Nasher Museum of Art

  • 1998_22_1_v1_700

    RELIGIOUS
    Italian (Florentine), Madonna of Humility, 1390-1420. Tempera and gold leaf on panel, 12 5/8 x 8 5/8 inches (32.1 x 21.9 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Gift in honor of Marilyn M. Segal by Her Family, 1998.22.1.

  • 1987_5_1_v4_700

    LANDSCAPE
    Albert Bierstadt, American, Mountain Brook, The White Mountains, New Hampshire, 1863. Oil on board, 18 1/2 x 15 1/4 inches (47 x 38.7 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Museum purchase with funds provided by Mrs. Fred von Canon, 1987.5.1.

  • 2007_5_1_v2_700

    PORTRAITURE
    Barkley L. Hendricks, Bahsir (Robert Gowens), 1975. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 83 ½ x 66 inches (212.1 x 167.6 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Museum purchase with additional funds provided by Jack Neely, 2007.5.1. © Barkley L. Hendricks. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

  • 2002_31_1_v4_700

    HISTORY
    Francois Gerard, French, Clytemnestra Receiving the News of Iphigenia’s Impending Sacrifice, 1787. Oil on canvas, 30 1/2 x 38 1/4 inches (77.5 x 97.2 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Museum purchase, 2002.31.1. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

  • Henry Schnakenberg

    GENRE
    Henry Schnakenberg, South Beach, Staten Island, 1919. Oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches (76.2 x 91.4 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Anonymous gift, 1976.6.1.

  • 1998_22_8_v1_700

    STILL LIFE
    Daniel Seghers, Dutch and Simon de Vos, Flemish, A Garland of Flowers Surrounding a Mocking of Christ, c. 1643. Oil on canvas, 51 1/2 x 42 inches (130.8 x 106.7 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Gift in honor of Marilyn M. Segal by her family, 1998.22.8. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

  • 1996_9_1_v4_700

    MODERN
    Alexander Iakovlevich Golovin, Russian, Two Visions of Skriabin the Composer, c. 1900-1910. Oil on canvas, 82 x 41 1/4 inches (208.3 x 104.8 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Museum purchase, 1996.9.1. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

  • 2010_13_1_v2_700

    ABSTRACT
    Alma Thomas, Late Night Reflections, 1972.  Acrylic on canvas, 28 3/4 x 44 inches (73 x 111.8 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Museum purchase and bequest of Marjorie Pfeffer by exchange, 2010.13.1. © Estate of Alma W. Thomas. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

  • 2006_6_1_v2_700

    POSTMODERN
    Marlene Dumas, The Woman of Algiers, 2001. Oil on canvas, 79 x 39 1/2 inches (200.7 x 100.3 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Partial and promised gift of Blake Byrne, T’57; 2006.6.1. © Marlene Dumas. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

  • Pecou

    POSTMODERN
    Fahamu Pecou, Nunna My Heros: After Barkley Hendricks’ ‘Icon for My Man Superman,’ 1969, 2011. Acrylic, gold leaf, and oil stick on canvas; 63 x 49 1/2 inches (160 x 125.7 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Gift of Marjorie and Michael Levine, T’84; 2012.8.1. © Fahamu Pecou. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

Background

A painting is a two-dimensional object that is traditionally designed to hang on walls. Some paintings create the illusion of being three-dimensional, while others call attention to the medium’s inherent flatness.

There are different types of paint, depending on what binding medium (or material) is mixed with the pigment (the color). Some common examples are tempera (pigment mixed with egg), oil paint (pigment mixed with oil), and acrylic (pigment mixed with a synthetic plastic). Paintings may be created on many materials, including directly on a wall (see fresco), but canvas, linen, and panel are the most common in the Western tradition of painting.When looking at a painting in a museum, you should always be aware of:

  • The lighting in the gallery. The type and amount of lighting affects how your eye perceives the colors and textures of the painting.
  • The color and texture of the wall. Like the lighting, the surrounding wall alters the way you perceive and see the painting.
  • The frame, or lack of one. Like a window frame, a painting’s frame frames what you see. Does it draw your attention to a particular element in the painting? If so, to what and how so? If there is no frame, how does that affect the way you see the painting?

Once you have noted these factors, turn your attention to the painting itself. Standing directly in front of it, move as close or far away as necessary so that the painting fills your visual field. (Be careful not to get so close that you set off any security alarms.)

Look by Genre and Style

There are some general types, or genres, of painting, such as religious, landscape, portrait, still life, history, genre (scenes of everyday life – note that “genre painting” differs from “genres of paintings”), and animals. These genres were codified and ranked hierarchically by Western European art academies, particularly in France, beginning in the 17th century. (Most art history survey books provide an overview of the French Academy system.)

At the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, more and more painters began challenging academic traditions and experimenting with different styles of painting. These artists explored ways to connect to the world, their emotions, and the public without having to paint naturalistic resemblances or even easily identifiable imagery. This was the period when modernism in art began.

Some scholars argue that a postmodern attitude in art emerged in the late 1960s through the 1980s, characterized by eclectic, cultural pluralism, or artists combining multiple references to old ideas, images, or styles in the same composition. Whether the period of modernism ended with postmodernism is still debated. Regardless, there has been a general shift from modernism to the art of today.

Contemporary painters tend to focus more on concepts and ideas, rather than on aesthetics, and challenge the definition of what art is or should be. Many are well-versed in critical theory and create art that engages with issues of ethnicity, class, gender, and social inequities.

So how do you look at different genres and styles of painting? What questions should you ask? Once you have considered the general questions about how to look at a work of art, click on the appropriate genre or style below for some more specific questions. You may also be interested in the handout from Duke University’s Writing Studio, “Visual Rhetoric/Visual Literacy: Writing about Paintings.” 

Religious Painting

Religious paintings are full of symbolic content that followers of the religion should be able to decipher.

  • Are symbols used to convey meaning in the image? What are they? What do they signify?

Once you have identified what you see in the painting, you may want to look through an encyclopedia of symbols or other sources to make sense of the meaning. (Studying the meaning of symbols in art is called “iconography.”)

Also consider the following questions:

  • What is the religious tradition behind the image?
  • Does the painting illustrate a story or concept?
  • What is the setting? Where is the scene located and during what time period? Why do you think the artist selected this setting? What is the significance of the setting?
  • What message did/does the painting communicate?
  • Is the painting a single, discrete work? Or is it part of an altarpiece, a diptych (two panels), triptych (three panels), or polyptych (several, or more than three, panels)? Be aware that some older polyptychs may have been taken apart and some panels may be missing or separated from the rest.
  • What materials were used to create the painting? How is this a reflection, or not, of the time period and/or the religious beliefs contained within the image?
  • Where was the painting originally designed to hang or be displayed? What function was it intended to serve? What might the size of the image reveal about its original placement, function, or owner?

Landscape Painting

Landscape paintings may be true representations of a particular landscape at a given time, but they may also be idealized scenes, loaded with symbolic meaning. Note the date the painting was created and the location of the scene, if provided, and consider the following questions:

  • Does the landscape look realistic and true-to-life, or is it distorted, fantastic, idealized, or romanticized? What do you think the artist was trying to communicate by painting in such a manner?
  • Does it look chaotic and wild or ordered, balanced, and harmonious? Why do you think this is? What sort of emotion is conveyed?
  • What place is depicted? Is this a real or imagined location? If it is real, did the artist leave anything out or emphasize something in particular? Why do you think the artist did so?
  • Do you see any buildings, people, animals, or modes of transportation? Do you see signs of human civilization? What do you think the artist was trying to communicate by including these elements?
    • What style are the buildings? What is their physical condition?
    • What are the people wearing?
    • What sort of animals are there? Are people interacting with the animals? In what way?
    • What scale are the buildings, people, animals, or vehicles in relation to the landscape? Why do you think this is?
  • Was the artist depicting the present or imagining another time period? How can you tell? What does this contribute to your interpretation of the painting’s meaning?
  • What effects did the artist use to represent light and weather? How do these elements affect the mood and emotion of the painting?
  • Did the artist place more emphasis on the land or the sky? Why do you think this is?

Portraiture

Portraits may be images the artist painted of him- or herself (known as “self-portraits”) or images the artist painted of other individuals or multiple people.

  • Who is the subject(s)? If there are multiple subjects, what is their relationship to each other?
  • What is the subject wearing?
  • How much of the subject’s body do you see?
  • How is the subject positioned? Which way is s/he facing? What does his/her body language tell you about the subject?
  • Is the subject’s body “real” or “idealized”? Does the subject’s body look proportionally accurate? What about the subject’s age (if you know the age of the subject at the time of the painting)?
  • What is the setting and what is the subject’s relationship to the setting? Does the subject interact with his/her surroundings? How so?
  • What meaning do these elements contribute to your understanding of the subject? What message do these aspects communicate?

History Painting

In the academic tradition, history painting was regarded as the highest genre of painting. Usually intended for public display, history paintings are therefore often large in scale. They often tell moral stories through their imagery, which is realistic and relatively easy to decipher, although you will probably have to do some research to fully understand some of the references in their historical context.[1]

  • What narrative does the painting depict? Is it a commonly known episode from history or a more esoteric one?
  • Can you find a moral message in the painting?
  • In what way would this contribute to the well-being of society? What was happening in society at the time the artist painted the composition?
  • Who do you think might have wanted or commissioned (ordered to be made) a painting of this subject?

Genre Painting

Genre paintings show scenes of everyday life. They often include images of people engaged in daily activities like working or drinking, picturesque representations of the poor, and scenes suggestive of sex. Genre paintings could be interpreted as communicating moral lessons about such things as the dangers of alcohol or losing one’s virginity, or about the virtues of hard work. Genre paintings may also be analyzed for how they humanize their subjects and offer insights into the social world of the period.

  • Can you identify a moral message in the painting? What message do you think the painter wanted to convey?
  • Are there multiple ways of understanding the painting? (Consider viewers of different backgrounds, social status, and belief systems.)
  • In what way would the painting’s message contribute to the well-being of society at the time it was made? Is there a general “life lesson” to be learned from the painting?

Still Life

Still life paintings can depict a range of inanimate domestic objects and materials, including food, plants, dishes, and other artifacts. Some may look so realistic that they tantalize multiple senses, causing you to imagine smelling, tasting, touching, hearing, and seeing the things in person.

While still lifes may appear to be simple depictions of real things that the artist arranged and then painted from observation, they are often full of symbolic and/or allegorical content. For instance, a skull or a burning candle is a memento mori (a reminder of death). A pomegranate, in contrast, is associated with fertility, life, and rebirth. Once you have identified what you see in the painting, you may want to look through an encyclopedia of symbols or other well-researched source to make sense of the meaning. (Studying the meaning of symbols in art is called “iconography.”)

  • What objects and materials are represented?
  • In what condition are they (blooming, rotting, partially eaten, peeled, polished and shiny, chipped and/or dull, etc.)? What do you think this could signify?
  • Where do the objects and materials come from? What might this contribute to the meaning? What might the objects’ origins tell you about the society in which the artist worked?
  • Why do you think the artist chose the objects and materials s/he selected? What is their significance?
  • What is the setting depicted in the painting? Where have the objects been placed? What is their arrangement like (ordered or messy, precise or casual, etc.)? What do you think the setting and arrangement could mean?

Modern Painting

The term “modern” implies various meanings, but particularly of being new and up-to-date.

In art, “Modernism” refers to the period that began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when many artists broke with academic traditions by pursuing other subjects and techniques.[2] (Be aware that scholars are still debating precisely when Modernism began.) The term “avant-garde” is often used to describe the Modern artists who were pioneers of developing a new visual language. (“Avant-garde” was a French military term that referred to the group of soldiers who went first in an army. As with Modernism, there are differing definitions of and dates for the avant-garde.)

  • How has the artist broken with academic tradition?

There is no single style of Modernism, but it is possible to recognize similar characteristics within the numerous movements, or “isms” that fall under the umbrella of Modernism. Early movements of Modernism include Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Expressionism, and Suprematism. (Art history textbooks have overviews of the movements.)

  • What movement is the painter associated with? What characteristics of the movement can you identify in the painting?

It is also possible to identify some shared attitudes among Modern painters. First and foremost, they challenged the need for painters to create lifelike representations. With the development of photography, it was no longer necessary for painters to document what occurred in the real world. They could instead focus on finding new ways of expressing their emotions; evoking states of spirituality, mystery, or psychological anxiety; exploring fantasy and the imagination; representing dreams; communicating social concerns; or providing a vision for a future utopian society.

  • What do you think the artist was trying to communicate through his/her painting?

Significantly, in the early 20th century numerous Western European artists encountered in museums and acquired for the first time carved masks and statues from various African cultures; textiles, carpets, and miniature paintings from different Islamic cultures; woodblock prints from Japan; and objects from the Pacific Islands.[3] They saw these objects both as “primitive” (as opposed to “cultured” and “civilized”) and as aesthetic objects.[4] Such objects were previously seen primarily as curiosities. Modern artists who wanted to challenge academic traditions, however, considered the objects’ imagined primitiveness to be a positive characteristic. They viewed the objects as using a visual language that was untainted by Western European culture and the Academy. Moreover, the Modern artists believed that the peoples who made the objects were more attuned to their emotions, to nature, and to the spiritual world. Attempting to reach a similar state, the artists embraced the imagined primitiveness of the objects and adopted the visual imagery of the objects in their own artworks.

  • Do you see any references to non-Western cultures? If so, how has the artist pictured these elements? What do they convey?

While most Modern paintings have recognizable imagery, the colors may not always correspond to what you would see in the real world and there may not be any attempt at creating the illusion of three-dimensionality. You may instead see simplified forms, noticeable brushstrokes, bright and saturated colors, and decorative patterns.

  • What is the subject matter?
  • How do the colors affect your interpretation of the subject matter? What about the perspective, or lack thereof?

Abstract and Non-Objective Painting

“Is it necessary for a painting to actually picture anything at all in order to be considered a work of art? What is the distinction between a painting and a mere pattern?” – Charles Harrison[5]

In the Modern era, painting became an increasingly autonomous activity—a thing in its own right, or “art for art’s sake”—and some artists questioned whether it was necessary to picture anything recognizable in a painting. They began creating abstract and non-objective paintings.[6]

  • If there is no recognizable subject matter, what do you see? What do you feel? Why do you think you feel that way?
  • What, if anything, does the painting’s title tell you about the content and/or meaning?
  • Does a painting have to have an identifiable subject to be a painting? Is it sufficient for a painting to elicit an emotional or spiritual response in the viewer through color, pattern, size, or another attribute?

Postmodern and Contemporary Painting

The idea of Modernism is connected to the notion of originality. What could painters do after abstraction? Where could they go?

In the late 1960s and 1970s, there was a feeling that Modernism had run its course. The previously held belief that art’s development followed a single, progressive trajectory that ended in Modernism was an illusion. Recognizing that there is no single criterion for evaluating a work of art, artists embraced pluralism, producing works in myriad styles, using a wide variety of media, and often alluding or making direct visual references to earlier artworks. Some intellectuals described this period as Postmodernism, although there is no consensus about whether Postmodernism really is an age after Modernism or whether it is another “ism” of Modernism. Contemporary painters tend to focus on concepts and ideas, rather than on aesthetics.

  • Does the painting refer to earlier works of art and/or to current or historical events? Look at both the visual composition and the title.
    • Example: The title of Marlene Dumas’s painting, The Woman of Algiers, 2001, refers to paintings by Eugène Delacroix and Pablo Picasso, but the visual imagery refers to a photograph taken in 1960 of Algeria’s civil war that was printed and censored with black bars in a Dutch newspaper in 2001, which Dumas saw.
  • How is identity represented, challenged, or questioned in the painting?
  • Do you think there is meaning beyond the visual surface? If so, what do you think the artist was trying to communicate? 

Want to know more?

Common terms

Composition – the organization or arrangement of forms in an artwork

Picture plane – the imaginary or perceived plane that divides the viewer from the space represented in the painting

Foreground – the part of the picture that appears closest to the viewer

Background – the part of the picture that appears furthest away from the viewer

Horizon line – the part of the picture where the land and sky appear to meet

Perspective – a system for representing three-dimensions on a two-dimensional surface (e.g., linear perspective, aerial perspective)

Modeling – the suggestion of three-dimensional form in a painting (e.g., through shading); an additive process of creating a sculpture with a material like clay

Oil paint – pigment mixed with oil

Tempera – pigment mixed with egg

Acrylic – synthetic, thermoplastic paint medium

Fresco – a painting made by applying pigment to wet plaster

Hue – color; property of a color that allows it to be perceived

Value – relative darkness or lightness of a color

Saturation – the intensity or purity of the color

Chiaroscuro – the gradations of light and dark in a painting or drawing

Grisaille – a painting technique that uses only shades of gray

Diptych – two panels that are hinged so they can be folded together

Triptych – three panels, often with the outer two panels hinged so that they can be folded over to cover the central panel

Polyptych – many panels, often in the form of an altarpiece

Iconography – the study of subject matter in art and how particular subjects have been presented over time. Art historian Erwin Panofsky differentiated between “iconography” (the identification of visual content) and “iconology” (the analysis of the meaning of the visual content), but today the term iconography is most common and it implies both the identification and analysis of the subject matter.

Patron – person or group who commissions or finances a work of art

Works in the Nasher’s Collection

Bibliography

General

Hall, James. Dictionary of Signs and Symbols in Art. Boulder: Westview Press, 2008.

Harrison, Charles. An Introduction to Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009.
Kirby, Jo. Techniques of Painting. London: National Gallery Company, distributed by Yale University Press, 2011.

Pierce, James Smith. From Abacus to Zeus: A Handbook of Art History. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2004.

Religious Painting

Aston, Nigel. Art and Religion in Eighteenth-Century Europe. London: Reaktion Books, 2009. (available as an e-book through Duke Libraries)

Ferguson, George. Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966.

Howes, Graham. The Art of the Sacred: An Introduction to the Aesthetics of Art and Belief. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007.

Morgan, David. The Embodied Eye: Religious Visual Culture and the Social Life of Feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Landscape Painting

Lambert, Ray. John Constable and the Theory of Landscape Painting. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Mingsong, Geng. Landscape Painting in Ancient China. Edited by Li Xiangping. Translated by Shao Daj. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press, 2007.

Novak, Barbara. Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Roslak, Robin. Neo-Impressionism and Anarchism in Fin-de-Siècle France: Painting, Politics and Landscape. Aldershot, England and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2007.

Sutton, Peter C. The Golden Age of Dutch Landscape Painting. Madrid: Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, 2004.

Wilton, Andrew. American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820-1880. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Portraiture

Alarcó, Paloma. The Mirror & the Mask: Portraiture in the Age of Picasso. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Berger, Harry. Fictions of the Pose: Rembrandt against the Italian Renaissance. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Campbell, Lorne. Renaissance Portraits: European Portrait Painting in the 14th, 15th, and 16th Centuries. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Carr, Carolyn Kinder, and Ellen G. Miles. A Brush with History: Paintings from the National Portrait Gallery. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2001.

Perkinson, Stephen. The Likeness of the King: A Prehistory of Portraiture in Late Medieval France. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Powell, Richard J. Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Reaves, Wendy Wick, ed. Reflections/Refractions: Self-Portraiture in the Twentieth Century. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2009.

Retford, Kate. The Art of Domestic Life: Family Portraiture in Eighteenth-Century England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

History Painting

Burnham, Patricia M., ed. Redefining American History Painting. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Duro, Paul. The Academy and the Limits of Painting in Seventeenth-Century France. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Eisenman, Stephen F. Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History. Fourth edition. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2011.

Flavio, Febbraro. How to Read World History in Art. New York: Abrams, 2010.

Predergast, Christopher. Napoleon and History Painting: Antoine-Jean Gros’s La Bataille d’Eylau. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Schneider, Norbert. Historienmalerei: vom Spätmittelalter bis zum 19. Jahrhundert. Cologne: Böhlau, 2010. (in German)

Genre Painting

Conisbee, Philip, ed. French Genre Painting in the Eighteenth Century. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, distributed by Yale University Press, 2007.

Franits, Wayne E. Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting: Its Stylistic and Thematic Evolution. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Johns, Elizabeth. American Genre Painting: The Politics of Everyday Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Salomon, Nanette. Shifting Priorities: Gender and Genre in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.

Still Life

Berger, Harry. Caterpillage: Reflections on Seventeenth Century Dutch Still Life Painting. New York: Fordham University Press, 2011.

Bryson, Norman. Looking at the Overlooked: Four Essays on Still Life Painting. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Jordan, William B., and Peter Cherry. Spanish Still Life from Velázquez to Goya. London: National Gallery Publications, 1995.

Salerno, Luigi. Still Life Painting in Italy, 1560–1805. Rome: Bozzi, 1984.

Sander, Jochen. The Magic of Things: Still-Life Painting, 1500-1800. Ostfildern: Hatje-Cantz Verlag, 2008.

Spike, John T. The Sense of Pleasure: A Collection of Still Life Paintings. Milan: Skira, 2002.

Modern Painting (includes Abstract and Non-Objective Painting)

Butler, Christopher. Modernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Clark, T.J. Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Clark, T.J. The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers. Revised edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Dawtrey, Liz, Toby Jackson, Mary Masterton, and Pam Meecham, eds. Investigating Modern Art. Milton Keynes: The Open University, 1996.

Dempsey, Amy. Styles, Schools and Movements: The Essential Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern Art. New and expanded edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2010.

Eisenman, Stephen F. Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002.

Fer, Briony, David Batchelor, and Paul Wood. Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism: Art between the Wars. New Haven: Yale University Press, in association with The Open University, 1993.

Fineberg, Jonathan. Art since 1940. Third edition. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 2010.

Foster, Hal, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, and David Joselit. Art since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism. Second edition. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2011. (two-volume survey)

Frascina, Francis, Tamar Garb, Nigel Blake, Briony Fer, and Charles Harrison. Modernity and Modernism: French Painting in the Nineteenth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, in association with The Open University, 1993.

Gaiger, Jason. Frameworks for Modern Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, in association with The Open University, 2004.

Gaiger, Jason, and Paul Wood. Art of the Twentieth Century: A Reader. New Haven: Yale University Press, in association with The Open University, 2003.

Harrison, Charles. Modernism. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Harrison, Charles, Francis Frascina, and Gill Perry. Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, in association with The Open University, 1993.

Lloyd, Jill. German Expressionism: Primitivism and Modernity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Moszynska, Anna. Abstract Art. London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 1990.

Nelson, Robert S., and Richard Shiff, eds. Critical Terms for Art History. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003. (see especially “Modernism” by Charles Harrison, “Avant-Garde” by Ann Gibson, and “Primitive” by Mark Antliff and Patricia Leighten)

Thompson, Jon. How to Read a Modern Painting: Understanding and Enjoying the Modern Masters. London: Thames & Hudson, 2006.

Weston, Richard. Modernism. London: Phaidon, 1996.

Witkovsky, Matthew S., ed. Avant-Garde Art in Everyday Life: Early Twentieth-Century European Modernism. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 2011.

Wood, Paul. Varieties of Modernism. New Haven: Yale University Press, in association with The Open University, 2004.

Wood, Paul, and Steve Edwards. Art of the Avant-gardes. New Haven: Yale University Press, in association with The Open University, 2004.

Wood, Paul, Francis Frascina, Jonathan Harris, and Charles Harrison. Modernism in Dispute: Art since the Forties. New Haven: Yale University Press, in association with The Open University, 1993.

Postmodern and Contemporary Painting

Archer, Michael. Art since 1960. New edition. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002.

Butler, Christopher. Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Fineberg, Jonathan. Art since 1940. Third edition. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 2010.

Foster, Hal, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, and David Joselit. Art since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism. Second edition. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2011. (two-volume survey)

Hopkins, David. After Modern Art, 1945-2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Jones, Amelia, ed. A Companion to Contemporary Art since 1945. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Inc., 2006.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. Movements in Art since 1945. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001.

Stallabrass, Julian. Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.


[1] Because history painters frequently drew on classical and religious texts for inspiration for their compositions, in the Academy, religious paintings generally fell under the genre of history paintings.

[2] See Charles Harrison, An Introduction to Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 85, 130-139.

[3] For example, Maurice de Vlaminck, a French painter associated with Fauvism, acquired some African sculptures around 1905. In 1907, Pablo Picasso visited the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris and he included some African and Pacific forms in his famous painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon that same year. Similarly, German Expressionists artists like Emil Nolde and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner were inspired by works in ethnographic museums and, in Nolde’s case, also by trips to the Pacific Islands. (See Roger Cardinal, “Primitivism,” Grove Art Online, Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T069588.

[4] For a thorough discussion of “primitivism,” see Mark Antliff and Patricia Leighten, “Primitive,” in Critical Terms for Art History, edited by Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003), 217-233.

[5] Harrison, An Introduction to Art, 139.

[6] Although the terms “abstract” and “non-objective” are sometimes used interchangeably, they differ somewhat in meaning. See explanations of both terms in Oxford Art Online, www.oxfordartonline.com. Also, bear in mind that artists created abstract and non-objective works for many different reasons, including wanting to move beyond the recognizable world in order to focus on the spiritual, to explore the idea of balance, to uncover underlying structures, to express one’s inner emotions, and to emphasize the medium and process of painting, among others.