“At the dawn of a new age”: early 20th century American Modernism flourishes optimistically with community…

Wednesday Oct 5th 2022/ Whitney Museum of American Art /”At the dawn of a new age: early 20th century American Modernism”/Through February 26, 2023.

Welcome back friends!


Man Ray (1890-1976) “Orchestra” 1926.

Welcome back, this week, to celebrate the return of the sun, in the city that never sleeps, to another fun cultural outing.


Welcome to an exciting, colorful, awe-inspiring, uplifting art exhibit, featuring about 60 early 20th century American Modernist art pieces, spanning from 1900 to 1930, mostly originating from the Whitney’s own collection, beautifully curated by Barbara Haskell, including celebrated and lesser famed important artists, showcasing their unconventional, Avant-garde approach, which features various art movements:


First, welcome to late 19th/early 20th century American Ashcan school depicting urban life, led by Robert Henri (1865-1929), an avid admirer of French painter Edouard Manet (1832-1883), and one of the first artists to depict modern, everyday life of all social classes in France, and Henri believed as Manet, that working-class and middle-class urban settings would provide better material for modern painters than drawing rooms and salons.


Second, welcome to European modern movements having influenced American Modernism: from Impressionism (“open air” painting with loose strokes), to Post-impressionism (explored color, line, and form, and the emotional response of the artist, which led to the development of Expressionism), to Cubism (brought different fragmented and abstract views together in a same picture), to Fauvism (characterized by strong colors and fierce brushwork), to Expressionism (vivid colors and bold strokes were often used to exaggerate emotions and feelings), to Symbolism (used a wide variety of subjects as metaphors/images and gave these subjects deep meanings such as love, death, etc…), all these various Avant-garde movements, all rejected traditional realistic academic art styles, favoring emotion, imagination, and subjective viewpoints.


And interestingly, most of these artists were part of close knit communities, who would gather to eat, drink, see vaudeville, listen to jazz, or poetry, (or other performing arts), and discuss art shows, spirituality, and of course, see each others work, or just chill together.


And these American art communities were led by a few illustrious American influencers:

1)Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), a photographer and modern art collector and promoter, who ran many art galleries at the beginning of the 20th century in New York, and had spent a lot of time in Europe early on in life, and promoted some of the most important Modernist artists including two key artists for him: Pamela (Pixie) Colman Smith (1878-1951) American-British artist, illustrator, writer, publisher, and occultist. She is best known for illustrating the beautiful Art Nouveau Rider–Waite tarot deck for Arthur Edward Waite, and as early as 1907, was promoted in Stieglitz galleries.


Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck 1909 -“The world” Tarot card

And even more important for Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), considered the mother of American Modernism, and known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes. O’Keeffe moved to New York in 1918 at Stieglitz’s request, and began working seriously as an artist. They developed a professional and personal relationship that led to their marriage in 1924.


Georgia O’Keeffe- Music, Pink and Blue No 2, 1918

2)Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), was another hugely important “influencer” of American Modernism: an American novelist, poet, art collector, who moved to Paris in 1903, and ran there, a renowned Saturday evening gathering place, “salon”, for a huge number of international artists including painters and writers, such as Picasso, Braque, Gris, Picabia (Cubists), Cézanne (Impressionist and post Impressionist), Rousseau (Post-Impressionist Naïf/ primitive), Matisse (Post-Impressionist, Fauvist), Derain (Fauvist), Max Jacobs (Symbolist), Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Joyce.


3)Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928), was equally a Modernist artist and an American Modernism influencer and organizer, who along with Walt Kuhn (1877-1949), Modernist artist and promoter of modern art, and Walter Pach (1883-1958) Modernist artist and critic, and close friend with Matisse and Duchamp, all three of them, helped organize the 1913 Armory show, in New York, which introduced Matisse, Picasso, and Duchamp, and many other European painters to the American public.


4)Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was another key figure to American Modernism: an American sculptor, art patron and collector, who loved roaming around art in America and Europe, she was the founder in 1931, of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, and was a prominent social figure and hostess.

Wow and yay! yay! yay!

And what I have chosen to do today, is to show a few (8) of my favorite American Modernist pieces alongside European ones, which have influenced this American Modernism, as Modernism started to take off a little earlier in Europe.


1)Let’s start with a work by Max Weber:

1)Max Weber (1881-1961) “Chinese restaurant” 1915- Whitney museum of American Art

Max Weber was an American Modernist artist, an immigrant from Poland, living in Brooklyn, who taught art in Virginia and Minnesota, traveled in 1905 to Paris, studying under Matisse, and became friends with Rousseau, and impressed by Cézanne, as well as with Picasso.

Observe the restaurant deconstructed look, in which even the Chinese restaurant staircase holds cubist influences, reminding us of Picasso.


Picasso (1881-1973) “Girl with a Mandolin” 1910

2)Let’s turn now, to Arthur B. Davies:

Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928) “Days of good fortune” 1914-Whitney museum of American Art

Also an American Modernist artist, Davies eventually moved to New York, where he was a magazine illustrator, before devoting himself to painting. Also and importantly, Davies was one of the key organizer’s of the first 1913 Armory Show. His friend Alfred Stieglitz, patron to many modern artists, regarded Davies as more broadly knowledgeable about Modern art, than anyone he knew. And here, Davies’ 1914 picture, evokes for me, with a different color palette, an illustrious picture by Matisse, of the Expressionist genre from 1910, “The Dance II “.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)”The Dance II” 1910.

 3)Let’s now turn to Stanton Macdonald-Wright:

Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890-1973) “Synchromy in Blue-Green–1918- Whitney museum of American Art.

Stanton Macdonald-Wright, also an American Modernist artist, who spent many years in Europe, as a young painter, was a co-founder of Synchromism, (a mix of “symphony” and “chroma”/ color, an early abstract color-based mode of painting, which was the first American avant-garde movement to receive international attention. While in Europe, he met Gertrude Stein, the famed “salon” hostess, Matisse, Delaunay, and traveled as well, to Germany. And of course, this work reminds me also, of Kandinsky, in particular, his composition 7 from 1913, as Kandinsky also, often described his paintings as visual music, with colors being like sounds.

Kandinsky (1866-1944) “Composition 7” 1913.

4) Let’s now turn to Marsden Hartley:

Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) “Forms abstracted” 1914-Whitney Museum of American Art

Marsden Hartley, also an American Modernist, painter, poet, and essayist, and a great friend of Stieglitz, who introduced him to Modern European paintings. Hartley especially developed his painting abilities by observing cubist paintings in Paris and Berlin. And in this one “Forms abstracted”, I am struck by how close to German Expressionism, “Der Blaue Reiter”, and Franz Marc works, especially the “Blue Horse I”, it lives.

Franz Marc (1880-1916)”Blue Horse I” 1911.

5) Let’s now turn to Albert Bloch:

Albert Bloch (1882-1961) “Mountain” 1916- Whitney museum of American Art

Bloch was an American Modernist artist, who moved to Munich in 1909, and the sole American member of the German Expressionist Blaue Reiter group in 1911, and you can also see Kandinsky and Franz Marc’ influence on this 1916 “Mountain” painting.

6)Let’s now turn to Yun Gee:

Yun Gee (1906-1963) “Street scene” 1926 Whitney museum of American Art

Yun Gee was a Chinese American modernist artist. He lived and painted in San Francisco, Paris, and New York City, and was considered one of the most daring Avant-garde painters during his time.

And his 1926 “Street scene” painting evokes to me, Swiss born German artist Paul Klee, and his early abstract works, and specifically his 1919 “Tunisian gardens” in terms of geometrical and colorful style.

Paul Klee (1879-1940) “Tunisian Gardens” 1919

7) Let’s now turn to Marguerite Zorach:

Marguerite Zorach (1887-1968) “Landscape with figures” 1913-Whitney museum of American Art

Marguerite Zorach was an American Fauvist painter, textile artist, and graphic designer, and was an early recognized American modernist artist, whose work had also been featured at the Armory 1913 show, in New York. And this “Landscapes with figures” reminds me of Matisse’s famed 1906 work “Le Bonheur de vivre” or “The joy of life”.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)”Le bonheur de vivre” (“The joy of life”) 1906

8)And finally, let’s turn to Florine Stettheimer:

Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944) “Sun” 1931- Whitney museum of American Art

Florine Stettheimer was an American modernist painter, feminist, theatrical designer, poet, and salon hostess. Stettheimer developed a feminine, theatrical painting style depicting her friends, family, and experiences in New York City. Playful and original, she loved depicting herself at age 30 throughout all of her paintings. And perhaps because of her love of the Performing Arts, her dreamy/symbolic “Sun” painting from 1931, evokes for me, another surreal/symbolic 1949 painting from Chagall, “Ane lisant” “Reading donkey”.

Marc Chagall(1887-1985) “Ane lisant” or “Reading donkey” 1949.

So to sum up my feelings about this “At the dawn of a new age” early 20th century American Modernism” exhibit displayed at the Whitney museum of American Art, what beauty, joy, optimism, musicality, sense of community, playfulness, mostly permeate and arise from these greatly vibrant, early American modernist works.

Yay! and wow!, wow!, wow!!!

Just awesome and so inspiring!

And not to be missed!

Until next time friends!







Eternal butterflies 😊