Painting Modern Life

Explore how early modern artists forged new directions in painting.

Rise of the Modern City

Discover the ways in which artists, photographers, and architects changed the landscape of modern cities.

Modern Landscapes

Discover groundbreaking techniques in early modern landscape paintings.

Modern Portraits

Explore how early modern painters pushed the boundaries of traditional portraiture.

Popular Culture

Learn about the influence of early forms of posters and advertising on art.

Landscapes, images of natural scenery, remained a popular subject in late-19th- and early-20th-century art. Driven in part by their dissatisfaction with the modern city, many artists sought out places resembling untouched earthly paradises. In these areas, away from the bustle of the modern city, artists were able to focus on their work and observe nature firsthand. Because of this, many radical artistic experiments occurred in the most rural and least ”modern” of settings. These ranged from the use of unexpected, non-naturalistic colors, to unusual application of paint. The artists presented here broke traditional boundaries of straightforward representational landscape, exploring the psychological and spiritual places in landscapes.

Two innovations made it easier than ever to paint outside, directly from nature. The first was improved transportation. Whether traveling by train or motorized vehicle, people could get farther faster. The second innovation was paint in a tube. Before paint in a tube was invented, artists had to mix and store their own paint; tubed paint was portable, stayed wet, and could be used in any location.

To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.

A rough or unfinished version of any creative work, often made to assist in the completion of a more finished work (noun); to make a rough drawing or painting (verb).

A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent (noun); the act of producing a picture using paint (verb, gerund).

The context or environment in which a situation occurs.

An area, generally agricultural, that is not densely populated.

The visual portrayal of someone or something.

A state of mind or emotion, a pervading impression.

Modern can mean related to current times, but it can also indicate a relationship to a particular set of ideas that, at the time of their development, were new or even experimental.

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.

An image with urban scenery as its primary focus; an urban environment.

Questions & Activities

  1. Create a Cityscape or Landscape with Mood

    Choose a location in your city, town, or neighborhood that resonates with you emotionally. Visit the site and take photos of it during different times of the day. To go another step, look at the photos and choose your favorite to create a sketch. How does your drawing or painting convey the mood of the place?

  2. Write a Descriptive Essay

    Visit MoMA’s Online Collection and find a landscape painting from the years 1880 to 1910 that conveys a mood. Write about how the artist is able to convey mood, atmosphere, or spiritual or psychological space in this landscape. Share your writing with a friend.

  3. Read and Write a Poem

    Artists inspire writers and vice versa. Study Van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night and read the poem by Anne Sexton of the same name.

    How did Van Gogh’s painting inspire Sexton’s poetry? Write your own poem, based on what you see and interpret in Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

  4. Postcard from a Painting

    Write a “postcard” from the perspective of a visitor to one of these landscape scenes. Include both a description of the places shown in the images and a description of the mood that comes across in each image. Imagine what it would be like to spend a day there as you write.

    What was intriguing about this writing assignment? What did you learn by relating your writing to a specific image?