Botticelli to Van Gogh

Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London


Learning Resources

The Birth of Modern Art

The modern age grew out of an explosion of scientific discoveries and swelling urban populations. City life was reinvented as cosmopolitan, with mass entertainment and networks of transport. Political revolutions had led to new concepts of popular government, and the state became more important as the church’s power declined. Amid all this social and political change, royal, aristocratic and religious patronage was replaced by the middle class, art collectors and art dealers, some of whom supported radical experimentation. Paintings became less about mythologies, allegories and theatrical romantic lighting and more about the immediate sights and sensations of the world around. The growing popularity of photography meant that painting was no longer the only way to realistically reproduce the natural world. This gave painters more freedom to show their paint marks, to use colour in all its richness and to try new ways of visualising the world. Look at these paintings and see how their styles differ from artworks from earlier periods. Think about what subjects might be important for contemporary artists and what new methods are used to make artworks today. Make an artwork about an object that was created during the 20th or 21st century, such as a computer, mobile phone or robotic vacuum cleaner! Try to use a method that was not available to the artists of the past, for example, digital photography, image manipulation software and/or video.

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