English artists. 6 masters who changed the world art

Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of a Lady in Blue (detail). 1778-1782

The artists of which country have contributed most to development of the world art?

When hearing this question, French artists are often thought of. And the Dutch. And of course, no one doubts the influence of Italian Renaissance.

However, if we consider the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, the English artists’ achievements are worth mentioning.

During this time period, several outstanding masters worked in the country of foggy Albion, who completely changed the world art.

1. William Hogarth (1697-1764)

William Hogarth. Self-portrait. 1745
William Hogarth. Self-portrait. 1745. The Tate Gallery, London

It was a difficult time Hogarth lived in. At the beginning off the 18th century in England, the bourgeois society had just appeared substituting for the feudal one.

Moral values were vague. Mercenariness and greed for wealth at any cost were seriously considered to be strong points.

Hogarth decided not to keep silent. But tried to open his countrymen’s eyes and show them decay of moral values. By using paintings and engravings.

He began with the series of paintings “A Harlot’s Progress”. Unfortunately, there are no paintings remained. We have only engravings left.

William Hogarth. A Harlot’s Progress: Caught by a Bawd. Engraving. 1732.
William Hogarth. A Harlot’s Progress: Caught by a Bawd. Engraving. 1732.

It’s a real story of a village girl called Mary, who came to a city to look for her luck. But fell into clutches of an old bawd.

We can see this scene on the first engraving. After becoming a fancy woman, she spent her short life among social outcasts.

Hogarth deliberately turned his paintings into engravings to distribute them widely. Thus, he tried to reach as many people as he could.

He wanted to warn not only poor girls like Mary, but noble people as well. This can be seen from the series of his works “Marriage a la Mode”.

The story described was extremely typical for that time. An impoverished aristocrat marries a daughter of a wealthy merchant. However, it is only a deal that implies no accord of hearts.

The most famous painting of the series “The Tete-a-Tete” demonstrates the emptiness of their relationship.

William Hogarth. Marriage a la Mode. The Tete-a-Tete. 1743.
William Hogarth. Marriage a la Mode. The Tete-a-Tete. 1743. The National Gallery of London

The wife had spent the night having fun with guests. And the husband returned home only in the morning, feeling ruined by revelry (judging by a spot on his neck, he already suffered from syphilis).

The Countess stretches her arms and is about to yawn. On her face, we can see that she is completely indifferent to her husband. No wonder. She has an extradyadic affair.

The story has a sad end. The husband will find his wife in bed with her lover and will be stabbed to death in a duel. The lover will be hanged. And the Countess will commit suicide.

Hogarth wasn’t just a caricaturist. He was too talented for that. His colour combinations were too complex and harmonious and the paintings were incredibly expressive.

You can easily “read” his paintings, understanding the relationship between people.

William Hogarth. Marriage a la Mode. The Duel and the Count’s Death. 1743.
William Hogarth. Marriage a la Mode. The Duel and the Count’s Death. 1743. The National Gallery of London

It’s difficult to overestimate Hogarth’s merits. After all, he invented the critical realism. He was the one to depict so many conflicts and social dramas in painting. Hogarth inspired Francisco Goya to create his famous Caprichos.

2. Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)

Joshua Reynolds. Self-portrait. 1747.
Joshua Reynolds. Self-portrait. 1747. The National Portrait Gallery, London

There are only few painters in the world who were basking in the spotlight when alive and at the same time managed to survive in the descendants’ memory. An English artist Joshua Reynolds was one of those lucky ones.

Since childhood, he knew that the only thing he wanted was to paint. He gained recognition quickly. Indeed, his talent was complimented by a suitable character. Sociable and energetic. In every respect, he won the clients’ hearts easily.

No wonder that once Reynolds became the most influential official in the world of art. At the age of 45, he was elected the President of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Joshua Reynolds. Portrait of Colonel Banastre Tarleton. 1782.
Joshua Reynolds. Portrait of Colonel Banastre Tarleton. 1782. The National London Gallery

Using an appropriate suit, environment or landscape, expression on the face and postures, Reynolds could reveal a person’s most advantageous qualities.

This is true about the portrait of Colonel Tarleton.

It’s the best solution to show the truly courageous man of action against the background of flying colours and clouds of smoke. And the drawing of a sword successfully hides the hand with fingers lost in a battle.

When painting female portraits, Reynolds, undoubtedly, emphasized tenderness and beauty. But he never forgot about the heroine’s character.

Joshua Reynolds. Countess of Harrington. 1779.
Joshua Reynolds. Countess of Harrington. 1779. The Huntington Gallery, San Marino, USA

One can clearly see at once that the Countess of Harrington is a self-assured person. But the artist softens it with an appropriate scenery and dress. Assurance is clearly flattering to such a lady.

In his last years he didn’t see well. And didn’t touch the brush any more. But one order he couldn’t refuse. His client was Catherine II.

Since then, there are several late works by Reynolds in the Hermitage Museum. Including “Venus and Cupid”.

Joshua Reynolds. Cupid Untying the Girdle of Venus. 1788.
Joshua Reynolds. Cupid Untying the Girdle of Venus. 1788. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

We see Venus making a gesture, non-trivial for Reynolds. She is embarrassed by the eyes looking at her.

The painting clearly shows how Reynolds skilfully copied the old masters’ achievements. The warm and deep colours of Titian. The languishing, soft lines of Rubens.

Reynolds didn’t reinvent the wheel. But he set extremely high standards for all European artists.

3. Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)

Thomas Gainsborough. Self-portrait. 1758-1759.
Thomas Gainsborough. Self-portrait. 1758-1759. The National Portrait Gallery, London

Not for nothing Gainsborough can be called the most famous English painter of the 18th century. He lived at the same time as Reynolds. And they were rivals.

The difference between Reynolds and Gainsborough can be seen with the naked eye. The first one uses red and golden shades, majestic and solemn images.

Gainsborough prefers silver and blue, as well as olive and green shades. His portraits were aerial and intimate.

Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of a Lady in Blue. 1778-1782
Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of a Lady in Blue. 1778-1782. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

All these we can see in the portrait “A Lady in Blue”. There is no emotional tension – just a beautiful and gentle image. To achieve this effect, Gainsborough used a thin, almost 6,5 feet (2 meters) long brush for working!

In the first place, Gainsborough always considered himself to be a landscape painter. But the need to earn money forced him to paint portraits on a by-order basis. The irony of it is that he became famous and remained in history precisely as a portrait painter.

But the artist compromised with himself. He often portraying his clients out in the country. Thus, he united hateful portraits and his favorite landscapes.

Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. William Hallett (Morning Walk). 1785.
Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. William Hallett (Morning Walk). 1785. The National Gallery, London

Clients could not decide which of the two portrait painters they liked more. And the aristocrats kept ordering portraits from both Reynolds and Gainsborough. They were too different. But there works were equally impressive.

But unlike Reynolds, his opponent was attracted by ordinary people as well. He painted a duchess and a commoner with the same passion.

Thomas Gainsborough. Girl with pigs. 1782.
Thomas Gainsborough. Girl with pigs. 1782. Private collection

Reynolds traded his painting “Girls with Pigs” from one collector for a Titian’s painting he possessed as he considered it to be the best work of his rival.

Gainsborough’s works are unique in their quality. Here, we can see unhidden touches, which at a distance make the painting look alive and breathing.

There are smooth and shaded lines. As if everything happens in humid air, which is really true for England.

And, of course, an unusual combination of portrait and landscape. All this distinguishes Gainsborough from many other portrait painters of his time.

4. William Blake (1757-1827)

Thomas Phillips. Portrait of William Blake. 1807.
Thomas Phillips. Portrait of William Blake. 1807. The National Portrait Gallery, London

William Blake was an extraordinary person. Since childhood he saw mystical visions. And when he grew up, he became an anarchist. He denied laws and moral, being sure that they oppressed human freedom.

He did not recognize religion either, considering it to be the main limitation of freedom. Of course, his opinion reflected in his works. “The architect of the world” is his dead-set at Christianity.

William Blake. The Great Architect. Hand-painted etching.
William Blake. The Great Architect. Hand-painted etching. 36 x 26 cm. 1794. The British Museum, London

The Creator holds compasses, tracing borders for humans – the borders that are impossible to cross. That make our thinking limited and existing within narrow frames.

For his contemporaries, his works seemed too extraordinary, so he didn’t lived to be recognized.

Some people saw prophecies and future disturbances in his paintings. They perceived Blake as a blessed one, a man out of head.

But officially Blake was never declared mad. He spent all his life working fruitfully. Moreover, he was a all around handyman. He was an excellent engraver and a brilliant illustrator. He was the one who created incredible watercolours for Dante’s Divine Comedy.

William Blake. The Whirlwind of Lovers. 1824-1827.
William Blake. The Whirlwind of Lovers. 1824-1827. Illustration to Dante’s Divine Comedy

The only thing that Blake had in common with his era is the fashion for everything terrible and fabulous. Indeed, in England of the 19th century, romanticism and fabulous motifs were rather popular.

Therefore, his painting “Ghost of a Flea” fits perfectly into the common series of works of that period.

William Blake. Ghost of a Flea. 1819
William Blake. Ghost of a Flea. 1819. Tempera, gold, wood. 21 x 16 cm. The Tate Museum, Britain, London

Blake assured that he had seen a bloodsucker’s soul. But it was placed in a tiny flea. If this soul was placed in a human being, a lot of blood would be shed.

Obviously, Blake was born ahead of his time. His works frighteningly resemble the works of symbolists and surrealists of the 20th century. They were the ones who remembered about this master 100 years after his death. He became their idol and inspirational figure.

5. John Constable (1776-1837)

Ramsey Reinagle. Portrait of John Constable. 1799
Ramsey Reinagle. Portrait of John Constable. 1799. The National Portrait Gallery, London

Despite his aristocratic appearance, Constable was a miller’s son. He loved hand labour. He could plow, build fences and fish. Maybe that’s the reason why we find no pathos in his landscapes. They are natural and realistic.

Before, artists used to paint idealized landscapes, often Italian ones. But Constable depicted a particular locality. A river, a cottage and trees that really existed.

John Constable. The Hay Wain. 1821.
John Constable. The Hay Wain. 1821. The National Gallery, London

His “Hay Wain” is the most famous English landscape. This was the work seen by the French public at the Paris exhibition of 1824.

Young impressionists were particularly impressed. In this painting, some of them saw something they were aiming at. No academic pomposity. No ancient ruins and spectacular sunsets. Just an everyday life in the countryside. Attractive in its naturalness.

After this exhibition, Constable sold as many as 20 of his paintings in Paris. However, his landscapes were almost never bought in his motherland.

But unlike Gainsborough, he rarely switched to portraits for the sake to earn money. He continued to improve his skills in landscape painting.

For this reason, he studied natural phenomena from a scientific point of view. And he could select colours that were extremely close to those found in nature. He was especially skilled at painting the sky – the contrasting light and dark clouds.

John Constable. Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds. 1826.
John Constable. Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds. 1826. The Frick Collection, New York

But Constable is famous for not only incredibly realistic paintings. But by his sketches as well.

The artist created a sketch of the same size as his future painting. He worked right outdoors. It was his know-how. This is the working method that Impressionists will adopt later.

John Constable. Boat and Stormy Sky. 1824-1828.
John Constable. Boat and Stormy Sky. 1824-1828. The Royal Collection, London

But quite often, Constable used these sketches to paint completed works in his studio. Although at that time, the public liked them more, they were not as lively and full of movement as sketches.

It was only in the 20th century that countrymen realized the greatness of Constable. And till now, he is one of the most beloved artists in England.

6. William Turner (1775-1851 )

William Turner. Self-portrait. 1799.
William Turner. Self-portrait. 1799. The Tate Gallery, London

An English painter William Turner was able to gain popularity and become a member of the art academy when he was still young. Almost immediately, people began to call him “the artist of light”, since the sun was often present on his paintings.

If you look at other artists’ landscapes, you will hardly see any sun. It is too bright.

This brightness is hard to depict. It is in the eyes. It distorts everything around. But Turner wasn’t afraid of this. He drew the sun in its heyday and at sunset. He boldly covered all around with its light.

William Turner. The Harbour of Dieppe. 1826.
William Turner. The Harbour of Dieppe. 1826. The Frick Collection, New York, USA

But Turner could not help experimenting, though he was an academician and set a high value on his title. His mind was too extraordinary and agile.

Therefore, as soon as in a couple of decades, his works evolved greatly. There were less details but more light. More sensations.

One of the most famous paintings of that time is “Last voyage of the Frigate “Brave”.

Here, we can see a bit of allegory. Sailing ships are replaced by steam ones. One era replaces another. The sun sets, and the moon rises to replace it (top left).

William Turner. Last voyage of the Frigate "Brave". 1838.
William Turner. Last voyage of the Frigate “Brave”. 1838. The National Gallery, London

Here, the sun still keeps dominating position. The sunset takes as much as the half of the picture.

And in the subsequent works the artist almost approaches the abstract art by hypertrophying all his previous aspirations. By removing details and leaving only sensations and light.

William Turner. The Morning after the Deluge. 1843.
William Turner. The Morning after the Deluge. 1843. The Tate Gallery, London

As you understand, the public failed to appreciate such works. Queen Victoria refused to knight Turner. And his reputation was shaken. In society, hints on his madness were heard more and more often.

This is the fate of all the true artists. He takes a step too far forward. And the public catches him up only decades or and even centuries later. That is what happened to the great Turner.

7. Pre-Raphaelites

It’s impossible to ignore the Pre-Raphaelites when speaking of the English artists. Moreover, they became extremely popular in the 21st century.

Where did such a strong love for these artists come from?

The Pre-Raphaelites started with setting high goals. They wanted to find a way out of the dead end of stiff academic painting. They were tired of depicting myths and historical plots that were little known to the general public. They wanted to show a real, lively beauty.

And the Pre-Raphaelites began to show female images. They turned out to be extremely beautiful and attractive.

Left: Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Beata Beatrix. 1864-1870. Right: John William Waterhouse. Boreas. 1903.
Left: Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Beata Beatrix. 1864-1870. The Tate Gallery, London. Right: John William Waterhouse. Boreas. 1903. Private collection

What are worth only of their red-haired beauties. As a rule, they were their lovers in real life as well.

The pre-Raphaelites began to praise female beauty. As a result, nothing was left in them apart from this.
It looked like posed, gorgeous shots for glossy magazines. Such images are easy to imagine as advertisements of women’s perfumes.

That’s why the people of the 21st century liked the Pre-Raphaelites so much. Since it’s the age of glamorous, bright advertising.

John Everett Millais. Ophelia. 1851.
John Everett Millais. Ophelia. 1851. The Tate Gallery, London

Despite the apparent emptiness of many works, it was these artists who stood at the origins of design development that later broke off from art. Indeed, the Pre-Raphaelites (for example, William Morris) worked a lot on sketches of fabrics, wallpapers and other interior decorations.


I hope that after reading this article, you have seen the English artists from a new point of view. It was not always only the Italians and the Dutch who influenced the world art. The English have also made their substantial contribution.

American artists. 7 masters who astonished the world

American artists are extremely motley. Some of them were sheer cosmopolitans, like Sargent. Being an American by birth, he spent almost all his life in London and Paris.

Among them, there are also authentic Americans, who depicted only the life of their countrymen, like Rockwell.

And there are even otherworldly artists, like Pollock. Or those whose art became a product of the consumer society. Of course, this is about Warhol.

Nevertheless, they are all Americans. Freedom-loving, audacious, brilliant. Read about seven of them below.

1. James Whistler (1834-1903)

James Whistler Self portrait
James Whistler. Self portrait. 1872. Detroit Institute of Arts, USA.

Whistler can hardly be called a true American. Growing up, he moved to Europe. And his childhood he spent… in Russia. His father built a railway in Saint Petersburg.

It was there that young James fell in love with art, when visiting the Hermitage and Peterhof thanks to his father’s connections (at that time, these palaces were still closed to the public).

What is Whistler famous for? Whatever style he applied in his paintings, from realism to tonalism*, you can almost immediately recognize him by two signs. Unusual colours and musical titles.

A part of his portraits imitates the old masters. For example, his famous portrait of “The Artist’s Mother”.

James Whistler The artist’s mother
James Whistler. The Artist’s Mother. Arrangement in Grey and Black. 1871. Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Commons.m.wikimedia.org

The artist created an amazing painting using grey colours from light to dark ones. And a little of yellow.

But it doesn’t mean that Whistler loved such colours. He was an extraordinary man. He could easily make a public appearance wearing yellow socks and carrying a bright umbrella. Despite the fact that in those times men dressed only in black and grey.

He has much brighter works than “The Mother”. For example, “Symphony in White”. The painting was called so by one of journalists at an exhibition. Whistler liked the idea. Since then, he gave musical titles to almost all of his works.

James Whistler Symphony in white no. 1
James Whistler. Symphony in White No. 1. 1862. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, USA

But at that time, in 1862, the public didn’t like the “Symphony”. And again, it was due to an unusual colour composition preferred by Whistler. People considered it strange to paint a woman in white on the white background.

The painting depicts Whistler’s red-haired lover. It’s the sort of thing the Pre-Raphaelites could do. After all, at the time, the artist was on friendly terms with one of the main founders of Pre-Raphaelism Gabriel Rossetti. A beauty, lilies, unusual elements (a wolf skin). Everything as is right and proper.

But Whistler quickly gave up Pre-Raphaelism. Since it was not external beauty that was important to him, but mood and emotions. And he created a new direction – tonalism.

His landscapes-nocturnes in the style of tonalism really resembled music. Monochrome, plaintive.

Whistler said that such musical titles helped him to focus on painting itself, its lines and colour. Without thinking about the place and people being depicted.

James Whistler Nocturnes in Blue and silver: Chelsea
James Whistler. Nocturne in Blue and Silver: Chelsea. 1871. The Tate Gallery, London

3. Mary Cassatt  (1844-1926)

Mary Stevenson Cassatt. Self portrait
Mary Stevenson Cassatt. Self portrait. 1878. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Mary Cassatt was born in a rich family. She could have lived a careless life. Could have got married and had children. But she chose a different road. She vowed celibacy for the sake of painting.

She was on friendly terms with Edgar Degas. Once in the impressionist environment, she became addicted to this style once and for all. And her “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair” is the first impressionist painting saw by the public.

Cassatt little girl in a blue armchair
Mary Cassatt. Little Girl in a Blue Armchair. 1878. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, USA

But nobody really liked the painting. In the 19th century, children were portrayed as obediently sitting angels with curled locks and pink cheeks. And here we see a child, who is obviously bored and is sitting in an over-unstudied pose.

But it was childless Mary Cassatt, who was almost the first one to start showing them as natural as they were.

For the time, Cassatt had a serious “drawback”. She was a woman. She couldn’t afford to go to a park alone to paint from life. All the more, she couldn’t visit a cafe where other artists gathered. They were all men! What did she have to do?

Mary Cassatt. The Tea. 1880.
Mary Cassatt. The Tea. 1880. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA

To paint monotonous women’s tea parties in living rooms with marble fireplaces and expensive tea sets. A slow paced and extremely boring life.

Mary Cassatt didn’t live to see her paintings appreciated. At first, she was rejected for her impressionism and the alleged incomplete paintings.

Then, as recently as in the 20th century, it unexpectedly became “outdated”, since art nouveau (Klimt) and fauvism (Matisse) became en vogue.

Mary Cassatt. Sleepy Baby. 1910.
Mary Cassatt. Sleepy Baby. Pastel, paper. 1910. Dallas Museum of Art, USA

But she stuck to her style to the end. Impressionism. Subdued pastel. Mothers with children.

Cassatt gave up on motherhood for the sake of painting. But her female principle increasingly manifested itself in such tender works as “Sleepy Baby”. It’s a pity that the conservative society once presented her with such a challenge.

3. John Sargent (1856-1925)

John Sargent. Self portrait. 1892
John Sargent. Self portrait. 1892. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

John Sargent was sure that he would be a portrait painter the whole life. The career shaped well. Aristocrats lined up to order a portrait from him.

However, once the society thought that the artist crossed the line. Now, it’s hard for us to understand why the painting “Madame X” was so unacceptable.

Truly speaking, in the original version the heroine had one of her shoulder straps down. Sargent “raised” it later but it didn’t save the situation. There were no more orders.

John Sargent. Madame X. 1878
John Sargent. Madame X. 1878. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

What was the indecency seen by the public? The fact was that Sargent portrayed the model standing in a too confident posture. Moreover, translucent skin and pink ear are very eloquent.

The picture seems to say that this woman, being extremely sexual, has no objections to accepting the courtship of other men. Despite being married.

Unfortunately, contemporaries missed the masterpiece behind this scandal. A dark dress, light skin, a dynamic posture – a simple combination, which could be found by the most talented masters only.

But every cloud has a silver lining. In return, Sargent received freedom. He began to experiment more with impressionism. To paint children in spontaneous situations. That’s how the work “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” appeared.

Sargent wanted to catch a certain moment of twilight. Therefore, it worked only 2 minutes a day when the lighting was appropriate. He worked in summer and in autumn. And when the flowers withered, he replaced them with artificial ones.

John Sargent. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. 1885-1886
John Sargent. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. 1885-1886. The Tate Gallery, London

In his last decades, Sargent acquired the taste of freedom so much that he began to refuse making portraits. Although his reputation had already been restored. He even fluffed off a client rudely, saying that he would paint her wicket-gate. with greater pleasure than her face.

John Sargent. White Ships. 1908.
John Sargent. White Ships. 1908. The Brooklyn Museum, USA

Contemporaries treated Sargent with irony. Considering him outdated in the age of modernism. But time has set things straight.

Nowadays, his works cost no less than the paintings of the most famous modernists. And the public affection goes without saying. The exhibitions with his works are always sold out.

4. Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)

Norman Rockwell. Self portrait. Illustration for “The Saturday Evening Post”, February 13, 1960.
Norman Rockwell. Self portrait. Illustration for “The Saturday Evening Post”, February 13, 1960.

It’s hard to imagine an artist who could be more popular while alive than Norman Rockwell. Several generations of Americans were raised on his illustrations. And loved them with all their hearts.

After all, Rockwell depicted ordinary Americans. But at the same time, he showed their lives from the most positive point of view. Rockwell didn’t want to show either evil fathers or indifferent mothers. And you won’t find miserable children on his paintings.

Norman Rockwell. Going and Coming. Illustration in “The Saturday Evening Post” magazine, August 30, 1947.
Norman Rockwell. Going and Coming. Illustration in “The Saturday Evening Post” magazine, August 30, 1947. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, USA

His works are full of humour, vivid colours, and very skilfully captured expressions on his models’ faces.

But it’s an illusion that the works came natural to Rockwell. Before creating a single painting, he could first take up to hundreds of photos with his models to catch the right gestures.

Rockwell’s works had a tremendous influence on the minds of millions of Americans. Since he often spoke with his paintings.

During the Second World War, he decided to show what the soldiers of his country were fighting for. By creating the painting “Freedom from want” among other things. It depicts the Thanksgiving Day, on which all the family members are enjoying this family holiday, full-bellied and contented.

Norman Rockwell. Freedom From Want. 1943.
Norman Rockwell. Freedom From Want. 1943. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, USA

After 50 years of work for “The Saturday Evening Post”, Rockwell moved to a more democratic “Look” magazine, where he was able to express his position on social issues.

The most outstanding work of those years is “The problem we all live with”.

Norman Rockwell. The Problem We All Live With. 1964.
Norman Rockwell. The Problem We All Live With. 1964. The Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, USA.

It was a real story of a black girl who attended school for white. Since the law had been adopted that people (and therefore, educational institutions) should be no longer racially divided.

But inhabitants’ anger knew no limits. On the way to school, the girl was guarded by the police. Such a “routine” moment was shown by Rockwell.

If you want to see a little airbrushed life of the Americans (the way they wanted to see it), don’t miss Rockwell’s paintings.

Perhaps, Rockwell is the most American painter out of all the artists represented in this article.

5. Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)

Andrew Wyeth. Self portrait. 1945.
Andrew Wyeth. Self portrait. 1945. The National Academy of Design, New York

Unlike Rockwell, Wyeth wasn’t so positive. Being an anchoret by nature, he didn’t seek to airbrush anything. On the contrary, he depicted the most ordinary landscapes and completely unremarkable objects. A simple wheat field, a simple wooden house. However, he managed to find something magical even in them.

The most famous of his works is the “Christina’s World”. Wyeth showed the fate of a woman who was his neighbour. Being paralyzed since childhood, she crawled around her farm.

Thus, the painting contains no romance, as it may seem at first. If you look closely, you may see that the woman is unhealthy thin. And knowing that the heroine’s legs are paralyzed, you sadly realize how far she is from home.

Andrew Wyeth. Christina’s World. 1948.
Andrew Wyeth. Christina’s World. 1948. The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA)

At first sight, Wyeth painted the most ordinary things. Here we see an old window of an old house. A shabby curtain, which is already turning into shreds. A forest darkens behind the window.

But there is some kind of mystery in these objects. Some kind of a different view.

Andrew Wyeth. Wind From the Sea. 1947.
Andrew Wyeth. Wind From the Sea. 1947. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA

Just like children can see the world with unbiased eyes. This is the way Wyeth does. And the way we do together with him.

Wyeth’s wife was responsible for all his business affairs. She was a good organizer. She was the one who contacted museums and collectors.

There was little romance in their relations. A muse was obliged to appear. And a simple, but extraordinary looking Helga became the one. She is the person we meet in his numerous works.

Andrew Wyeth. Braids (from “Helga” series). 1979.
Andrew Wyeth. Braids (from “Helga” series). 1979. Private collection

It seems that all we see is just a photographic image of a woman. But for some reason, it’s difficult to withdraw eyes from her. Her look is too complicated, her shoulders tense. We feel like we are internally strained together with her. Trying to find an explanation of this tension.

Showing reality in every detail, Wyeth somehow endowed it with emotions that cannot leave us unmoved.

For a long time, the artist’s works weren’t appreciated. Albeit magical, his realism didn’t fit into modernist trends of the 20th century.

When museum representatives bought his works, they tried to do it quietly without attracting attention. His exhibitions were rare. But all the modernists to spite, they always were stunningly successful. People came in flocks. And still come.

6. Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Jackson Pollock. 1950. Photo by Hans Namut
Jackson Pollock. 1950. Photo by Hans Namut

It’s impossible to leave out Jackson Pollock. He crossed a certain line in the art, and painting could be the same no more. He showed that in the art, it is possible to do without borders at all. When he put canvas on the floor and spattered it with paint.

The first step of this American artist was abstractionism, where there are still figurative traces. On his painting from 1940s “Stenographic figure”, we can see contour of both face and hands. And even crosses and zeros – the symbols we can understand.

Jackson Pollock. Stenographic Figure. 1942.
Jackson Pollock. Stenographic Figure. 1942. The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA)

His works were appreciated but rarely bought. He was as poor as a church mouse. And drank like a fish. Despite a happy marriage. His wife thought the world of his talent and did everything possible for her husband’s success.

But Pollock was initially a broken person. Since a young age, his behaviour made it clear that early death was his destiny.

And this personality breakdown resulted in his death at the age of 44. But he would manage to make a revolution in the art and become famous.

Jackson Pollock. Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). 1950.
Jackson Pollock. Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). 1950. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

And he did it during the two-year long period of sobriety. He was able to work productively in 1950-1952. He had been experimenting for a long time, until he discovered a drip painting technique.

He laid a huge canvas on the floor of his shed, walked around it as if being inside the painting. And spattered or just poured paint.

People began to buy these unusual paintings for their incredible originality and novelty.

Jackson Pollock. Blue Poles. 1952.
Jackson Pollock. Blue Poles. 1952. The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Pollock was stunned by his fame and sank himself into depression, not knowing where to move next. The deadly mixture of alcohol and depression left him no chances to survive. Once, he took to the wheel being extremely drunk. For the last time.

7. Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Andy Warhol. 1979. Photo by Arthur Tress
Andy Warhol. 1979. Photo by Arthur Tress

Pop art could be born only in such a country as America, where a cult of consumption is so strong. And undoubtedly, its main pioneer was Andy Warhol.

He is famous for taking the most common objects and turning them into works of art. This is what happened to the Campbell’s soup can.

The choice was not a fluke. Warhol’s mother fed her son with this soup every day for over 20 years. Even when he moved to New York and took his mother with him.

Andy Warhol. Campbell’s Soup Cans.
Andy Warhol. Campbell’s Soup Cans. Polymeric material, hand print. 32 paintings 50×40 each. 1962. The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA)

After this experiment, Warhol became interested in silkscreen printing. Since then, he took pop stars’ images and painted them in various colours.

That was how his famous painted Marilyn Monroe appeared.

He produced numerous Marilyns in acid colours. Art Warhol took the art to the assembly line. Just as it should be in the consumer society.

Andy Warhol. Marilyn Monroe. Silkscreen, paper. 1967.
Andy Warhol. Marilyn Monroe. Silkscreen, paper. 1967. The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA)

It was not from scratch that Warhol invented his painted faces. And again, it was due to his mother’s influence. In his childhood, when her son was ill for a long time, she brought him bulks of colouring books.

This childhood hobby evolved and became his signature line and made him incredibly rich.

He painted not only pop stars but masterpieces of his predecessors as well. “Venus” by Botticelli didn’t evade her fate as well.

Just like Marilyns, there were lots of “Venuses” produced. Warhol completely destroyed the concept of the art exclusiveness. Why did the artist do it?

To popularize old masterpieces? Or vice versa, he tried to depreciate them? To immortalize pop stars? Or to season death with irony?

Andy Warhol. Venus Botticelli. 1982
Andy Warhol. Venus Botticelli. Silkscreen printing, acryl, canvas. 122×183 cm. 1982. The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, United States

Sometimes, his painted works of Madonna, Elvis Presley or Lenin are sometimes more recognizable than the original photos.

However, he could hardly outmatch the masterpieces. Come what may, the initial “Venus” remains priceless.

Warhol was an avid party-goer, attracting lots of fringe elements. Drug addicts, failed actors or simply volatile people. One of them once shot him.

Warhol survived. But 20 years later, the consequences of this wound resulted in his lonely death in his apartment.

The American melting pot

Despite the fact that the history of American art is rather short, its range is extremely wide.

The American artists include impressionists (Sargent), magic realists (Wyeth), abstract expressionists (Pollock), and founders of pop art (Warhol).

Well, Americans love freedom of choice in everything. Hundreds of confessions. Hundreds of nations. Hundreds of art branches. That’s why it is called the American melting pot.

* Tonalism – monochrome landscapes in grey, blue or brown shades with the image as if being in a fog. Tonalism is considered to be a branch of impressionism, since it conveys an artist’s impression of what he saw.

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