Early abstraction: Fauvism, Expressionism, and Cubism

Matisse, Kandinsky, Picasso all used abstraction to invent new systems of representation.

Fauvism and Matisse

Les Fauves (the wild beasts) used color the way most artists use line, to define form in space. From these brilliant early experiments, Henri Matisse went on to create some of the most daring and satisfying art of the early 20th century avant-garde.
A beginner's guide to Fauvism
Matisse, Luxe, calme et volupté
Henri Matisse, Luxe, calme et volupté, 1904, oil on canvas, 37 x 46 inches (Museé d'Orsay, Paris) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker Painted while the artist stayed with the pointillist painter, Signac, at his home in Saint-Tropez on the Côte d'Azur. Matisse's title comes from Charles Baudelaire's poem, "L'invitation au voyage (Invitation To A Voyage)" from his collection, ​The Flowers of Evil. "Luxe, calme et volupté" translates just as it sounds in English: "Luxury, calm, and voluptuous(ness)."
Matisse, Bonheur de Vivre
Matisse, Dance I
Matisse, The Red Studio
Henri Matisse, The Red Studio, oil on canvas, 1911 (MoMA)
Matisse, The Red Studio
Matisse, Goldfish
Matisse, "The Blue Window"
Learn about Matisse’s search for essential form in The Blue Window. To learn about other great moments in modern art, take our online course, Modern Art, 1880-1945.
Matisse, Piano Lesson
Henri Matisse, The Piano Lesson, 1916 (The Museum of Modern Art) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker
Matisse, Piano Lesson
Matisse, The illustrated book, “Jazz”
Met curator Rebecca Rabinow on disquiet in Henri Matisse’s The illustrated book, “Jazz," 1947. View this work on metmuseum.org
Conserving Henri Matisse's "The Swimming Pool"
Explore the process of conserving Matisse's The Swimming Pool, one of the artist's most beloved cut-out masterpieces and a centerpiece of the Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition at MoMA. Create your own cut-outs and collages and learn about Matisse's life in the online courses Modern Art: 1880-1945 and Experimenting with Collage.

Expressionism

Expressionist experiments in Germany were dominated by two groups of artists, Die Brücke (the Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter. Here, find Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, and the Russians, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexei von Jawlensky. Meanwhile in Vienna, Egon Schiele was exploring representations of the body with wild, restless energy.
Kirchner, Street, Dresden
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Street, Dresden, oil on canvas, 1908 (MoMA) Speakers: Dr. Juliana Kreinik, Dr. Steven Zucker, Dr. Beth Harris
Kirchner, Self-Portrait As a Soldier
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, "Street, Berlin"
Walk the streets of 1913 Berlin with the Expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. To learn about other great moments in modern art, take our online course, Modern Art, 1880-1945.
Emil Nolde, "Young Couple," 1913
To learn about other great moments in modern art, take our online course, Modern Art, 1880-1945 or Pigment to Pixel: Color in Modern and Contemporary Art.
Jawlensky, Young Girl in a Flowered Hat
Alexej von Jawlensky, Young Girl in a Flowered Hat, 1910, oil on cardboard (Albertina, Vienna)
Schiele, Seated Male Nude (Self-Portrait)
Egon Schiele, Seated Male Nude (Self-Portrait), 1910, oil and gouache on canvas, 152.5 × 150 cm (Leopold Museum, Vienna)
Schiele, Hermits
Egon Schiele, Hermits, 1912, oil on canvas, 71-1/4 x 71-1/4 inches (Leopold Museum, Vienna)
Kandinsky, Improvisation 28 (second version), 1912
Vasily Kandinsky, Improvisation 28 (second version), 1912, oil on canvas, 111.4 x 162.1 cm (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker
Vasily Kandinsky, "Klänge (Sounds)"
To learn about other great moments in modern art, take our online course, Modern Art, 1880-1945 or Pigment to Pixel: Color in Modern and Contemporary Art.

Cubism and its impact

The Spaniard Picasso changed the way we see the world. He could draw with academic perfection at a very young age but he gave it up in order to create a language of representation suited to the modern world. Together with the French artist George Braque, Picasso undertook an analysis of form and vision that would inspire radical new visual forms across Europe and in America. This tutorial explains the underlying principles of Cubism and the abstract experiments that followed including Italian Futurism, Russian Suprematism, and the Dutch movement, de Stijl.
Picasso's Early Work
Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein
Inventing Cubism
Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907 (Museum of Modern Art)
Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
Braque, The Viaduct at L'Estaque
Georges Braque, Le Viaduc à L'Estaque, (The Viaduct at L'Estaque), 1908, oil on canvas, 28-5/8 x 23-1/4 inches or 72.5 x 59 cm (Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris). Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker 
Picasso, The Reservoir, Horta de Ebro
Pablo Picasso, The Reservoir, Horta de Ebro, oil on canvas, summer 1909, 24-1/8 x 20-1/8" (MoMA, fractional and promised gift)
Braque, The Portuguese
Braque, The Portuguese (quiz)
Test your knowledge.
Picasso, Still Life with Chair Caning
Picasso, Still-Life with Chair Caning, 1912 (Musée Picasso)
Picasso, Still Life with Chair Caning
Pablo Picasso, "Guitar, Glass, and Bottle"
To learn about other great moments in modern art, take our online course, Modern Art, 1880-1945.
Picasso, Guitar
A conversation between Salman Khan and Steven Zucker about Pablo Picasso's sculpture, Guitar and related work, 1912-14 at The Museum of Modern Art "I have seen what no man has seen before. When Pablo Picasso, leaving aside painting for a moment, was constructing this immense guitar out of sheet metal whose plans could be dispatched to any ignoramus in the universe who could put it together as well as him, I saw Picasso's studio, and this studio, more incredible than Faust's laboratory, this studio which, according to some, contained no works of art, in the old sense, was furnished with the newest of objects... Some witnesses, already shocked by the things that they saw covering the walls, and that they refused to call paintings because they were made of oilcloth, wrapping paper, and newspaper, said, pointing a haughty finger at the object of Picasso's clever pains: "What is it? Does it rest on a pedestal? Does it hang on a wall? What is it, painting or sculpture?' Picasso, dressed in the blue of Parisian artisans, responded in his finest Andalusian voice: 'It's nothing, it's el guitare!'; And there you are! The watertight compartments are demolished. We are delivered from painting and sculpture, which already have been liberated from the idiotic tyranny of genres. It is neither this nor that. It is nothing. It's el guitare!" (André Salmon, New French Painting, August 9, 1919)
Conservation | Picasso's Guitars
Photography helps MoMA conservators determine how to treat Picasso's 1913 Cubist sculpture, Still-Life with Guitar. To learn about how art changes over time, enroll in one of MoMA's courses online.
Picasso, Guernica
Fernand Léger, "Contrast of Forms"
To learn about other great moments in modern art, take our online course, Modern Art, 1880-1945 or Pigment to Pixel: Color in Modern and Contemporary Art.
Robert Delaunay, "Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon"
To learn more about how abstract artists became the radical thinkers of their time, take our online course, Modern Art, 1880-1945 or Pigment to Pixel: Color in Modern and Contemporary Art.
Cubism and its impact (quiz)
Test your knowledge!