
  • Robotic appearance
  • Humanoid form
  • Part machine, part human form
  • The centre has a softer, rounder thorax
  • Used to be a drill
  • Mounted


Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation (1866-1944)

Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 19, 1911

  • Researched into the effects that colour has on the senses
  • Sense connected
  • Certain colours effect psychology
  • Effects on emotions
  • Important
  • Nourishes the soul

Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1912

Kandinsky, All Saints, 1911

  • Less abstract form
  • Figurative
  • Distorted
  • Spiritual message
  • Expression
  • Extended onto fame


Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1912

When religion, science, and morality are shaken (the last by the mighty hand of Nietzsche), when the external supports threaten to collapse, then man’s gaze turns away from the external toward himself.

Literature, music, and art are the first and most sensitive realms where this spiritual change becomes noticeable in real form….they turn away from the soulless content of modern life, toward materials and environments that give a free hand to the nonmaterial strivings and searchings of the thirsty soul.

Extract from Art in Theory, pp82-89, p87/l.1-12


Improvisation 19, 1911

All Saints, 1911


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