Twentieth–Century Impressions: Experimentations (1910s–1930s)

Marsden Hartley, American Indian Symbols, Oil on canvas, 1914 (1999.8) Julian Onderdonk, A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas, Oil on canvas, 1918, Purchased with funds from the Ruth Carter Stevenson Acquisitions Endowment, in honor of Lady Bird Johnson (1998.10) Georgia O' Keeffe, Ranchos Church, New Mexico, Oil on canvas, 1930-31 (1971.16)

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In the years before and after World War I, many artists worked outside of America’s well-established artistic traditions. They rebelled against professional associations, juried exhibitions, and conservative tastes. Their aim was to develop modern, totally original American art forms. Two groups of artists emerged to challenge the status quo: one focused on creating a new realism, and the other looked to Europe’s avant-garde art movements for inspiration.

Several of the artists, whose works appear here, including Marsden Hartley and Georgia O’Keeffe, are associated with the influential photographer and dealer Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946), who ran a succession of New York galleries from 1905 until 1946. For nearly half a century, he, more than any other individual, promoted, encouraged, and nurtured a distinctly American version of modernism.

The artists commonly known as modernists were continually experimenting. They refined their techniques, adapted new materials, and purified their compositions to create a powerful visual language that emphasized color and form. As they grappled with nonrepresentational modes of expression, they explored the connections between music and art, color and spirituality, and nature and abstraction. They stripped away unnecessary elements from their art, concentrating instead on finding those forms that best reflected their feelings.


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