Twentieth Century Western Painting, from Fauvism to Pop Art
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Twentieth Century Western Painting, from Fauvism to Pop Art

Traces the painting styles and forms during the 20th-century, with the most prominent painters of the movements.

Broadly, the 20th century’s western paintings include Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Minimalism and Pop Art. This article briefly profiles these different forms and styles and the prominent artists of the movements. The creations of these painters are found in modern artists galleries.  


The Fauves which means “wild beasts” were a loosely connected group of painters including Parisians Henri Matisse, André Derain, and Maurice de Vlaminck. They painted in bold, non-naturalistic colors and distorted images in a way that critics of the time reviled as primitive. Fauvism was most influential on German Expressionism.


Expressionism describes work that reflects the artist’s emotions rather than a subject. The movement arose simultaneously in various countries beginning about 1905. German Expressionists dominated the movement, in particular, Die Brücke (The Bridge) group. Leading Expressionists included Max Beckmann and Russian-born Wassily Kandinsky. Emotionally, this form was ridden with anxiety that dwelt on the darker aspects of life.


European art was changed forever by the works of Spaniard Pablo Picasso and Frenchman George Braque. Inspired by post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne and the cultures of Africa, Micronesia, and the Americas, the two artists produced works of such originality that they’re considered the forerunners of all abstract art. This style fractures reality into angles and planes, as if the viewer were seeing through all sides of a prism at once.


In Zurich (1916), an intellectual anti-war movement called Dadaism was established.  Dada exponents blamed World War I on bourgeois society and saw their “anti-art” movement as a rejection of cultural and political norms. Short-lived, the Dada movement flourished in Europe from 1916-1920.


According to its proponent André Breton, Surrealism is art “free from the exercise of reason.”  Objects are distorted and appear in random places and scenes appear dreamlike. The surrealists were not supposed to be “rational” and “normal” as they relied on the subconscious. The Surrealists included Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, and René Magritte.

Abstract Expressionism

In Abstract Expressionism, the artists valued spontaneity and instinct over realism, which is an attitude more than the style itself.  The main exponent of this “Action Painting” form was Jackson Pollock with paintings literally pouring and dripping paint over the canvases.   


The Minimalist paintings tried to take out all non-essential elements. Prominent minimalists include Ad Reinhardt and Agnes Martin. Minimalism has influenced fine art, film, music, design, literature and architecture.

Pop Art

The Pop Art style emerged in Great Britain and reached its height in 1960’s New York with the work of Andy Warhol one of the most prominent. With consumerism as its inspiration, art was taken to the masses. One of the most popular, Warhol’s painting, is that of Campbell’s Soup.

The 20th century artists were mainly influenced by the two world wars and all other kinds of upheavals they were under.       

Image Source:  Chagall’s I and the Village, Wiki Creative Commons



Aldridge, Susan, Elizabeth K. Humphrey and Julie Whitaker. Know It All.  Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

Bolton, Roy. A Brief History of Painting. London: Magpie Books, 2006

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Comments (4)
Ranked #1 in Art & Art History

Excellent and concise overview, thanks.

Thanks, Michael. G'day!

I love love love Fauvism and German Expressionism. Have you ever seen the book Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant Garde in Nazi Germany?

Hi Judith, Thanks for mentioning the book. I've noted it down so I can hunt for it. ;) Cheers!