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Post-War (1920-1944) art movements in Western art belong to the broader group of the Modernist movement, which self-consciously rejected the past as a model for the art of the present. Post-War is a period in the history of art which includes a number of movements, from Expressionism, Futurism (1909-1944), Dada or Dadaism (1916-1924) to Abstract Expressionism, which was an American post–World War II art movement that lasted until the late 1950’s.

Post-War art movements in Western art belong to the broader group of the Modernist movement, which self-consciously rejected the past as a model for the art of the present. The art and aesthetics of Modernism proposed new forms, on the grounds that these were more appropriate for the present time; characterized by constant innovation, modernist works of art often featured utopian components and were generally associated with ideal visions of human life and society which believed in progress. Scholars refer to the terms Modernism and Modern Art as the succession of art movements that critics and historians have identified since the above mentioned Realism of French painting of the 1850’s, culminating in abstract art and its developments up to the 1960’s.


Conceived in opposition to Impressionism, Expressionism is particularly associated with Modern German art and aims to represent the world solely from a subjective perspective, radically distorting it for emotional effect. Expressionist artists sought to evoke moods, emotional drama or emotive angst and their painting is characterised by the use of intense, pure, at times non-naturalistic colour, applied with free and textured brushwork. The painters of the Expressionist generation were caught in a gruelling historical context at the verge of the First World War, featured with human struggle and social collapse; several of them witnessed wartime atrocities, fought in the battlefield and returned to ravaged countries. The two most important Expressionist groups at the ‘institutional’ level were ‘Die Bruecke’ (meaning: The Bridge) and ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ (meaning: The Blue Rider). ‘Die Bruecke’ was founded in Dresden in 1905 and may have conveyed to the idea of a bridge between the artist seen as a special person and society at large, whereas the group of ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ originated in 1909 in the city of Munich. The source of the name is not entirely clear but it might refer to the artists’ symptomatic turn back to nature symbolized by the horse, combined with a mystical attribution of the colour blue, which seemed to have a special importance for Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky, both among the chief Expressionist painters.

Key Artists: Ernst Kirchner (1880-1938), Paul Klee (1879-1940), August Macke (1887-1914), Franz Marc (1880-1916), Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Emil Nolde (1867-1956), Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944).

Futurism (1909-1944)

Futurism was a movement launched by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti with his Futurist Manifesto, which he published for the first time in 1909, both in Italy and France. The weight of the past culture was felt as particularly oppressive in Italy, hence the outstanding vehement nature of this movement which expressed a passionate loathing of everything old, especially political, and artistic tradition. The Futurists venerated technology in its broader connotation, i.e. speed, cars, airplanes and the industrial city which they saw as the technological and scientific triumph of humanity over nature. Countering the institutional museum tradition that characterized Italy’s artistic scenery, the Futurists proposed an art that would celebrate the modern world of industry and technology. Specifically referring to painting, Futurists artists used elements of Neo-Impressionism and Cubism to create compositions that expressed the idea of dynamism, energy and movement of modern life.

Key Artists: Carlo Carra’ (1881-1966), Gino Severini (1883-1966), Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), Giacomo Balla 1871-1958).

Dada or Dadaism (1916-1924)

Dada or Dadaism is a cultural movement that began in Zurich, neutral Switzerland, during the First World War; starting in 1916, with Hugo Ball’s Dada Manifesto, who made a political statement about his views on the terrible state of society; the movement lasted until 1924. Rooted in the concept of anti-war politics, Dadaism involved literature, poetry, visual arts and theatre and fully rejected the prevailing standards in art through the introduction of anti-art works in the artistic and cultural milieu. The purpose was to ridicule what the Dadaists considered to be the meaninglessness of the modern world, expressing strong anti-bourgeois and anarchic messages with their productions. One of the most glaring and provocative examples of Dada was offered by the French artist Marcel Duchamp, who submitted his work Fountain, a plain urinal, to the exhibition of Society of Independent Artists in 1917—which then was rejected from the show.

Key Artists: Hans Arp (1886-1966), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948).

Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism was an American post-World War II art movement that lasted until the late 1950’s. It was the first explicitly American current to achieve worldwide influence and put New York City at the center of the western art world—a role formerly filled by Paris. The term ‘abstract expressionism’ has been discernibly sourced from the German expressionism, bearing the components of emotional intensity, angst and self-denial, yet merged with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools, as for instance Futurism and Cubism. Occasionally, Abstract expressionism featured rebellious, anarchic, highly idiosyncratic elements too. Abstract expressionists can be divided in two broad groupings; on the one hand the action painters, as for instance Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. They worked in a spontaneous improvisatory manner often using large brushes to make sweeping gestural marks. On the other hand, the colour-field painters, as for example Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, who were deeply interested in religion and myth, hence creating simple compositions with large areas of a single colour intended to produce a contemplative or meditational response to the viewer.

Key Artists: Barnett Newman (1905-1970), Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Mark Rothko (1903-1970), Clyfford Still (1904-1980).