Exercise 2.0 The Modern in Painting and Sculpture

Find two paintings and one sculpture, each of which appears concerned with modernity, modernism and modernisation.  Indicate the relevant features on annotated reproductions.

In my selection I chose subjects which are ‘of their time’ – meaning that they are making observations of modernity as being experienced at the time they were created.


La Gare Saint Lazare (1877) by Claude Monet

My annotation of Claude Monet’s 1877 painting La Gare Saint Lazare (fig. 1) identifies artefacts of Modernism. We see how mechanisation from steam trains has created the concept of a railway station, clearly set near a populous urban centre, with attendant passengers and workers.

Figure 1, Annotation of Claude Monet’s 1877 painting La Gare Saint Lazare.


Rails:  receding from the foreground into the distance tells us of the railway infrastructure which has grown across the industrialised world, which allows modernity to grow and prosper.

Railway workers: a key component of modernism is the coming together of people into urban hubs, working in companies and organisations which didn’t exist before modernism.

Passengers:  Modernism gave rise to the concept of commuting and tourism.

Soot and grime: Monet’s painting gives us the impression of soot and grime pervading within the station, the by-product of mechanisation.

Lights:  The invention of public lighting (gas and electric) within the urban environment came about with the period of Modernism.

Steam: The by-product of the steam train, symbolic of the newly found power of mechanisation, which at the same time provides an extraordinary sense of atmosphere to any railway scene.  The steam gives a sense of movement and life, of growth and expansion, telling us the train is moving towards and to the right of us.

Trains: The giant mechanical beasts borne from the Industrial Revolution which haul the people, products and materials from which the artefacts of Modernism – urbanisation, consumerism and consumption – would quickly flourish.

Apartment buildings: In the Parisian style, beautiful apartment buildings likely to be inhabited by the rich, who could afford to live in Paris, and their servants.

Glass roof:  Perhaps a sign of real advancement in technology – to have a vast expanse of glass covering the station roof, allowing light into into every corner.


Mon Portrait – In the green Bugatti (1929) by Tamara de Lempicka

De Lempicka creates her portrait (fig. 2) in oil paint. Her composition captures a fleeting glimpse of her in the car, possibly moving,  possibly stationary.  What makes this image important to modernism is that it was produced for the cover image of the German fashion magazine Die Dame, – magazines are important artefacts in promoting consumerism and consumption.

Figure 2, Annotation of Tamara De Lempicka’s 1929 painting Mon Portrait – in the green Bugatti

Bugatti: A symbol of money, power, speed, luxury and excess.

Shaped metal and clean lines: A sign of established mass production.

De Lempicka looking at us: she is expressionless, looking at us without recognition as we are one in a crowd of people she may observe from her car.  She is anonymous, and we are anonymous.  Just individuals in the modernist crowd.

Expensive clothing and make-up: Consumerism – De Lempicka wants to look good while driving, promoting an image of beauty, and wealth.

Driving gloves and driving cap: Driving appears to be a habitual activity for De Lempicka, she has the right clothing for driving fast and appears to be comfortable dressed as such.  She projects an air of mastery in the male dominated world of fast cars.

“I have control”: Her hand on the steering wheel shows she’s in control, she has the power and is projecting this power to the viewer by the way she positions herself at the wheel. She is a free liberated woman.


News sculpture (1938 – 1940) by Isamu Noguchi 

The News sculpture was created by Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi over the period 1938 to 1940 for a competition to produce a sculpture to adorn the front of the Associated Press building at 50, Rockefeller Center, New York.   Noguchi created this work in stainless steel, 22 feet high, 17 feet wide and weighing over 10 tons [1].

Figure 3, Annotation of Isamu Noguchi’s 1940 sculpture, News

In this sculpture we see five journalists collecting and recording the news, by use of camera, notepad, teletype and telephone.  A fifth journalist simply seems to be looking and listening – he has no piece of technology that we can see.

Communication lines come forward from the left side, off to the bottom right; two journalists one with notepad, the other with telephone, are aligned as if flying down these lines, suggesting to us that news is recorded and quickly transmitted, far and wide.

The five men are in close proximity to each other, projecting an image of team work and organisation – a crucial factor to the success of modern organisations.

The use of stainless steel as the medium was masterful – the original spec from the competition was to use bronze, but clearly the use of stainless steel gives an entirely different, modernist, sense to the work.


List of Images

Figure 1. Annotation of original painting by Monet, C. (1877) La Gare Saint Lazare [oil on canvas] At: Fogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums), Cambridge, MA, USA. https://www.wikiart.org/en/claude-monet/gare-st-lazare (Accessed 22 June 2017)

Figure 2. Annotation of original painting by Tamara de Lempicka (1929) Mon Portrait – in the green Bugatti [oil] At: https://www.wikiart.org/en/tamara-de-lempicka/portrait-in-the-green-bugatti-1925 (Accessed 23 June 2017)

Figure 3, Annotation of original sculpture by Isamu Noguchi’s (1938 – 1940) News [stainless steel] (22 x 17 ft) At: 50, Rockefeller Center, New York, USA. http://publicdomainclip-art.blogspot.it/2014/01/news-art-deco-sculpture-by-isamu-noguchi.html (Accessed 25 June 2017)


[1] https://www.rockefellercenter.com/blog/2013/11/25/all-news/



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