Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud

Departure to Modernism

When artists began working in the 20th century with expressive colours, abstract forms, and a new concept of art that also included everyday items, this was seen as a break with tradition. In fact these new developments had their roots in the late 19th century, when the divide between artistic tradition and a reality characterised by technology, industrialisation and social tensions became increasingly apparent.

In place of slick, gracefully modelled salon-style painting came energetic brushstrokes and sketchy allusions to details. The “Impressionists” transformed the landscape from the reproduction of nature into a fleeting splash of colour. Simultaneously the “Pointillists” (from the word “point”) drew on scientific findings to introduce system to these methods, and pieced together their paintings from tiny dots of colour which only merge together inside the viewer’s eye. Both directions led to a liberation of colour from the object.

Other works focused on everyday objects. Random sections of images were selected rather like snapshots to emphasise minor, incidental matters. Flat, planar representations stood in complete contradiction to the spatial illusionism that previously held sway in art. The outward appearance of things gave way to geometrical structure. And for the first time colour could achieve a purely subjective value and serve to express an emotional state.