Art history from the year you were born
Art history—the study and development of visual arts—differs significantly from art criticism in that the former employs an objective, rather than subjective, eye.
Roman historian Pliny the Elder flirted with the discipline of art history in the first century, dedicating book 35 of his encyclopedic “Natural History” to the art and architecture of antiquity. Italian artist and architect Georgio Vasari (christened the “Father of Art History”) in 1550 published his “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.” And 200 years after that, German scholar Johan Joachim Winkelmann systematized the subject as a succession of styles.
The invention of modern art history is credited to Heinrich Wölfflin, whose “Principles of Art History” in 1915 introduced a far more objective and analytical approach to the study of art. Germany, home to innovative iconographers Erwin Panofsky, Aby Warburg, and Fritz Saxl, remained a hotbed of art-historical scholarship throughout the following decades. Hitler’s rise, however, spurred a cultural diaspora, forcing many titans in the field to seek refuge at academic institutions in England and the United States.
Stacker consulted art historical publications, leading newspapers and magazines, and online databases to curate this collection of significant moments and movements in art history over the past century.
By the second half of the 20th century, art history was an internationally recognized academic discipline, with survey courses becoming standard fare at colleges and universities throughout the world. The discipline continued to evolve, with the introduction of new methodologies influenced by a plethora of philosophies, including Marxism, feminism, relativism, post-Colonialism, and structuralism.
Scroll through the list to find out which Netherlandish masterpiece was liberated from the Nazis by an elite platoon composed of art historians; which Surrealist legend exhibited a shocking new work after 25 years in retirement; and which social media platform revolutionized the art world.
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1921: Picasso takes Cubism to the next level
Pablo Picasso painted two versions of “Three Musicians” in the summer of 1921: The canvas photographed here, currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and another now in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. The three figures are believed to represent Picasso with poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob. The pair of images is considered by many to be the apotheosis of Synthetic Cubism.
1922: Edward Hopper immortalizes Depression-era diners
“New York Restaurant,” painted in the early years of Edward Hopper's career, foreshadows the Realist master’s 1929 landmark canvas, “Chop Suey,” in both form and content. The immediacy of the urban scene as well as the distinctive play of light and shadow became hallmarks of Hopper’s celebrated style.
1923: Robert Henri pens ‘The Art Spirit’
Painter Robert Henri, a pioneer of American’s distinctive Ashcan School, published “The Art Spirit” in 1923. A collection of philosophical essays on the artistic process, the book remained influential throughout the 20th century and inspired talents from George Bellows to David Lynch.
[Pictured: Artist and author Robert Henri.]
1924: Man Ray’s surrealist instrument
Surrealist Man Ray transformed model and muse Kiki de Montparnasse into a human violin for his iconic 1924 image "Ingres’ Violin"—both a nod to the artist’s appreciation for Ingres’ Neoclassical nudes as well as a play on the French phrase meaning “hobby.” The juxtaposition of the female body with inanimate objects remained a recurring theme throughout the artist’s career.
1925: Frida Kahlo critically injured
In 1925, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was seriously injured in a bus accident that shattered her pelvis and punctured her uterus. Bedridden for months, Kahlo took up painting to help pass the time. The accident haunted Kahlo physically and emotionally for the rest of her life.
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1926: Georgia O’Keeffe’s ‘Black Iris’ blossoms
“Black Iris” projects a raw sensuality that shocked contemporary audiences. O’Keeffe, however, denied that her monumental flower paintings were intended to represent female anatomy—a theory first put forth by her mentor-turned-husband, photographer Alfred Steiglitz.
[Pictured: Georgia O'Keeffe.]
1927: Ansel Adams publishes portfolio of Precisionist prints
Legendary photographer Ansel Adams, an avid Sierra Club member, captured the monumental beauty of the American West through the lens of his Korona view camera. At the tender age of 25, he published the highly successful portfolio, “Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras,” containing 18 silver gelatin prints. Arts patron Albert Bender, who helped Adams publish the portfolio, came up with the term “parmelian prints” for the collection.
1928: John Steuart Curry pays homage to his rural roots
Regionalist master John Steuart Curry specialized in scenes depicting the American Heartland. His masterwork, "Baptism in Kansas," recreates a scene from the artist’s childhood. The canvas met with critical acclaim when it was first displayed at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C., where it caught the eye of wealthy art enthusiast Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Whitney became Curry’s patron, financially supporting his work and helping to catapult Curry into the national spotlight.
1929: Archibald J. Motley Jr. channels the Jazz Age
By 1929, the Harlem Renaissance was in full swing. Jazz Age Modernist Archibald J. Motley captured the complexities and vibrancy of the era in his oeuvre, which included both portraiture and urban street scenes.
1930: Grant Wood paints Regionalist masterwork ‘American Gothic’
Grant Wood spent years searching for inspiration in Europe. The work that made him famous, however, was painted after his return to the United States. A Regionalist icon, “American Gothic'' depicts what appears to be a Depression-era farmer and his weathered wife. The artist intended the couple to represent father and daughter and modeled them on his dentist and sister.
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