Painting Modern Life

Explore how early modern artists forged new directions in painting.

Rise of the Modern City

Discover the ways in which artists and architects engaged with 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 how popular culture influenced modern art.

Although landscape painting dates to antiquity, the genre remained popular among early modern artists. Driven in part by their dissatisfaction with modern urban life, many artists sought out places resembling untouched earthly paradises where they could focus on their work and observe nature closely. They generated radical artistic experiments, which might seem more likely to have been sparked by the visual and cultural stimulation of the city. But surrounded by nature and in rural communities, they began breaking the traditions of landscape painting, using, for example, non-naturalistic colors or applying paint in ways that emphasized their brushwork.

Two innovations made it easier than ever for artists to paint outside, directly from nature. Improved transportation, both by railroad and automobile, allowed people to travel farther faster. And with the introduction of paint in tubes, which stayed wet and was easily transportable, artists were freed from having to mix and store their own paint and could work anywhere they wanted.

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

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

Faithful adherence to nature; factual or realistic representation.

A work of art made with a pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements, often consisting of lines and marks (noun); the act of producing a picture with pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements (verb, gerund).

The manner in which a painter applies paint with a brush.

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

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.

A category of artistic practice having a particular form, content, or technique.

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.

Questions & Activities

  1. Create a Cityscape or Landscape with Mood

    Choose a location in your city, town, or neighborhood or some place you have traveled to that resonates with you emotionally. Visit the site and photograph it during different times of the day (or use photos from your travels). Choose your favorite photograph and create a drawing or painting from it. How does your drawing or painting convey the mood of your chosen location and the way it makes you feel?

  2. Write a Descriptive Essay

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

  3. Postcard from a Painting

    Choose a painting from the image carousel on this page and write a “postcard” from the perspective of a visitor to the landscape it depicts. Include a description of the landscape and the mood that the artist conveys in the way he represented it. As you write, imagine what it would be like to spend a day there.