Paint, draw (invent?) The modern world at the Milwaukee Art Museum

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“Degas to Picasso: Creating Modernism in France” may sound like the title of a big art history textbook, but it’s actually a rather intimate exhibition. Yes, intimate despite the fact that this stylistic investigation takes place through approximately 150 drawings, paintings, prints and sculptures in the Baker / Rowland Galleries of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

By following in the chronological footsteps of dozens of important artists, we begin in what one might call a pre-modern phase. Artists active in the late 18th and early 19th centuries are represented by drawings representing the academic standards of the time. The naturalistic representation of the world and the creation of beautiful figures were paramount, as well as the ability to tell a good story through pictures. Discover the powerful pieces of artists like Théodore Géricault and his compassionate portrayal of soldiers on their long journey home, or a mysterious little landscape by French novelist Victor Hugo.

Throughout the galleries, mural texts describe new approaches and the curious, sometimes rebellious interests of progressive artists. What is unique is the predominance of works on paper to illustrate these points. While artists produced prints as fully “finished” pieces, drawings and sketches were generally a more personal artistic property. A drawing was not something typically intended for exhibition but rather as the artist’s laboratory where ideas were developed. Other examples in the exhibit are delightful sketches, quick and charming gifts sent with letters to friends and colleagues.

Impressionism and Post-Impressionism are represented by important artists like Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, each exploring new modes of representation through their unique approaches. Then, we enter the 20th century and the emergence of cubism. Abstract art was taking on its full meaning and the traditional notion that an image had to look like something real and recognizable was fading. Modern art has become less of a story to tell than an investigation of style and construction. He shows us the world in imagined ways through the artist’s singular vision. As the world around them changed, so did the inventive art of the Modernists.


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Until January 28 at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Drive.

Kat Knees

Kat Kneevers is a Milwaukee-based writer, musician and artist. In the several years she has been covering art, the scene has evolved in many ways and she looks forward to sharing her observations with you.

Read more about Kat Kneevers

Dec. 26, 2017

4:13 p.m.


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