Archives for the month of: November, 2011

The characteristics of the architecture of Adolf Loos.


The Austrian architect Adolf Loos (1870-1930) had a very practical attitude toward architecture and a great aversion to the application of falsity through the use of appropriated ornamentation in the buildings of his native Vienna.  One of the major characteristics of his work was a basis in the square and the cube which possibly reflects an influence of the early twentieth century Cubist movement. By exploring the following four examples of Loos’ buildings this case study will attempt to establish the characteristics of his works.

The first example of Loos’ work is the Café Museum (1899). Designed at the peak of the Art Nouveau period, it is an austere embodiment of Loos’ theoretical, and quite preposterous, musings on the renunciation of stylish ornamentation in architecture. The building affirms his aesthetic equation of beauty and utility. The walls are painted a cool green, whilst the Loos-designed chairs are of a dark red timber. These contrasting colours are synonymous with many of Loos’ interiors. They are balanced in theCaféMuseumby a vaulted ceiling that is painted plainly in white whilst a pattern is created by brass strips that, in line with their utilitarian function, also served as electrical conduit to chain-suspended lighting.

One of Loos’ best known buildings and, at the time the most controversial, is the House of Michaelplatz (1911) in Vienna. One of the city’s first modern office buildings, it was both a retrospective and inventive reflection of the city’s historic past and also modernistic future. Its steel concrete construction provided the flexible use of space with the design being characterized by the bare and undecorated façades of the upper floors. The building, with its green Greek marble entrance, occupies a commanding position oppositeVienna’sImperialPalace. Inside, the business floors are made opulent through the use of rich red wood panelling however they are minimalist in form.

Built for Joseph and Marie Rufer, Rufer House (1922) is considered to be the first built house to include Loos’ concept of Raumplan, which is a floorplan made of split levels to extend variety and order into the space. Rufer House is organised within a tight 10 metre x 10 metre space, in the shape of a cube with the external walls forming the structural shell. Inside, a column articulates the spaces under the Raumplan and also conceals the plumbing.

The principles of Loos’ architecture are even more illustrated in Villa Muller (1930). Again the exterior is austere, a white cube structure interrupted by yellow-framed windows. The interior, however, is in stark contrast to the simplicity of the façade. Once again Loos has used luxurious materials to decorate the interior. Slabs of green Greek marble encase some of the walls; parts of the house are panelled with mahogany and laquered wood, Delfttiles, silk prints, floral wallpaper and travertine. Each floor is a classic example of Loos’ Raumplan with split-levels, short staircases and multiple landings. The use of quadrilateral negative spaces along with grid and square motifs echo Loos’ earlier works. These, together with a definitive use of contrasting colours, especially terracotta and green contribute to the house’s aesthetic appeal.

Therefore it can be asserted that the major characteristics of Loos’ work are the use of rich materials chosen for their appropriateness, exceptional craftsmanship, frequent use of marble in the structure of a building, contrasting colours, wooden parquet flooring, chain suspended lighting, stepped floor levels, geometrical design based upon the grid and the cube with cylindrical and rectangular columns, and expressively austere facades with sumptuous interiors.


Niemra, A. 1998-2203, Rules to Build By: The Path Taken to Understanding Adolf Loos, Anneke.Net

Safran, Yahuda, 1985, The Architecture of Adolf Loos, Arts Council of Great Britain

Van Duzer, L., 1994, Villa Muller: a work of Adolf Loos, Princeton Architectural Press



In this essay I will attempt to explain how the study of psychoanalysis influenced the development of the consumer society and how we can resist its persuasions. During the Industrial Revolution manufacturers produced more goods than were needed and people had to be persuaded to become consumers to absorb them. The studies of Sigmund Freud were used to develop methods of manipulative persuasion by the advertising industry so that they could promote growth of such consumers. Because advertising is so reliant on images and words, the study of semiotics was also used to help trigger emotional responses in consumers. The main emotional targets are consumers’ anxieties and insecurities. The consumer is told that through buying commodities, they will be able to satisfy their desires. It is necessary to become a skilled reader of advertisements and to know what devices are used because they pervade modern society. Finally, Freud said that it was necessary for people’s psychic wellbeing to resist large-scale coercive powers. Advertising and the consumer culture has become that power.

The consumer society emerged from the surplus of goods manufactured during the Industrial Revolution. With the advent of machines, goods could be manufactured more than one item at a time. There was an increase in the world’s population and an expansion of prosperity among the middle classes. Mass advertising was used to appeal to the growth of these potential markets (Jawitz ,W., 1996, pp.460). The economies of modern societies came to be dominated by large scale commerce (Deborg, G., 1983, pp.40). A constant flow of new products meant that people needed to be convinced to throw away old items to keep ‘in fashion’.

Once manufacturers had convinced people to buy products or commodities that they did not need, consumer culture became intense. During the early twentieth century Euro-American societies changed from valuing work and civic responsibility to valuing leisure and self-fulfilment. The increased acquisition of goods was considered to make life better rather than security and savings. Feelings of inadequacy were enforced to make the intended consumer feel in need of improvement from the various commodities put forward. Advertising used staged imagery rather than reality to reinforce these feelings and so gave form to changing social desires (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.227).

Before the nineteenth century most advertising was merely informative. It consisted of price lists, signs on walls, printed announcements, and even the calls of the town crier. Supply and demand were in balance and there was no need to produce new products. People bought what they needed and needed what they bought. There was limited competition among merchants (Jawitz, W.,1996, pp.463) . The late nineteenth century saw the emergence of the commodity culture in which the distinctions between objects and images eroded. The image became what people live through and consume (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001, pp.227). The huge growth in advertising showed how persuasion works when used by manufacturers. The advertising industry needed to know how people think and react and what motivates them. Therefore, they turned to the study of psychoanalysis for help.

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist who founded of the theory of psychoanalysis. Freud said that the human ego is at the beck and call of three masters: the superego, the id or seat of instinctual desire, and to the external world. Human mental life, Freud states, is the conflict between those contending authorities (Derbyshire, J., 2007, pp.36). The real source of human motivation is our unconscious desires and needs. In the United States Freud’s theories were recognised by advertising agencies and they used this research to sell the manufacturers’ products. Before the use of psychoanalysis advertisers assumed that a product was bought because it was best among its competitors or cost less. From Freud’s work it was realised that a brand may be bought because the buyers felt that it made them more powerful, more loved or more acceptable. It was shown through motivational research that women would pay many dollars for a ‘cream’ that promised to make them more ‘beautiful’. Therefore, advertisers realised, don’t sell soap- sell dreams. Don’t sell oranges- sell health and vitality. Don’t sell cars- sell power and prestige (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.466)

Psychographics and demographics are two crucial fields of research in which advertisers invest large sums of money. Whereas demographics are the statistical study of a large group of people, psychographics gives a more specific profile of the target audience. Through marketing surveys this research reveals information on target audience’ values, lifestyles, emotional triggers, fears and dreams or aspirations. Advertisers use this information to create the language and images people in modern societies receive everyday.

Advertising is full of symbolic images and unconscious associations. Direct messages are avoided because this may contradict what the potential consumer already believes. A hidden message is given by means of a device, the signifier or word, and the signified or object (Inglis, F. 1990, pp.97). This is translated into ‘meaning’ and ‘form’. The study of semiotics involves describing how culture and language work together to produce systematic meaning. All meaning producing activities are gathered under the one conceptual framework: that of ‘signification’ or the making of meaning. Semiotics analyses signification by reducing all communication practices to their most basic unit, ‘the sign’. A sign can be a sound- any physical form which refers to something else. The practices of advertising provide a clear demonstration of the processes of signification by deploying a signifier and attaching it to a mental concept they wish to put with their product. This provides the product with that meaning (Inglis, F. 1990, pp.221) .

An example of this is an ad for health insurance found in a newspaper. The ad shows a couple, relaxing in an environment which is both a type of resort (looking at the cushions and the simple building construction, also the couple’s clothes are not of intrepid explorers) and a rainforest setting. The image has nothing to do with what the reader would normally associate with health insurance, hospitals, doctors, nurses, ambulances etc… However the appeal of this advertisement is in the picture which suggests love, beautiful people, freedom, the beauty of nature, and even a certain naturalness and youth. The emotional appeal of the advertisement is that, by having this health insurance, the reader will somehow be associated with the feeling the picture suggests. At the very least, the picture creates a good mood, so the reader will experience a pleasant feeling when seeing the product’s name (Jawitz, W. 1996,, pp. 487).

Another type of appeal is the celebrity. In this advertisement a bank is selling the image of a winning racing car driver. It does not sell any facts about whether the racing car driver’s investments have increased by using this bank, but the image suggests that the bank is a winner along with the reader. Advertisers pay enormous amounts of money to famous people to endorse their products. They select according to the feeling the person communicates- a feeling the advertiser wants associated with the product; in this case, winning. The idea behind celebrity endorsements is that some of the heroics and fame of the celebrity ‘rub off’ on the product and on the users of that product (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.487).

Nearly every advertisement attempts to give the impression that the product advertised will make the person more successful, popular, powerful, safer etc… Although this is obviously untrue, the advertiser tries to say that the user will feel loved or popular etc. if they use the product. Ads have always appealed to emotions, but researchers find that even practical, everyday products are purchased more on emotion than practical qualities (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp. 483). Advertisements increasingly speak to problems of anxiety and identity crisis, and offer harmony, vitality, and the prospect of self-realisation. Today, consumption is looked at as both a form of leisure and pleasure and as a form of therapy. It is commonly understood that commodities fulfil emotional needs. The paradox is that those needs are never truly fulfilled as the market lures people into wanting different and more commodities- the newest, the latest, and the best. This is a fundamental aspect of contemporary consumer culture- that it gives us pleasure and reassurance while tapping into our anxieties and insecurities (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001,pp. 197).


To policy-makers, people are consumers, voters, producers or unemployed, taxpayers, clients, crowds, and not much else. We are rarely citizens, users, actors, participants, democrats. To cast a society as consumers is to see its members as creatures to be fed, housed and kept quiet. It shows contempt and arrogance by the powerful to set up the politics of bribery whereby consumers are bribed with extra fat helpings of consumer goods often enough to ensure the docile stability of their vote (Inglis, F. 1990, pp.134). The shopping mall is now the consumer’s cathedral. It serves to give people a sense of place in the world, homogenised as it may be, in part through their purchase and use of commodities which seem to give meaning to their lives in the absence of meaning derived from a close-knit community. This is why, perhaps, people jokingly refer to shopping as a form of ‘retail therapy’ (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001, pp.193). But when we buy a commodity that has meaning attached to it, we are not buying to satisfy need but to satisfy desire. This is why people continue to buy, because desire can never be satisfied.

By the time we are sixty years of age we would have seen over 50 million advertising messages (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.468). Most of these will be ignored, some will help, but others will mislead. Advertising can help to discover new products or show where to buy goods at the lowest price. However, it can also mislead by convincing people to buy what we do not want or thinking a particular brand is better than what it is. To be able to counteract these persuasions, we need to be skilled readers of advertisements. People must learn to determine facts and then recognise how an advertisement tries to make the product appealing. This may seem simple but advertising agencies spend millions to make the job difficult. Almost every advertisement makes what is called a product claim. This is simply what the advertisement says about the product. There are two basic kinds of claims- one provides useful information for making a purchase decision and the other tells little or nothing factual (Jawitz, W. 1996,pp.468).

One of the basic rules in analysing advertisements is that if any product is truly superior the advertisement will say so clearly  and will offer some kind of convincing evidence of superiority, one can suspect that it is not really superior (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.476). Once advertisements have been evaluated so that they do not mislead there is a second important skill needed to deal with advertising. People need to understand how advertisements appeal to them through involving their feelings, wishes and dreams. Advertisements attempt to make products look luxurious, sexy, sophisticated, modern, happy, patriotic, or any of dozens of other so-called desirable qualities.

Many advertisements appeal to feelings and emotions. Studies have shown that a person’s choice of a specific product and brand is more based on feelings than a specific product’s claims. Most advertisements have both a reasonable-sounding claim and an appeal to feelings. The careful consumer should be able to see in any ad not only what claim is being made but also what emotional appeal is being used. Different types of appeal are in different advertisements, although some use a combination of appeals. In looking for the emotional appeal, always notice the setting in which the product is placed. Placing a car by a mansion with a chauffeur and people in expensive-looking clothes says that this is a car for wealthy people. (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp. 487)

In a consumer culture where personal debt is towering over an economy so reliant on the results of consumer confidence figures, it is interesting to note how Freud’s studies into the human psyche have been hijacked. In 1914 Sigmund Freud published a short essay extolling the virtues of renouncing pleasure and desire in the name of something greater. In Moses and Monotheism, which was published just before Freud’s death in 1939, he used Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses as an example of the sublimation of flesh. It is argued by the writer Edmundsen (Derbyshire J. 2007, pp.36) that Freud’s greatness lies in his recognition that psychic wellbeing consists of tolerating this conflict between desire and sublimation. Freud recognized that charismatic leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini etc.. promise eternal peace in place of conflict, plentitude in place of lack. Such a promise is illusory but is no less powerful or alluring. Freud says that fascism and fundamentalism are where ‘humanity will go without potent efforts of resistance’. He asked humanity to ‘turn away from all large-scale coercive powers’ (Derbyshire, J. 2007, pp.36)

The production of commodities has seized total domination over the world’s economy. The consumer frenzy spoken of by environmentalist George Monbiot (Monbiot, G. 2007, pp.18), threatens the world’s ecological environment and therefore human life. It needs to be controlled and the best way of controlling it is by understanding how it works. People must resist the ‘large scale coercive power’ of advertising and ask themselves, “Do I really need this?”


Jawitz, William, 1996, Understanding Mass Media 5th Edition, National TextbookCountry,US

Debord, G.,1983, The Commodity as Spectacle, Society of the Spectacle,Michigan: Black and Red

Sturken, M. Cartwright, L., 2001, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture,OxfordUniversityPress

Inglis, F., Media Theory: An Introduction., 1990, Basil BlackwellOxford&Cambridge

Guardian Weekly October 5-11 2007, Vol 177 No 16

Guardian Weekly October 12- 18 2007, Vol 177 No 17

Derbyshire, J. 2007, The Death of Sigmund Freud: Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism  Edmundsen, M., Guardian Weekly, September 14-20, Vol 177 No 12 pp.36

Monbiot, G. 2007, ‘We should welcome a recession now’ Guardian Weekly October 12- 18 2007, Vol 177 No 17 pp. 18


The Media inAustralia: Industries, Texts, Audiences, Edited by Cunningham, S. & Turner, G. 1993: Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd,Australia

Key Ideas in Consumption, Bocock, Robert: Routledge, NewYork 1993

Ways of Seeing, Berger, John 1972: BBC and Penguin BooksUnited Kingdom

Red Stone Dancer c.1913 by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “Red Stone Dancer” 1913


Expressionism began as an early twentieth century movement whose influences lay in the work of the Post-Impressionists. The Expressionists sought to break bonds with the post-Impressionist tradition of reproducing nature and radicalise the use of colour and contour in their art. It reflected a new attitude to colour, tone, form and line through heightened colour contrasts and simplified representational form. Expressionists tries to  reconcile human instinct with visual practice and found inspiration in the art of cultures other than Europe.

The Industrial Revolution was reflected in a parallel artistic revolution and, as the twentieth century sped this to its full capacity, artists looked for new ways of expressing this new world and their reactions to it. Industrialisation leaped from one invention to the next and some of these artists found this ‘leap’ forward as a threat to humanity and the individual, as  industrialists saw the common man as a mere cog in the wheels of manufacturing progress. These artists reacted with a search for new ways of expression from looking at art from non-industrialised societies on which they could found a new movement.

It was around 1905-1906 that the inspirational tool for the artists’ revolt came in the form of African sculptures which were exhibited at the ethnological museums at this time. They saw in the sculptures the aesthetic value of ‘primitivism’, whereas before that time people had not considered such sculptures works of art. The ‘primitive’ sculptures role was as a magic token in ritual ceremonies. However, for the Expressionist artist the most important factor was that the carvings were not concerned with the replication of visual appearance but a way of expressing an idea about it.

In the late nineteenth century Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), a Post-Impressionist, expounded a theory of the ‘noble savage’, for which he wanted to return to ‘the source’, (Sheldon 1996:55). His were some of the first European paintings to use colour for purely decorative or emotional purposes. The landscapes and backgrounds were flat, the colours giving the paintings substance and body rather than the tone giving dimension. Gauguin loved Brittany in France because of its wildness and primitiveness. In 1888 he wrote: “When my wooden shoes ring on the granite, I hear the muffled, dull and powerful tone that I try to achieve with my painting” (Bowness, 1972:57). To break with naturalism and find a more abstract art, Gauguin believed that a non-industrialised environment was necessary, and it was this conviction that led him to Tahiti. While living in Tahiti, Gauguin captured the raw, emotive and visceral imagery of Oceanic art. To add to his medium of painting Gauguin carved wood and also modelled in clay. One of his ceramic pieces, Oviri, the Savage (1884-85), expresses Gauguin’s aesthetic philosophy as clearly as his paintings do. With his use of pure colour and simplified non-naturalistic style he became one of the most influential European painters to have such a powerful and early effect on the development of Expressionism.


Paul Gauguin, “Osiri the Savage, (1894) clay

One early twentieth century movement to gather together ideas and philosophies for expression were the Fauves (Wild Beasts), as they were called, whose members were led by Henri Matisse (1868-1954). This young group of artists exhibited in Paris in 1905. Their paintings were simplified in design yet garish and full of bright colours. Their style forced Post-Impressionist means and adapted them to a different purpose. As Henri Matisse wrote: “When the means of expression have become so refined, so attenuated that their power to express wears thin, it is necessary to return to the essential principles which made human language. They are, after all, the principles which ‘go back to the source’, which relive, which give us life” (FLAM, 1973:74). Matisse was obviously influenced by Gauguin’s return to what he saw as ‘the source’, in his life in Tahiti, an attempt to recapture humanity’s place in a new world of machines.


Henri Matisse, “La Dance” (1909)

German Expressionism was different to that of the French Fauves. While it was also the colour work of Gauguin and another Post-Impressionist Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) that influenced them, they were also influenced by the intense religious fervour of Gothic and medievalism. The crowded and stylised Gothic paintings and sculptures found on medieval European cathedrals seemed to offer the means of achieving the more expressive art to which the Germans aspired. Emil Nolde was the eldest of the artists in the German Expressionist group ‘Die Brucke’ (The Bridge), which he joined in 1906. Like Gauguin, who also had tried to depict biblical scenes in a contemporary form, Nolde focused on religious imagery. His work had colours that clashed, with distorted forms and raw, heavy brush strokes. The subjects were peasants and fishermen with rough, hallucinated faces trying to imbue a sense of the primal and universal, expressing primitive human passions as archaic masks. Nolde found that the non-realistic, rhythmical and decorative approach in the art of non-industrialised societies confirmed his efforts to approach his work with pure instinct.

nolde 1910

Emil Nolde, “Christ with the Children” (1910)

In 1908 the methods of the German Expressionists changed, following the lead of the Fauves (Hoffman, 1965:53) . The motifs were set out in broad areas of decorative colour and are overlaid with the influences of primitive art and medieval woodcuts, in which the elements of colour and decoration were foremost. However, what raises the ornamental arrangement above the level of decoration is the archaic idiom. These characteristics can be witnessed in the paintings of another member of ‘Die Brucke’, Ernest Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938). Kirchner’s Bathers at Moritzberg (1909-1926) was a statement of the new confidence of the artist as communicator of thoughts and feelings not just visual appearances (Sheldon, 1996:49).

Bathers at Moritzburg 1909/26 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 1880-1938

Ernest Kirchner, “Bathers at Moritzberg” (1909-1926)

Each of the movements of the early twentieth century such as the Expressionists, the Fauves and the Cubists, assimilated primitivism into their own art. These painters having viewed the works, especially sculptures, of Africa and Oceania brought to sculpture through their own small scale works an embrace of cultures other than those of Europe. Matisse spent much of his early career on sculptures as a three-dimensional extension of his paintings. One of his works, La Serpentine 1909, shows rhythmic minimal lines and a distinct influence of African tribal art. Matisse did not copy these African sculptures but rather let it subtly influence his work through a conceptual approach that gave the artist freedom to improvise and invent. Alan Bowness (1972 p.180) states this ability to simplify was one of Matisse’s great lessons, given equally to sculptors and to painters.

Matisse serpentine

Henri Matisse, “La Serpentine” 1909

Modern sculpture between 1905 and 1920 was a history of Western assimilation from non-European sources. Archaic Greek and Egyptian, Assyrian and Oriental, Cycladic and Paleolithic, African and Polynesian, Pre-Columbian and Amerindian, were the influences which extended the boundaries of the West’s traditional perception of sculpture. Having been exposed to all these influences, Expressionist sculptors believed that they could dispense with the tradition of developing formal drawings of the model, the marquet  and prior measurements, to then finally proceeding with their material. The practice of ‘direct carving’ favoured by some of the early twentieth century sculptors was regarded as part of the process of intuition which went into producing an African mask or totemic carving (Sheldon, 1996:55) . The artists may have thought that by direct carving they might enhance the power of expression.  However, the belief that ‘primitive’ works were a pure form of expression was a misconception as ‘tribal art’ usually follows strict codes and traditions. However, the influence of primitivism was a rejection of conventional European pictorial traditions and played an important part in the development of expressionism.

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1956) was one of the first of these sculptors to reduce to his work to its most simple form. In  Brancusi’s piece The Kiss 1907 the elemental power is expressed by the bulk of the stone from which the forms are only sketchily emerging.  His direct carving technique, simplification of form and primitivism influenced early twentieth sculptors such as Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) and Henri Gaudier Bzreska (1891-1915). This latter young artist, born in France, worked as a draughtsman. He was competent in his drawing but yearned to do sculpture. It was Jacob Epstein, while Gaudier was living in London, who gave Gaudier the inspiration to work directly in stone.

Brancusi kiss

Constantine Brancusi, “The Kiss” 1907

Direct carving involved confidence in the approach to the medium but more importantly the ability or gift to perceive the subject from concept to three-dimensional form. Gaudier, who in personality was a revolutionary despising the bourgeoise, was searching for new ways to express his perception in stone. According to the artist and critic Roger Fry (1866-1934), Gaudier was “seeking to create a classical art, one of pure expressiveness.” (Silber, 1996:60). The only art classes Gaudier attended was a twice-weekly drawing class in the autumn of 1912. However, he was already an accomplished draughtsman and not the least reserved about individuality in his approach. His style of drawing had a firm architectural line with a speed of execution resembling graphic reportage. The drawings he did at this time were important for giving him naturalistic roots imbued with expressive energy.

A Dog c.1913 by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “A Dog” 1913

Influenced by the theorist Henri Bergson, Gaudier wrote a letter to his companion Sophie Bzreska: “…in this emotion I see three divisions, linear emotion, produced by the rhythm of outlines and strokes, sculptural emotions, rendered by the balance of masses, such as are revealed by light and shade, and lastly, pictorial emotion, produced by various coloured pigments (Silber, 1996:81).” Bergson’s effect upon Gaudier, as in that of the Fauves and the German Expessionists, was to express intuitive and primal behaviour, a return to man’s animal rather than rational nature(Silber, 1996:81).

Gaudier met Epstein in June 1912. At this time Epstein was the leading avant-garde sculptor working in London and was carving a monumental sculpture of a winged angel for the Tomb of Oscar Wilde (1911-1912). Epstein had a powerful influence on Gaudier and it was around the time of their meeting that Gaudier began to carve directly into the stone. Gaudier was so moved by his meeting with Epstein that he wrote to his friend Dr. Uhlmeyar: “ The whole work is treated- strongly filled with insuperable movement and delicate feeling, in the expression and the medium…… It’s all carved direct in the stone without models” (Silber, Evelyn, 1996).


Jacob Epstein, “Tomb of Oscar Wilde” 1912

Until late 1913 Gaudier’s carvings were mainly linked between his life and animal drawings and the shape and scale of the available stone. His small-scale densely worked sculptures were closely related to Far-Eastern art forms. Gaudier’s interests align him closely with Gauguin,who was influenced by Javanese Buddhist sculpture as well as European and Oceanic sources. Relief carving also offered a straightforward way into the uncompromising technique of direct carving. Gaudier’s earliest carvings, the tiny white marble Head of a Man (1912) and Religious Head (1914) transpose a type of facial study in the style of his drawings two or three years previously.

Gaudier head of man

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “Head of a Man” 1912

In 1913 Gaudier met Ezra Pound, the American poet and entrepreneur. In that year he drew many portraits of Pound and a strong relationship began to develop. In 1914 Pound commissioned Gaudier to sculpt a portrait of Pound’s head. At one metre high it was to be much larger than any previous works. According to Epstein, Pound asked Gaudier to make it ‘virile’. Horace Brodsky (1885-1969), an Australian born painter and critic, who regarded the head and all Gaudier’s more abstract work as ‘unrepresentative’, recalled later, “….its purpose and beginnings were entirely pornographic. Gaudier informed me…. that it was to be ‘phallus’”(Silber, 1996:130).  Pound recalled Gaudier muttering repeatedly,“You understand it will not look like you, it…will..not..look…like you. It will be the expression of various emotions which I get from your character” (Silber, 1996:130).

Gaudier ezra

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “Head of Ezra Pound” 1914

In a debate between Gaudier and Pound responding to Richard Aldington’s book The Egoist Gaudier made this statement:

  “The modern sculptor is a man who works with instinct as his inspiring force. His work is emotional. The shape of a leg, or the curve of an eyebrow,etc.,etc., have to him no significance whatsoever; light voluptuous modelling is to him insipid- what he feels he does so intensely and his work is nothing more nor less than the abstraction of this intense feeling… This sculpture… is continuing the tradition of the barbaric peoples of the earth (for whom we have sympathy and admiration.” (Silber, 1996:131).

The primitivism of Ezra Pound is obviously striking. The planes that create the face are definite and few. The initial longitudinal impact of the hair, nose and beard produce a potent effect whereas the eyes and brow give strength and balance. This head bears resemblance to the Easter Island heads of Oceania but there is a great difference in that here Gaudier has captured and revealed Pound’s personality. And from the reverse side it is overtly phallic in form. And this concentration on all aspects and perspectives of the one work continued in his Redstone Dancer (1913).

As one critic put it,   ‘….Redstone Dancer  is a flame angrily bursting into life  to herald the beginning of the new order.’  (Cork, Vorticism I:176)  The sculpture shows the connection of volumes and a conceptual approach to the organic form dominating the composition. The figure is one of sinuous motion and intensity. The red Mansfield stone from which the piece is carved glimmers with a satin finish which illuminates the planes of this piece’s ‘primitive’ forms. The arms enveloping the head and the twisted contrapposto stance emanate concentrated energy from within the centre of the piece. Attention is focused on the forms, their arrangement, rhythm and balance and not on the material qualities of the stone. The front view of the piece with its cluster of detailed elements- flipper hands, triangular features, circle and elongated circle of the breasts- contrasts sharply with the smooth convex expanse of the back. It is a masterpiece from every angle. Redstone Dancer is recognized as one of Gaudier’s most important works. The characteristic ‘primitive’ intensity of the figure and its bent posture combined with the classicism of it’s contrapposto position are arranged with a manipulation of the anatomy which seem to substantiate its position in the birth of modernism.

Red Stone Dancer c.1913 by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “Red Stone Dancer” 1913

As much as the Redstone Dancer is Gaudier’s most well-known work, it can be said that his sculpture Grief ( unknown date ), is almost totally unknown. This stone-carved figure has a rough surface which gives a feeling of someone who is closed off to the outside world. The arms, legs and head of the seated woman are all gathered inwards portraying a silence that follows the primal scream of loss and sorrow, leaving nothing but exhaustion and emptiness. In portraying an expression of sorrow using the round, paleolithic forms, Gaudier has given this piece balance and beauty, again from every perspective.

Sepulchral Figure 1913 by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, “Grief” 1913

Evelyn Silber (1996 p.141) states that from a late twentieth century perspective that mainly uses constructive sculptural techniques, improvised materials and ready-mades, Gaudier can be seen as being part of an anti-industrial rearguard of artists using traditional materials with a combination of archaic and primitive art forms to express their dissidence. However, the force of ‘primitivism’ was less a matter of structure for the Expressionists than of spiritual affinities and mystic union between the artists, their subjects and their materials.  Thus these artists, by looking outside the parameters of traditionalist western art, could break the tight bonds of their own visual history and project art into the modernist era.


HOFFMANN, WERNER, Painting in the Twentieth Century Volume 2,1965 Published by Prestel-Verlag, Munich, Germany pp. 53-56

BOWNESS, ALAN,  Modern European Art ,1972 ,Thames and Hudson Ltd London ,pp. 98-99

FLAM. J.D., Matisse on Art, Oxford, Phaidon 1973 p.74

SHELDON, JULIE, 1996, Matisse and the problem of expression in early twentieth century art, Chapter 3 in Liz Dawtrey, Toby Jackson, Mary Masterton, Paul Meecham and Paul Woods (eds.) Investigation in Modern Art, Yale University Press in association with the Open University and the Tate Gallery, London, pp 47-59.

SILBER, EVELYN, Finn, David, Gaudier-Bzreska 1996 Thames and Hudson Ltd London  pp.73-141


HOFFMANN, WERNER, Painting in the Twentieth Century Volume 2,1965 Published by Prestel-Verlag, Munich, Germany

BOWNESS, ALAN,  Modern European Art ,1972 ,Thames and Hudson Ltd London

FLAM. J.D., Matisse on Art, Oxford, Phaidon 1973

SHELDON, JULIE, 1996, Matisse and the problem of expression in early twentieth century art, Chapter 3 in Liz Dawtrey, Toby Jackson, Mary Masterton, Paul Meecham and Paul Woods (eds.) Investigation in Modern Art, Yale University Press in association with the Open University and the Tate Gallery, London,

SILBER, EVELYN, Finn, David, Gaudier-Bzreska 1996 Thames and Hudson Ltd London

BUTLER, ADAM, VAN CLEAVE, CLAIRE, STIRLING, SUSAN, 1996, The Art Book, Phaidon Press Publishing, London

MATISSE, HENRI 1984, ‘Notes of a painter, 1908’ in H.B. Chipp, Theories of Modern Art: A sourcebook by artists and critics, University of California Press, Berkeley

SELZ, PETER 1984, ‘Fauvism and expressionism: the creative intuition’ in H.B. Chipp, Theories of Modern Art: A sourcebook by artists and critics, University of California Press, Berkeley

KLEINER, FRED.S, MAMIYA, CHRISTIN J., 2005, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Twelfth Edition, Wadsworth/Thompson Learning

Living within a machine and a sculpture.


‘The house as a machine to live in’ and the ‘living sculpture’ are two Modernist architectural concepts which can be adapted to twenty-first century use. While global urbanization has invariably led to environmental depredation in the twentieth century, it is through well-considered architectural practice that human habitation can adapt to the changing natural environment and help to improve the high-density built environment that will be necessary in the future. This essay will look at various architectural philosophies as well as a biological example of high density living to research how these concepts can achieve a new context.


    Termite mound -Cape York,Australia

Termites engineer their environment to high level yet completely utilise renewable resources, and are an architectural inspiration for passive ventilated structures both as working machines and sculptural forms. To enhance the survival of the termite in a harsh environment, evolution has seen fit to create a social organisation of these insects that enable them to achieve feats that would be impossible for an individual insect. Their complex nests are cooperatively built, well-insulated and sustain suitable humid micro-climates in harsh, dry conditions. Different species build different types of nests to coincide with differing environments, however they generally use mud and saliva to produce a regular array of interior pillars which are transformed into walls or galleries or chambers connected by walkways. These walkways create air convection channels which rise in ventilator chimneys within the above ground mounds; allowing thermoregulation of a narrow temperature range. This temperature control is essential for the maintenance of the termites’ broods, as well as helping to maintain atmospheric control for the species that cultivate underground fungal gardens. The ducts within the mound act much like the vessels and the respiratory channels of the human body, functioning as effectively as well. Their sculptured nests have elaborate and distinctive forms, with some tall wedge-shaped mounds being oriented north-south, some are amorphous domes and some are buttressed cones covered in grass that can be up to seven metres high. All these building variations helping to adjust temperature control in differing locations.



To expand on the concept of sculptural buildings that effectively adapt to their environment one can look at the prototype of Arcosanti, an experimental town being built in thedesertofArizona. It will eventually house 5000 people and demonstrate ways in which society can improve urban conditions and lessen destructive impact on the environment. It is based on the concept of arcology, a combination of architecture and ecology, and was developed by the Italian architect Paolo Soleri(1919-  ). Arcology, like termite mounds, attempts to have the living and built environment interact as organs would in a highly-evolved being (, using systems such as multi-use buildings, solar orientation for lighting, heating and cooling and large-scale greenhouses that provide winter-heating as well as garden space for public and private use. Soleri’s work considers the economic and social impact of design decisions (Johnson, B., 1999). City sprawl is concentrated into an independent system containing all the functions required by urban life: housing, recreational centres, agricultural and educational facilities. Frugality is encouraged, along with craft production, as an alternative to consumer society. Strange concrete forms with giant open vaults, painted half-domes with peculiar crests, an amphitheatre ringed by buildings with giant circular openings, little houses sunk into the hillsides, the buildings of Arcosanti are structured so that their function changes along with the day, thus following the sunlight. Patios act as the core of the functional distribution with each boxlike dwelling revolving around an outdoor amphitheatre with the patio giving access to each unit (Piccardo, Romano, 2008). Moulded with earth-casting construction methods, exposed concrete is painted using craft techniques, the same colour as the earth. The challenge for arcology is to find ways for large groups of people to be able to tolerate living in such close proximity. By integrating working and living spaces, along with the transportation to connect it together, emphasises the effective use of high-rise habitation, urban agriculture and the collection and reprocessing of waste byproducts. Whereas Arcosanti is a prototype, the concept of arcology is now being proposed in population dense Asia, with the Chinese government showing a keen interest (  

The concept of a building or house as a ‘living sculpture’ can be attributed to the late work of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). As architects such as Le Corbusier and Gerrit Reitveld were influenced by the Cubists, it may be possible to see in Wright’s philosophy the influences of such organic sculptures as that of Constantin Brancusi’s and Henry Moore’s. In his 1928 essay ‘Architectural Record’ Wright says ‘in the stony bonework of the Earth…there sleeps forms and styles enough for all the ages of Man’ (Conners, 1979:397), which supports an organic, natural interpretation of his Fallingwater (1934).


                                                  Fallingwater, 1934, Pennysylvania

Fallingwater was built amongst the dramatic rock ledges and boulders in the forest of Bear Run, Pennysylvania. Wright was commissioned to build a weekender for the Kaufmann family yet subsequently built a monument to nature. Understanding that people are creatures of nature, he thought that what conformed to nature would conform to the basic needs of people ( and according to the writer Donald Hoffmann, Fallingwater is the “Natural House’ (Conners, 1979:397). Every major feature of the house symbolises the site: the central chimney reflects the geological strata of the region, while the jutting concrete terraces echo the rock ledges that line the waterfall. It was designed to grow naturally out of its setting, as an extension to the landscape rather than an intrusion (Hitchcock, 1968:331). The broad bands of horizontal windows, along with the low ceilings, direct attention outside to the differing textures of the forest. The concrete and stone structural materials blend with the colours of the surrounding rocks and trees, while accents are created with bright furnishings that echo the wildflowers and birds outside. Within the house, passages and stairs meander without formality with the house having no main entrance ( By building the house over the waterfall, Wright wished to force the inhabitants to be part of the presence and power of the waterfall (Kleiner, Mamiya, 2005:1017). Fallingwater is a synthesis of organic architecture, integrating such environmental factors as function, native materials, construction process and humans.


Villa Savoye, 1928, Paris

 Villa Savoye (1928) was the first building to realise the ‘five-point plan’ of Le Corbusier (1887-1965) that he wrote about in his essay of 1923 ‘Vers une Architecture’. Built on the outskirts of Paris as a weekend retreat for a client, it is a masterpiece of Purist design and one of the best examples of Le Corbusier’s goal to create a house that would be ‘a machine to live in’, both beautiful and functional ( The five-point plan encompasses a mathematically modular design using the ‘golden section’ of architecture, ‘pilotis’ where the house is raised on stilts to separate it from the earth, horizontal strip windows, abstract sculptural design along with pure colour, and an open interior plan with dynamic transitions between floors such as ramps and a spiral staircase leading to a roof garden. Sitting conspicuously in its site, the house was Le Corbusier’s imagined idea of a house built like a car using standardized production ( and innovative structural systems such as structural steel and reinforced concrete. The architect believed that the house should serve the basic physical and psychological needs of the inhabitants through access to the sun, space, vegetation, good ventilation, controlled temperature and insulation against unwanted noise (Kleiner, Mamiya, 2005:1013). Therefore, it was through these attributes that Le Corbusier made his ‘machine a habiter’. The ‘pilotis’ also freed space underneath the building, its structural steel frame construction freed the house plan from needing load-bearing walls and allowed the flow of function and aesthetics. Light is used as a powerful element in the house to draw people up the ramps becoming an architectural promenade (Korzilus, 1999:16). The use of the horizontal or ‘ribbon windows’ let vast amounts of light, while the roof garden allows the landscape to become part of the house. The forms of the house, with repetitive cylindrical columns and strong geometric shapes have echoes of classical Hellenistic architecture (Korzilus, 1999:8), and it is this rhythmical aspect that makes the house have a neutral balance and proportion that appeals to the human need for aesthetics or, in Le Corbusier’s words, ‘to touch one’s heart’.


Farnsworth House, 1951,Illinois

A masterpiece of modern architecture which could be described as ‘a sculpture to live in’ is Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe’s (1886-1969) Farnsworth House (1951). Also built as weekender near Plano, Illinois, this simple single-storey house sits on a secluded site on the Fox River. The design of the house celebrates nature in a unique way. By carefully planning the house around its specific location, Mies takes advantage of the natural surroundings. The house sits far from the main road and south of its 58 acre site. It has no driveway or walkway which leads to the house but is approached on foot so as to allow the inhabitants to interact with the natural environment along the way (  The house also faces the river which flows a short distance away and, although the site is vulnerable to flooding, Mies chose to elevate the house off the ground rather than position it further away. It is this floating effect which is also complemented by the buildings structure of eight white steel columns that support a flat floor and a flat roof. In between is floor to ceiling single panes of ¼ inch glass. Mies eliminated the idea of rooms and created one open space of 2,156 square feet. The central core of the house is constructed of primavera plywood and contains the kitchen, bathroom and fireplace (Leber, Webster, With this central core being the only interior wall, Mies designed and arranged the furniture so it is grouped in small clusters away from the exterior walls; allowing the boundaries between outside and inside to become almost invisible, and it is its prismatic composition which gives the house its temple-like quality. The windows and the intermittent partitioning, work together to force the inhabitants’ awareness of the raw elements of nature, as well as the comforting shelter of the architecture ( In 1938 Mies advocated the study of ‘primitive constructions, materials, the functional and the spiritual’ (Cohen, 1996:81), quoting the philosophy of St. Augustine ‘Beauty is the Splendour of Truth’ and it is with these thoughts that one can see that Mies intended that Farnsworth House to be an embodiment of his Purist views. Although the house has been criticised as being difficult to live in (Cohen, 1996:9), one can appreciate it’s almost Buddhist philosophy and disregard for the normal clutter of daily living. Mies’ adage that ‘less is more’ is certainly a potent message for sustainability in the 21st century.


Case Study House, 1949,California

 To keep housing sustainable it is also important to keep the costs low. Both Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and Mies’ Farnsworth House were unsustainable due to their cost. Charles Eames (1907-1978) was as American designer who wanted to use the expertise developed during the Second World War to produce low-cost veteran’s housing that would be both aesthetic and democratic. His Case Study House (1949) built in Santa Monica consisted of a design which used standardised parts already in production. It represented a particular refinement of ‘the machine for living’ that could become the ideal industrialised house (Copplestone, 1968:337). It was said by Dennis Sharp to be comprised of an unconventional use of standard components, which, when assembled, ‘became an artwork as unique as a Duchamp ready-made’ (Sharp, 2004: 170). The house, which was built for Eames and his partner Ray, was a double-storey unit divided into a house and a design studio by an open court. The living room was the full two stories in height with the bedrooms being set on a mezzanine level opening onto the living room. The house featured factory-produced steel windows frames filled with transparent and translucent glass and panelling made of wood, aluminum and fibreboard. The couple lived in the house till the end of their lives with it serving as a background offering them ‘a space where work, play, life and nature coexisted’ ( Charles and Ray Eames also used this design to propose a ‘do-it –yourself’ house for the Kwikset Lock Company. It was a house that would have been a low-cost prefabricated kit home designed to be assembled by the home’s owner. Similar to the Eames’ own house, it allowed the residents to customize the design to their own needs- a fundamental premise of the Eames’ philosophy.

A major architectural challenge of the 20th century, and now the 21st century, is to check the spread of dense masses of housing. Due to the exponential growth in human population since the Industrial Revolution, the natural environment has suffered much from an expanding human footprint. After the First World War, Le Corbusier turned his research to counteracting this problem with his ‘Voisin’ plan of Paris (1925) in which he built upwards in zigzag blocks, leaving room for green spaces beneath (Copplestone, 1968:328). His aim was to reconcile man with nature by his concept of the Green City as a necessary counterpart to the human social environment (Fishman, R., 1982: 204). Le Corbusier also believed that human habitation should be amenable to meditation; that after work, family life could exist to create individual fulfillment and creation. In his mass housing projects, each apartment was designed to be as private as a monk’s cell. Defining the ideal human environment, he recalled a trip to Italy, “I saw a modern City, crowning the hillside in the harmonious landscape of Tuscany’ (Fishman, R., 1982: 203). It was the monastery of Ema and he relished the structural combination of private and communal life there. The realm of the individual monk was a two room apartment overlooking the valley, connected with the community through the cloisters. At La Tourette (1955), near Lyons, he designed a monastery comprising a U-shaped building and a rectangular chapel set around a central court built on a hillside. The cells were cantilevered out over the storeys below with great attention being given to providing shade, air and light. However, it was in designing Unite d’Habitation (1947) that allowed Le Corbusier to realize his proposals for mass housing.


Unite d’Habitation, 1947, Marseille

The Marseille Unite d Habitation brought together Le Corbusier’s vision for communal living. He designed it under the constraints of post-war France, introducing the world to raw concrete because of the lack of steel and skilled workers for steel construction. Making a virtue of this necessity, he defined the building’s texture by the wooden plank formwork into which the concrete was poured. It is a ‘vertical village’ for 1600 people with an internal shopping centre on the middle floors, a recreation ground and children’s nursery on the roof, and a large surrounding area of parkland. It stands on strong, sculptural pilotis which give circulatory space beneath the building, has a pattern of single and double height balconies forming the façade, and contains fifteen different types of apartments. The partition walls are load-bearing and provide sound-proofing between apartments, but it is in the use of inter-locking two-storey apartments that the design shows its ingenious use of space (Glynn, S., 2001: It was because of the severe housing shortage after the Second World War that allowed Le Corbusier to make use of new industrialized management practices and orientate his construction technique to be based upon the modular. This made the processing and assembling of the new materials easier. Also, by attempting to provide the perfect residence for a family, he found technical solutions to control sound, light and ventilation, and to create new uses for living space. The apartments could face the sun and surrounding environment in silence and solitude, whilst the architecture was a work of elegant rigor (Sbriglio, 2008:


Roofdeck- Unite d’Habitation, 1947, Marseille

Another architect who spent much of his career contemplating sustainable habitation was Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). He admired the traditional architecture of Finland in which wood dominates as the main material and joining method, writing in 1941: ‘The Karelian house is in a way a building that begins with a modest cell…, shelter for a man and animals, and which figuratively speaking grows year by year’(Alvar Aalto, Architecture in Karelia, 1941). He had expanded this idea in 1932 when his association with a large Finnish timber and paper company opened his practice to industrial production. The patronage of the Finnish timber industry led Aalto to reappraise the value of timber over concrete as a primary expressive material. An organic approach to design led him to have a life-long concern for the overall ambience of space and how it could be modified through responsive filtration of heat, light and sound. Moreover, it was his later work that gave him an anti-mechanistic attitude and led him to believe that ‘to make architecture more human means better architecture’ (Frampton, K, 1997:199). In 1938 he designed Villa Mairea which featured a sculptural fireplace, mixed brickwork, rendered masonry and timber siding. The living rooms bordered a sheltered garden courtyard, set within a circular forest clearing. The house is roofed with sod and built according to the canons of the Finnish timber vernacular. Aalto connected architecture with biology and worked to create ‘a more sensitive structure to living’ (Frampton, K. 1997:201). After completing many municipal buildings, Aalto adapted an atrium concept to the design of a multi-storey apartment block built for the Berlin Hansvartal Interbau Exhibition in 1955. An ingenious design which has become one of the most significant post-war apartment types, its primary virtue was that it provided the benefits of the single-family home within the confines of a small flat. Through a U-shaped design, a large atrium terrace is flanked by living and dining rooms while the whole is surrounded on two sides by private spaces such as bedrooms. This grouping created an intimate and private atmosphere. Aalto always concentrated his attention on the creation of environments that would be conducive to human well-being, ascribing to the Northern European Expressionist architects’ philosophy that was ‘concerned that building should be life-giving rather than repressive’ (Frampton, K., 1997:202).


Interbau Exhibition, Hansaviertel, 1955, Berlin

The Australian architect Glen Murcutt (1936- ) developed a preference for simple primitive architecture from his early life in New Guinea; his main influences being Mies Van Der Rohe and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Being regional in nature, Murcutt’s houses resemble verandahs and have become a synonymous part of domestic Australian architecture ( His overriding design aim is to unify nature and inhabited space by having architecture respond to human need whilst retaining a consciousness of the natural world: ‘It is trees, it is climate, it is the earth, the water, the rocks and the landscape which is real’ ( His designs transpose the idea of a building to an organism which can adapt to changes such as humidity, temperature and light. Built in 1975 the Marie Short House is located in the marshy farmlands of Kempsey, NSW and it is the bodies of water that surround the house which make ventilation a top priority of the design. The house is composed of two pavilions connected by a corridor that also connects the two verandahs at each end of the pavilions. In 1980 Murcutt purchased the house for himself and added two additional spaces to the west of the building. The house was able to be pulled apart and reassembled with flexibility and ease without compromising the original buildings integrity. The humidity of the site was counteracted by positioning the house to receive the prevailing north-east breeze. The floor is raised on stilts 0.8 metres from ground level which prevents humidity being absorbed from the marshy soil and also prevents wildlife such as snakes from entering. The house uses solar heating and roof overhangs to maintain interior temperature control and light. The living room’s skylight has a shutter system to prevent excessive heat and light entering the room. Louvered windows have a detachable blind system to prevent heat loss in winter. In order to maintain a low building cost, Murcutt followed a minimalist building approach by emphasising only the essential and using manufactured construction elements rather than custom-made parts. Passive solar design and natural ventilation are the key elements of Murcutt’s design, allowing the architecture to benefit from the surroundings as well as respecting the natural site.


Marie Short House, 1975,New South Wales 

This sustainable design philosophy is also seen in Murcott’s design for the Educational Centre at Riversdale on theShoalhavenRiver. Again two main buildings connect with each other, their roofs sloping to form a ‘valley’ in which the rainwater is collected. One of the buildings is the meeting room and the other houses the sleeping quarters. Murcutt likened the experience of staying at Riversdale to camping, there being no heating system and the corridor between the two buildings being a covered verandah which is open at the sides. The sleeping quarters are outfitted like a ship’s cabin with each bed nestling in an alcove with a low ceiling and long, low window that gives a panoramic view of the river (Muller, B. 2001). Murcutt’s construction methods are carefully considered as to their environmental impact, and this led him to being awarded the 2002 Pritzker Prize  for sustainable architecture (


Educational Centre, Riversdale,1998, New South Wales 

The fundamental principles for sustainable architecture in the 21st century seem to be based upon the design principles of the Modernist architects of the 20th century. The principles are passive solar design, natural ventilation, insulation, waste reprocessing and collection of rainwater and solar heat, along with an awareness and respect for the natural site making the building an extension of the landscape. Also, the monastery being a good example of frugal, cooperative living, mass housing should include educational and recreational centres, markets, and agricultural facilities such as greenhouses. Finally, low-cost standardized production and parts based upon the concept of the module could allow for customized design and the integration of working and living spaces. Many of these principles are the basis of the termite mound from which can be construed that a more biological approach to architecture could be taken in the future. The ‘machine to live in’ could become an organic machine which allows the natural environment to cope with such a mass of humanity, and the ‘living sculpture’ could act to inspire humanity within the confines of their daily lives.

References: , Retrieved 13.11.08 , Retrieved: 3.11.08 , Retrieved: 28.10.08

Retrieved: 4.11.08 , Retrieved 22.10.08

Attenborough, D., The Living Planet, 1984, William Collins & Sons Co. Ltd.London , Retrieved: 28.10.08

Bonabeau, E. 1997, , Retrieved:17.10.08

Chami, C., 2007, , Retrieved: 28.10.08

Clark, A., Magney House, Glenn Murcutt- Retrieved:16.11.08

Cohen, J., Mies Van der Rohe, 1996,Taylor & Francis,London

Ed. Copplestone, T., World Architecture: An Illustrated History, 1968, Paul Hamlyn,London

Conners, J., 1979, The Journal of the American Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 38, No. 4, pp.397-398 , Retrieved 3.11.08 , Retrieved:17.10.08

 ‘Farnsworth House’, The Architecture Handbook: A Student Guide to Understanding Buildings, 2007, The Chicago Architecture Foundation- , Retrieved: 30.10.08

Frampton, K., Modern Architecture: a critical history 3rd Edition,Thames and Hudson Ltd London

Glynne, S. Unite d’habitation (Cite Radieuse)  2001, ,Retrieved: 6.11.08

Hansen, D., Architecture of France- Villa Savoye, Poissy 1928-21, 2006, Greenwood Publishing Group, Connecticut, pp.304

Johnson, B., Designer’s Ethic- An Industrial Study; Products for Urban Ecology, 1999,Virginia Polytechnic Institute andState UniversityVirginia

Kleiner, Mamiya, Gardner’s Art Through The Ages, 2005, Thompson Wadsworth, California

Korzilus, L., 1999, Vers une architecture and Villa Savoye- A comparison of treatise and building, Retrieved: 28.10.08

Leber, L., Webster, T., , Retrieved 30.10.08 , Retrieved 4.11.08

Matyiku, A. Marie Short House, Glenn Murcutt- Retrieved: 16.11.08

Muller, B., In the Landscape of Murcutt, Architecture Week,  No. 66, 2001.0912, pE1.1. , Retrieved:17.10.08

Piccardo, E., Romano, F., Soleri, la citt del futuro remoto,  , Retrieved 28.10.08

Rose, S., 2008, This is the Way We Should Live Now, The Guardian Weekly Vol.179, No. 13, pp.26-27 , Retrieved: 26.10.08

Sbriglio, J., 2008, Retrieved:16.11.08

Sharp, D., The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture, 1991,Quatro Publishing,New York, p111.

Sharp, D., Twentieth Century Architecture: A Visual History, 2004, 4th Edition, Images Publishing Group,London

Trachtenberg, M. Hyman, I., Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism pp.541- Retrieved: 6.11.08 , Retrieved:


In this essay I will attempt to explain the ideologies behind the two periods of art known as Modernism and Postmodernism employing the works of Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Julian Schnabel (1951-). Modernism is known for its characteristic simplicity and being futuristic, whereas Postmodernism is known for its complexity and historical quotation. Kandinsky, a renowned Modernist, is considered to be the founder of abstract art and a major artist of the Expressionist movement. Schnabel is known as one of the first Post-Modernists to arise out of the 1980s and also as a Neo-Expressionist. They are ideally posed to show the ideologies of each movement because they are influential in each of their separate period’s development.

The modernist period emerged from the Age of Enlightenment at the end of the eighteenth century. There was a shift from a belief in the will of a god to the humanist theories of Descartes, ‘I think, therefore I am’. Modernism envisaged a new era in which rational thought, not religious faith, would reign supreme and bring about a new and just society. In its utopian vision, modernism was essentially an optimistic school of thought and focused on innovation and originality. In painting it really evolved during the last half of the nineteenth century with Impressionism. The Impressionist use of brushstrokes and their absorption with the surface of a painting became known by the term reflexivity. At the beginning of the twentieth century this reflexivity, combined with the obsolescence of depiction as a factor in art, heralded in the age of abstraction. The invention of photography as a documentary device meant that there was no longer a use for artists to depict a scene. The aesthetic aspects of a work of art became utmost in the artist’s mind and the illusion of reality was quickly dispensed with to aid making the aesthetic elements more powerful. This type of non-narrative painting became known as abstraction.

Wassily Kandinsky is known to have made the first completely abstract painting in 1910. Born inMoscow, he arrived inMunichin 1896. He had trained as a lawyer but recognised that his true gifts were in the world of art. At first he was influenced by the lyrical naturalism that was the trend inMunichat the time. Then he came under the influence of German Primitivism and the Fauves. At this stage his narrative painting compositions showed unity and harmony but, following the example of the Fauves, he reduced the naturalism in his art and greatly extended its expressive powers. Glowing colours and fervent brushstrokes communicated sufficiently enough for him to depend less and less on his subject matter. By 1910 he made his first innovative attempt at a completely original abstract painting. This watercolour intended to carry the works meaning directly to the spectator by using just patches of colour and gestures of the brush. It was intended that the spectator should feel his way into the composition rather than read it. (Stangos, 1994, p.40)

In 1910, Kandinsky had written a book entitled On the Spiritual in Art. His leanings towards theosophy and the occult encouraged him to turn his back on the material world and commit his art to the world of the spirit. Kandinsky sought to connect visual art to the inner life of man by turning pictorial means to spiritual urges. As arts writer Nikos Stangos states, ‘Instead of reinforcing the false values of a materialistic society, art thus used would help people to recognise their own spiritual worlds’ (Stangos, 1994, p.43). In his book, Kandinsky wrote of the avant-garde’s battle with traditional limits of artistic expression. He wanted to represent the battle between spiritual values and the materialism of contemporary society.

During the following years, Kandinsky developed his non-referential art further, using semi-improvisatory techniques to get the greatest possible immediacy. Kandinsky’s move into abstraction was not welcomed by some of his fellow artists in Munich, therefore he joined together with Franz Marc (1880-1916) and other like-minded artists to form a new group, De Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider). According to their manifesto, art was to be a vehicle of human hopes and fears all linked by a desire to find a new means of expression. In Composition VI  (1913), the surface of this large canvas is teeming with energy and, even though the individual elements are balanced, the composition is very complex and without a central focal point.

 By1921, Kandinsky was already making fewer marks than his earlier abstractions, arranging them into a more identifiable diagonal composition. In The Black Spot (1921), the forms of his earlier work, some of which can be traced back to stylised ciphers for mountains and figures have begun to develop a life of their own and have settled into a pictorial vocabulary that Kandinsky is using more sparingly at this time, and in simpler compositions.  

After spending World War 1 in revolutionary Russia, Kandinsky returned in 1922 to Germanyto help Walter Gropius with teaching at his new school, the Bauhaus in Weimar. The Bauhaus was to become famous as the school that pioneered the teaching and practice of modern industrial and architectural design. Gropius wanted to lead the Bauhaus from its concern with artistic self-expression toward “an objective involvement in socially useful design” (Stangos 1994, p.48). Kandinsky continued to teach at the Bauhaus until the school closed under harassment from the new Nazi regime in 1933. During his time at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky formulated more of his understanding of art and creativity. He published his text Point, Line to Plane as one of the Bauhaus books in 1926. It is an attempt to codify the sensual and emotional value of colours and forms so as to enable the artist to control the expressive means at his disposal. His work lost much of its impetuous character and became simplified and controlled (Stangos 1994, p.48). His teachings about form were essentially new, starting with an analysis of individual elements such as point, line and plane, and examining their relationships to each other. The circle, a symbol of perfect form and a cosmic symbol at the same time, was the focal point of his paintings of this period.

After he was dismissed from the Bauhaus, Kandinsky became an exile again, this time in Paris where he continued to work as an artist, although conditions were not originally favourable . Cubism and surrealism were in fashion, but Kandinsky continued to paint his abstractions. He died inNeuillyin 1944 of a stroke.

 Postmodernism emerged in the latter part of the twentieth century after the Punk movements of the 1970s. Change, upheaval and conflict signified the jostling for supremacy amongst the various superpowers. Counter-cultures developed within Western society as people struggled to find identity amongst all these power shifts. The clamouring for recognition by different identifying groups was seen in art as a reason to break away from the formalist dictates of modernism. Representational art along with conceptualism allowed an ‘anything goes’ mentality during the late 1970s. Abstraction was no longer the sole determiner of a work of art as it had become under the influence of art critic Clement Greenberg. Postmodernism allowed an undisciplined array of styles and it has become a widespread cultural phenomenon. As a movement it has accommodated seemingly everything in art which makes it extremely difficult to provide a clear and concrete definition of the term. (Kleiner & Mamiya 2005, p.1034)

Whereas Kandinsky can be identified as one of the first modernists of the twentieth century, Julian Schnabel can be identified as one of the first artists to be identified with post-modernist characteristics in the late twentieth century. While the modernism practised by Kandinsky looked optimistically towards the future, post-modernism is inherently cynical and irreverent. It uses parody and pastiche to reject high art forms (Sturken, 2001, p.238-239). Post-modernism relies heavily on style and image and contains a reflexive quality that shows people’s absorption in the world of simulacra. It is a world in which people live through advertising and popular media. Schnabel’s work recycles conflicting images and systems of representation. His huge panels combine images quoted from film, photographs and religious iconography on surfaces patched together from posters, rugs, driftwood and  broken crockery.                                           

Julian Schnabel was born in New Yorkin 1951. After studying art at the Universityof Houstonand participating in the Whitney Study Program from 1969-1974, Schnabel was catapulted to the status of art world superstar in the early eighties, when his career was synonymous with the revival of painting as a meaningful art form. One of the most financially successful and aggressively self-promoting artists of his generation, he was a leading figure in what came to be known as ‘neo-expressionism’. He produces paintings and prints, and his brash appropriative style combined huge scale, often garish colours and obscure textural reference. The most iconic of his works are his ‘plate paintings’ in which broken crockery is attached to a support and painted in oils. The Student of Prague (1983) draws on the imagery of Christian ritual, layering roughly hewn crucifixes over the bed of broken china vessels, and deploying structure that recalls traditional triptych alterpieces. The title also copies a German silent film of 1913 by the German expressionist director Paul Wegner.  The plate painting Self-Portrait in Andy’s Shadow (1987) demonstrates Schnabel’s frequent use of the plate surfaces for large-scale portraiture, mostly of friends and personalities in the art world. Here, Schnabel makes his own image and links it, as homage, to Andy Warhol, whose date of death is written on the surface.

The use of historical quotation, referential imagery and great reflexivity, by his use of unconventional painting materials, elicits divided responses from the art critics. Some are offended by his deliberate flouting of the conventions of ‘high art’, while others hails his work as following in the best traditions of Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollack. Some feel that Schnabel’s popularity in the 1980s was synonymous with consumerism and that he exemplifies the cold commercialisation of the art world that was tied to economic boom of the era. The reviewer Ken Johnson wrote that whatever the formal virtues of Schnabel’s art there is always a reckless theatricality about it. He goes on to say that in his series of portraits of the same young blonde woman whose eyes’ have been covered by a horizontal bar of paint, there is a cliched quality in the fact that he is replicating an amateur portrait found in a thrift store (Johnson, 2005).

A retrospective exhibition in 1998 of Schnabel’s work included one of the first of the series of smashed plate paintings The Painter and the Doctors (1978). The reviewer Phyllis Braff wrote that this work generates thoughts about Schnabel’s  treatment of materials, space, scale and imagery and the way he constantly questions art practices (Braff, 1993). Another reviewer in 1989, Roberta Smith, called him ‘the master of conspicuous pictorial consumption’. He uses found artefacts, materials, words and cultural figures in his artworks. However, Roberta Smith felt that he has ‘a tendency to catapult genuine emotion into the realm of self-parodying melodrama’ (Smith, 1989). Michael Brenson wrote in 1987 that when combining an expressionist method with consuming self-consciousness and control ‘kitsch is always a danger, and the artist loves courting it’(Brenson, 1987). The curator at the Whitney Museum wrote in the 1989 catalogue that Schnabel’s work straddles modernism and post-modernism, ‘swinging between a modernist faith in painting and heroic individuality and a postmodern scepticism that mocks heroism and compels the viewer to see art first of all as performance and fiction’. The artist himself has written about his ambiguous plate paintings, ‘I wanted to make something that was exploding as much as I wanted to make something that was cohesive’. In his painting Rebirth I : (The Last View of Camilliano Cien Fuegos) he adds a pair of enormous blue eyes and a series of evenly spaced horizontal lines to a Kabuki backdrop of a cherry blossom landscape.

Whatever is thought of his work, Schnabel can be considered a ‘maximalist’ in that he throws everything at his paintings, including the kitchen sink. His Baroque tendencies seem to stem from a reaction against the arte povera movement, with their emphasis on humble materials and absence of colour. A secular Jew, Schnabel even uses Catholic iconography to match his forms and textures, such as ecclesiastical purple velvet. Although he still paints and holds regular exhibitions world wide, he is now more respected as a filmmaker. He has made the highly reviewed biographical films ‘Basquiat’ and ‘Before Night Falls’ and has recently won best film at theVenicefestival for ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’.

Kandinsky wrote: ‘Every work of art is the child of its age… [and] that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated’(Kandinsky, 1914). In my use of Kandinsky and Schnabel as examples of their periods of art, I cannot but think that each of them truly is ‘a child of their age’. They show that, through clarity, innovativeness and optimism, Modernism is to the Renaissance as Postmodernism, in its playfulness, melodrama and complexity, is to the Baroque. Kandinsky, in his studies into the abstract in art, was a major influence on the Modernist period and Schnabel, in his innovative use of historic sources and varied materials, is a major influence on the Postmodernist period.



  1. Stangos, Nikos, 1994, From Fauvism to Postmodernism 3rd Edition, Thames andHudson
  2. Kleiner, F.S. & Mamiya, C.J.,2005,  Art Through the Ages 12th Edition, ThomsonWadsworth Press
  3. Sturken, M. & Cartwright, 2001, Practices of Looking, An Introduction to Visual Culture,OxfordUniversity Press
  4. Johnson, K., 2002, New York Times, Art in Review, April 5th
  5. Braff, P., 1993, New York Times, Art Reviews; Revealing explorations of works by two contemporary masters, August 23rd
  6. Smith, R.,1989, New York Times, Review/Art; Julian Schnabel’s mantra: Stop ruining the world, December 8th
  7. Brenson, M., 1987, New York Times, Art: Works by Julian Schnabel at the Whitney Museum, November 13th
  8. Kandinsky, W., 1914, The Art of Spiritual Harmony, Translated by Sadler, M.T.H., from Über das Geistige in der Kunst, originally published 1911



  1. The Art Book,1996, Phaidon Press Limited
  2. 29.10.07
  3.  29.10.07
  4.  29.10.07
  5. 29.10.07
  6. Smith, R., 2003, New York Times, Art in Review, October 31st
  7. Wallach, A., 2001, New York Times, Art in Review, April 29th
  9. Smith, R., 1987, New York Times, Julian Schnabel exhibition is a highlight of uptown gallery hopping, November 7th
  10. Raynor, V. 1987, New York Times, Art: In Ridgefield Conn., a ‘ post-abstract’ show  , June 26th
  11. 30.10.07
  12. 30.10.07
  13. 30.10.07




The impact of “Desmoiselles” on twentieth century art.


What I should like to bring home to you is the incredible heroism

                of a man such as Picasso whose moral isolation at that period

was something frightful, for none of his painter friends had followed him.

                                                                                                                                  Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884 – 1979)


In 1907 a work that revolutionised artistic conventions, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, was conceived by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). It has only been since his estate was left to the state of France in 1987 that it has been possible to trace the progressive thoughts and ideas that evolved to become this monumental landmark painting. After examining the origins of Picasso, this essay will endeavour to reveal the major influences, features and reactions to a work of art that has become the cornerstone of modern art.

 Picasso was one of the first artists to challenge artistic convention and move into the realm of abstraction. This artist, whose contributions into new ways of representing the world made him one of the most important in art history, prolifically explored almost every artistic medium in his long life. By the time he had entered the Barcelona Academy of Fine Arts at age fourteen, he had already mastered the 19th century Realist technique, thanks to early tuition from his father who was a drawing teacher. Through a deep curiosity and capacity for assimilation, his determined spirit shook off all family and social restraints and, after settling inParis in 1904, began an enduring experiment with innovation.

 Picasso was in constant dialogue with all the art he had ever seen; the European tradition, Spanish history, other civilizations, as well as his contemporaries. In her article on Picasso’s influences, Miriam Cosic informs that Picasso’s Spanish roots were with Velaquez, El Greco and Goya, whom he would have studied as a student. The masters of his immediate past were Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin, as well as the Paris-centred modernism of contemporaries such as Matisse and Braque. Anne Baldassari, the director of the Musee Picasso inParis, says that maybe the real idea for Picasso was to grab the essential, ‘art could never be decorative or symbolic for him.’(Cosic, 2008, p.4). He cross-examined works intensely, searching for the key idea or the ‘revolutionary aspect that bestows power and longevity’(ibid. p.5). Cosic also reveals that Picasso greatly admired Cezanne, whose method taught him that ‘painting has intrinsic value, independent of the realistic representation of the objects portrayed and inherent in the spatial construction and brushwork. Archaic Iberian sculpture and masks from the Ivory Coastwere also to hold a fascination for him and it was the examination of this art that would influence further breakthroughs in 1906.

 There was widespread interest at the time in ‘primitive art’ which was thought to articulate a primal force of human expression. Picasso came into contact with this art for the first time when he was shown a small wooden statue in the studio of Henri Matisse (1869-1954). The art historian Lorraine Levy informs that it was said that Picasso was overwhelmed by it and held it in his hands all night (Levy, 1990, p.48). With a simple language of two holes for eyes, a triangle for the mouth, the geometry of such statues transfigured reality. Picasso realised that one should not ‘seek to paint what one saw, but what one felt, even if it meant deforming the subject in order to arrive at its essence’ (ibid. p.48).

 However, it was in 1905 that modern art’s truly new idiom began. Developing backwards, Picasso made a well-considered and multi-layered engagement with tradition. He cut back his deployment of colour, reinforced his forms by simplifying them to a concentrated essential. 1905 was also the year that the Fauves provoked controversy with their revolutionary use of autonomous colour at the autumn Salon in Paris. That Salon also had an Ingres retrospective and a small showing of Cezanne’s paintings. From Cezanne, Picasso took his laws of rendering form and colour, whereas from Ingres he took the academic draughtsman’s perfection of form. By the summer of 1906, after a trip to Gosol in the Spanish Pyrenees, a rudimentary simplicity appeared in Picasso’s work. He had begun depicting human form in terms of its plastic volume, simplifying it to a few blocks and therefore something much less naturalistic. Picasso biographer, Ingo Walther, declares that the two portraits in 1906 were precursors to this new idiom; Self Portrait with Palette and Portrait of Gertrude Stein. The principles upon which Picasso was working were seen as beginning in these two works. He ignored perspective and the logic of natural appearance in Gertrude Steins’ portrait, giving her a head that is an irregular block with asymmetrical eyes and nose. In his self portrait, a professional technique is ignored altogether with colour being rawly applied, making no illusions but merely establishing a form (Walther, 1992, p.14).

In the summer of 1907, these experiments culminated in the major work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, recognised as a key work in modern art. For decades little was known how this work came to be painted- therefore vague opinions were formed to fill the gaps of knowledge. The painting was begun in the autumn of 1906 upon Picasso’s return fromSpain. After doing sketches all winter, the first composition was ready in March 1907, which shows seven people in a brothel. Picasso then altered the form and composition considerably by cutting the number of figures to five, and it was this version which he transferred to canvas. He did not stop sketching further ideas but by July 1907 had painted the final work after a staggering 809 preliminary sketches. Walther contests that the sheer rigorousness of Picasso’s application shows that this work was executed in a rational and consistent manner (Walther, 1992, p.155). 

Each part of the picture has a fundamental importance, beginning with the size of the canvas, which looks like a square, but is not. It is a difference that creates an impression of irresolution. ‘Everything in this picture teaches us of the inadequacy and randomness of customary concepts in visual representation’ (Walther, 1992, p.153). The colour scheme is both monochromatic and contrastive with the figures coloured from whitish yellow to brown, contrasting with the blue that divides the right group from the left. The blue tonal differences weaken the shock of the transition, and are modified again by being placed casually with the classical golden section. The illuminating effect of light is abandoned with light and dark areas merely used to point out the drama of the figures. ‘Empty space disappears- this is the greatest organisational innovation- and a spiky design jerks across the surface and shatters spatial continuity (Haftmann, 1965, p.70) 

An irregular tripartite scheme is given with the triangular table that points upwards as the centre axis. The axis is also occupied by the middle figure whose arms restate the axis by inverting the triangle. This is a classical symmetrical composition of an ideal yet austere kind. In contrast, classical perspective has been obliterated with the only spatial depth in the work being held by the overlapping of figures. Picasso has also painted contradicting viewpoints, with the lower half of the painting looking up to the subjects, while the upper section is indefinite. The bodies are seen at once from the front and the side, lines and blocks of colour being used to make de-formations in parts of the figures. The painting is ‘a meticulously considered, scrupulously calculated visual experience without equal’ (Walther, 1992, p. 160).

 The picture that he had painted seemed to all of them something crazy

or monstrous. Braque…declared that it seemed to him that it was as if

someone had drunk paraffin in order to spit out flames, and Derain told

me to my face that one day Picasso would be found hanging

behind this big picture of his, so desperate did the enterprise seem.

                                                                                                                                                                   Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler

For weeks Picasso had not allowed anyone to look at what he was working on, and when he finally showed his contemporaries the work ‘he was completely and unanimously disowned’ (Levy 1990, p.52). The collector,Leo Stein, asked facetiously if Picasso was trying to paint the fourth dimension, whereas Matisse was furious and mystified. Only Kahnweiler, who was later to become Picasso’s art dealer, understood the genius that was Demoiselles d’Avignon. Picasso turned the painting to face the wall and did not show it again for another twenty years. However, the effect on his contemporaries was profound and the painting is seen to be the beginning of Analytical Cubism.

 Contemporary analysis of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and of its preliminary studies, show that the painting was truly radical. Walther asserts that Picasso had reconceived European art tradition in its entirety and used its elements to create a new visual language. He had not intended to break with tradition but he did want to disrupt, perhaps destroy convention. ‘This painting, more than any other work of European Modernism, is a wholly achieved analysis of the art of painting and of the nature of beauty in art’ (Walther, 1992, p.163).

It is recognised that Les Demoiselles d’Avignon not only broke with tradition but destroyed the whole concept of beauty in Western art. Cubism and modernist doctrines were derived from it. Hidden from view for such a substantial amount of time, the effects of the painting continued to reverberate through the minds of the artists who reacted so violently to it. The painting continued to influence its effect exponentially through their work and, even today, retains its ability to disturb and shock.





Cosic, M., Cezanne’s Grandson, May 24-25, 2008, Weekend Australian, News Limited, Sydney

Haftmann, W., Painting In The Twentieth Century, 1965,Lund Humphries,Munich

Ed. Kleiner & Mamiya, Art Through The Ages, 2005, ThompsonWadsworth,Los Angeles

Levy, L., Picasso, 1990,Konecky&Konecky,New York

Ed. Richet, M. The Musee Picasso, Paris II, 1988, Thames andHudson,London

Walther, I.F., 1992, Picasso I, Benedikt Tasken Verlag ,Cologne

“My whole life as an artist has been nothing other than a continual struggle against the forces of reaction and the death of art.” PICASSO

( Levy, L.1990:95)

Pablo Picasso was one of the pre-eminent artists of the twentieth century. He and his work were the subject of unending analysis, gossip, dislike, adoration and rumour. Due to the advent of global mass media, no other painter or sculptor had been as famous as this through their own lifetime (Hughes, R., His work expanded continually through experimentation and innovation right up to his death at the age of ninety-two. The public saw him as the ‘archetypal modernist’ (Hughes, R. but unlike Modernists such as Kandinsky or Mondrian, his work is full of sensation, desire and metaphor conveyed with a tremendous plastic force. Because of the prodigiousness of his output and his many explorations into different media, this essay will concentrate primarily on the changes that he was able to make to his paintings through continual experimentation, a capacious attitude and unwillingness to be restrained by disapprobation.

Born as Pablo Ruiz in the coastal town of Malaga, Spainon October 25th 1881, Picasso, who was his family’s only son, showed an exceptional talent for drawing as a child.  He was facilitated in this ability by his father, an academic realist, drawing master and curator of the museum in Malaga. Given an academic art education in Barcelona and Madrid, at fifteen he completed his first large canvas The First Communion (1896) which satisfied the academy’s demands for emotionalism and realism. It was shown together with paintings by the Spanish painters Santiago Rusinal and Isidro Nonell at an important exhibition in Barcelona. However, Picasso soon disassociated himself from restrictive academic practice and immersed himself in the café life of Barcelona where he met artists being influenced by French Art Nouveau and English Pre-Raphaelites. He decided that Paris was where he would find his new direction and there he was attracted to the works of the Post Impressionists Toulouse Lautrec, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas and Pierre Bonnard. However, even though while in Paris he was able to secure a contract with a young art dealer, he had to return to Spain because of financial troubles.

In Spain he became alienated from his parents and their ambitions for him to make a name for himself as an academic realist, therefore he returned to Paris in 1901 with a friend, Carlos Casamegas. Unfortunately he still could not survive from his art, so returning to Spain he left his friend in Paris. When Picasso heard about Casamegas’ suicide in a Paris café, his distress motivated him to begin the monumental allegorical painting La Vie (1903). Influenced by El Greco in his elongation of form and streaky colour, Picasso had been painting with a monochromatic blue palette which typified the work of the period. He would have encountered in Paris and Barcelona the works of socialist writers such as Pierre- Joseph Proudhon and Emile Zola which were influencing the political, philosophical and cultural thinking of the period (Walther, 1992:86). Therefore, La Vie is a melancholy existential piece of symbolism of Picasso’s life during that period which was filled with the subject matter of beggars, sick children and prostitutes.

Picasso made his final move to France in 1904 where he established a studio with his companion Fernande Oliver in Montmartre. He exhibited at Berthe Weill’s gallery and in 1905 showed a new group of works featuring travelling entertainers. He came to the attention of the American collector Leo Stein and his sister, the Modernist writer Gertrude Stein. They bought 800 francs worth of his work and, shortly after, the art dealer Ambrose Vollard also bought 2000 francs worth. Picasso’s financial situation improved and, along with his relationship with Fernande, this allowed a stability to form that would last for several years. At this happier time in his life, his work featured acrobats and actors from the Medrano circus which he attended with other writers and artists. He also became interested in radical literary aesthetics through his friendship with the writer and poet Max Jacob. Friendships developed with the writer Andre Salmon and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire who, also being an art critic, drew the public’s attention to Picasso’s work. Moving in leftwing literary and artistic circles, Picasso’s individualism was expressed in the role of outsider. In France especially, the Harlequin was seen as the ‘rootless proletarian, the People in person’ (Walther, 1992:129) and would serve as Picasso’s alter ego for a number of decades. The major work of this period is Family of Saltambiques (1905) which embodies a feeling of collective alienation. As did La Vie, it had numerous sketches and over-paintings, but the final picture depicts a family of circus performers standing in an empty expanse of dunes all gathered together but unable to interact. Elongation of the figures has disappeared, warm red is the underlying colour and a classical beauty imbues the work. The amount of overworking that Picasso did on each of these major works shows a ‘restless and complex period of experimentation, struggle and discovery’ (

1905 was the year the Paris Autumn Salon featured the exhibition of the “Fauves”. Henri Matisse was the leader of this group that experimented so wildly with colour and in 1906 Gertrude Stein introduced him to Picasso. Through Matisse, Picasso was introduced to primitivism and the sculptures of the Ivory Coast. It was these, Cezanne’s Bathers and the ancient Iberian masks being exhibited at the Louvre that influenced Picasso to increasingly strip his form down to essentials. By 1907 he had completed the first sketch for a piece of work that is now seen as one of the cornerstones of modern art. He kept sketching and experimenting with further ideas until Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon (1907) was completed in July of that year. Picasso was investigating the process of artistic mimesis. A mimetic image is an image identified because it resembles one’s own image of the object. The lines drawn are used to convey meaning and character without content. The twin poles of mimesis are the ‘ideal coincidence of object and representation, while having a complete absence of any representational value’ (Walther, 1992:150). Picasso’s investigations led him to link the mimetic image as a compound of elements that do not belong together. The new form contained enough representation to make it comprehensible while having as much non-referential material as possible without being completely abstract. It was this synthesis that brought together the results of Picasso’s experiments to the final oil version of Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon (Walther, 1992:151).

The bewilderment felt by Picasso’s contemporaries at this new work led them to believe that he had gone mad. It must be remembered that the small amount of people who saw the work were members of the avant-garde, however the paintings approach was so utterly new that they found it hard to accept. Picasso had evolved a new form through his use of what he had learnt from the explorations of Cezanne and Matisse, where form became the content of the painting. It was the painter Georges Braque who, along with ideas derived from Cezanne, felt the most impact from the painting. During 1908 he deconstructed his own representational and special values while painting the landscape near L’Estaque. Picasso and Braque began to travel together and in 1911 worked side by side in Ceret in the south of France. Both artists began to develop the style known as Cubism together. The Poet (1911) epitomizes the development of Analytical Cubism, when abstraction was so extreme as to make the object unrecognizable. The human form is ‘reconstructed as an architecture of rectilinear and curvilinear elements’ painted in monochromatic colours (Flint, L.

From the almost total fragmentation of representational form, Picasso and Braque reintroduced a more legible form of imagery derived from the studio or café environment. This new stage was classified as Synthetic Cubism in which the compositions were broader, flatter and more chromatically varied. In 1912 Braque made the first paper collage in which paper was glued to a support as a compositional element. Picasso also began to use this method and in Pipe, Glass and Bottle of Vieux Marc (1914) he used the Futurist magazine Lacerba as an integrated part of the pictorial space. The use of the collaged papers multiplied meaning and the further drawn surfaces and cut out planes became both opaque and transparent making the composition contradictory (Flint, L., 

After many of his colleagues such as Braque and Apollinaire has joined the armed forces at the beginning of the First World War, Picasso continued Synthetic Cubism in an increasingly stark manifestation. He had left Fernande in 1912 and had begun a relationship with Marcelle Humbert, who was rarely to feature directly in Picasso’s work other than as the words ‘Ma Jolie’ written upon some of the collages. Eva, as Picasso called her, died of consumption in 1915 and the Harlequin painting reflects his desolation at her death. It shows a bare undecorated form which is almost pure geometric configuration. It is an imposing structure linked only to the natural world by terse signs. Picasso, as well as Malevich in Russia and Mondrian in Holland were becoming increasingly influenced by the widespread popularity of pictorial geometry. It was Picasso’s most abstract phase and yet, almost immediately, he abandoned it to rediscover classicism within his work (Haftmann, 1965:79). Through returning to classicism, Picasso’s biographer Ingo Walther says, Picasso chose not to continue his Cubist exploration to complete abstraction as did other artists of the time such as Mondrian and Juan Gris. He became interested in the applied arts through his work with the director Sergie Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes.

Through his collaboration with the ballet Picasso’s life changed and he became part of fashionable society, following the ballet to Rome where he was greatly influenced by Roman and Greek classicism and Etruscan art (Walther, I.:274). Walther also argues that moreover it was the new visual medium of photography that prompted a return to classicism for Picasso. His many portraits of that period were all painted and drawn from photographs, yet he was still progressive in his approach (Walther, I.:274). All of Picasso’s drawings in that period adopted the photographic contour of line, harshness in tonal contrast and modelled three-dimensionality. Massive figures with dark eye sockets are the results. The motion study and curtain for the ballet ‘Le train bleu’, Women Running On A Beach (1922) suggests Picasso’s joy of his newborn son to the ballerina Olga Kokhlova. These female giants are not hindered by their heavy limbs but seem to be dancing as lightly as ballerinas.

By the mid 1920s Picasso was becoming a victim of his own fame. Society blindly applauded him no matter what he painted and he was also beset by marital problems with his wife, Olga. Surrealism also offered him an escape from his own virtuosity. He was considered by the Surrealists as a precursor of their movement with the movement’s leader, writer Andre Breton, considering Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon as the birth of surrealism (Levy, L. 1990:84). Picasso’s new work La Danse (1925), with its frenzied rhythms, dislocated composition and violent colour featured on the cover of the first Surrealist magazine. It is a celebration of the jazz era and also an indicator of the breakdown of his marriage.  Later in life Breton was to express that Picasso was a Surrealist in spirit because so much of his work was based on the internal model and also that he ‘remained an innovator and a risk-taker for most of his artistic life (Besemer, J.,

From 1925 to 1936 Picasso created a copious amount of sculpture. It was his experiments with these three-dimensional forms that allowed him to juxtapose both forms of media to make an interplay of forms, restless shapes that open and close, become abstract in character yet reminiscent of human shape, rounded and fluid protruding in a transitional smoothness from an amorphous mass. His sketchbooks from 1927 show an endless variation on the subject of bathers. Picasso spent most of his summers at the beach and in that year he met a young woman, Marie Therese Walther, who became his secret lover and inspiration for much of his erotic work. Drawing on Surrealist imagery, he formalised his work into shapes that could be both mechanical and organic, dissecting structures and reconfiguring them ( It culminated in the painting Bather with Beach Ball (1932) where the figure fills the canvas. The clumsiness of the body, the pattern of the bathing suit, the beach cabin and the sea are a humorous view of life at the seaside.

Book illustration was also a subject Picasso became interested in around 1930. He employed a variety of etching processes and in the series known as The Vollard Suite he begins to depict the creature the Minotaur. Half beast and half man, Picasso saw the Minotaur as the embodiment of duality and likened it, according to the photographer Brassai, to ‘the fighting toro of Spain, charged with obscure, potentially eruptive forces (Richet, M. 1988,: 283). It was also in the mural that he was commissioned to create for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris Exposition Internationale in 1937 that he used this symbol. Civil war had broken out in Spain and the fascist army officer General Franco was fighting against the Spanish Republican Government. On May 1 1937, at the instigation of Franco, Hitler’s Luftwaffe practiced bombing a small Spanish town of Guernica. The townspeople were massacred and it was the newspapers coverage of the event that enraged Picasso to create the huge 8 metre wide canvas Guernica (1937) in just one month. The symbolic elements of this painting were present in the very early studies, the Bull, the Horse and the Bearer of Light. The whole composition is imbued with violence and grief, with the monochromatic black and white evoking death. When Picasso exhibited his testament to the murdered civilians of Guernica, it was seen in the context of the rise of Fascism in Europe, with the eagle and swastika of the German Pavilion and the imitation Roman splendour of the Italians juxtaposed against the gigantic statue of the worker for the Soviet Union (Levy, L., 1990:99).

During the Second World War Picasso was forced by the Nazi occupation of France and the Spanish Civil War into an isolated situation. Because of the deep conservatism of the Nazi outlook, the arts in France became dominated by a summons to ‘traditional French values’. Modernism and independence in the arts were now viewed with deep suspicion. Maurice de Vlaminck, once an avant-garde artist, denounced Picasso as ‘the pre-eminent modern artist who must bear responsibility for the decline in the arts (Walther,I.,1992:434). He was viewed through this perspective as being unFrench and a foreigner who had a destructive influence on French culture. Therefore, keeping politically neutral, he recorded the occupation and the war indirectly. His work was mainly chromatically muted still-lifes and portraits of his companion, photographer Dora Maar, and his and Marie-Therese’s young daughter, Maya.

Due to the enormous amount of attention Picasso received at the end of the war, he moved in 1947 to the small town of Vallauris in southern France. Vallauris, known for its ceramic industry, was in decline however it was this medium that interested Picasso (Richet, M.,1988:126). He began working with the ceramicists Suzanne and Georges Ramie and after acquiring the necessary skills, used the medium to make painted three-dimensional objects. Enjoying the fact that the medium could be manipulated in such varied ways before firing, Picasso used the paint to reinforce and highlight his forms. His basis was the ancient Mediterranean tradition of pottery, such as the vase paintings of Ancient Crete (Walther, I.,1992:503).

A growing isolation from contemporary mainstream development in art caused a dominating self-referentialism in Picasso’s work during the 1950s. In both the USA and France total abstraction had become the prominent idiom of the art world, whereas in Picasso’s work, whether deconstructed or retained, the figure remained central (Walther, I. 1992:536). He moved from Vallauris and his life with Francois and their two children, to the Cote d’Azure with a new companion Jacqueline Roque. During this time he painted many portraits of Jacqueline but also many paraphrases of old masters. He felt he needed to measure himself against painters such as Velazquez, Goya, Poussin, Delacroix, Manet and Courbet (Hughes, R., . His paraphrase of Velazquez’s Las Meninas held interest for him because it dealt with one of his central themes, that of painter and model. The composition preserves the status of each character of the original. Picasso saw Velazquez to be the ‘true painter of reality’ and he wanted to restructure that reality (Walther, I., 1992:604). After many variations, his series finally came to nothing because in trying to subject the original to his will, as a colourist Picasso was no match for Velazquez. He was a prisoner to his own virtuosity as a draughtsman, with colour always being secondary (Walther,I., :611).

The female was Picasso’s obsessive subject. Much of his pictorial universe was related to the naked bodies of women. They ranged from dreamy eroticism to frenzied hostility (Hughes, R., ). Yet in his last decade of life Picasso embarked on a series of the most erotic work he had ever painted. Subject to denunciations of pornography after his death, it was only in 2001 with the Picasso Erotique exhibition in Paris were they looked on with any seriousness ( Picasso had always spurned convention for invention and these frenetic experimentations in both lithograph and painting were further investigations into the nude at a time of sexual liberation of the 1960s of which Picasso, even in his seclusion, would have been aware (Walther, I., 1992:650).

In Picasso’s paintings we see a rational, logical, consistent method. His classical art education made his approach fundamentally traditional in nature as seen in his many preparatory works. Unlike the forefather of the modern conceptual movement Marcel Duchamp, whose concepts precede and accompany his work, Picasso’s work is inherently comprehensible. Both a traditionalist and a revolutionary, his true greatness lies in his duality, vitality and commitment to constant innovation. Even his last series of portraits of himself and Jacqueline had no intention of resolving themselves. They were art for art’s sake, as a child draws with his crayons. Through his constant exploration and experimentation Picasso refused to observe the bounds of artistic genre. Even through fame, the progressive isolation that overcame him was fought against by his own presumption of pre-eminence as an artist. His last works precluded the Neo-Expressionists such as Frank Auerbach and Georg Baselitz and attest to the fact that he refused to let age diminish his powers. His was truly a struggle against artistic conservatism and death.



  1. Retrieved: 30.6.08
  2. Besemer, J. (2002) Retrieved: 19.7.08
  3. Blume, M. (1996)- ‘Picasso and 1946: the Year of Joie de Vivre’ in  International Herald Tribune, Sat. July 20, 1996
  4. Butterfield, A. (2007)- ‘Recreating Picasso’ in The New York Review of Books, Vol.54, No. 20, Dec. 20,2007
  5. Brassai, (1943)- ‘Conversations with Picasso’ Retrieved: 7.7.08
  6. Flint, L. –   Retrieved: 7.7.08
  7. Haftmann, W. (1965) Painting in the 20th Century, Vol.2Lund Humphries,London
  8. Hughes, R. –  Retrieved 8.7.08
  9. Kimmelman, M. (1996)- Picasso again: Still surprising  Retrieved: 8.7.08
  10. Levy, L. (1990) Picasso, Konecky andKonecky,New York
  11. Pablo Picasso 1881-1973-   Retrieved 16.7.08
  12. Picasso’s other Passion (1998)-   Retrieved  10.7.08
  13. Picasso-The Early Years-  Retrieved  10.7.08
  14. Richet, M. (1988) The Musee Picasso Paris, Thames andHudson,London
  15. Salmon, A. ‘Andre Salmon on French Modern Art’  Retrieved 10.7.08
  16. Walther, I.F. (1992), Pablo Picasso 1881-1973 – The Works from1890-1936, Volume I  Benedikt Taschen,Koln
  17. Walther, I.F. (1992), Pablo Picasso 1881-1973- The Works from 1936-1973, Volume II Benedikt Taschen,Koln