Although the sources of modern art go back in part to pre-history and -- a fact without parallel in the history of aesthetics -- embrace the Musée imaginaire of all mankind, the authors of this book have selected as their starting-point the year 1884. There is nothing arbitrary in their choice. True, the founding of the Société des Indépendants (Seurat, Signac, Redon, etc.) and the birth of Divisionism, did not strictly create a violent breach with the recent past, but they sounded the knell of the Impressionists, who two years later ceased from all collective action. However, what began as a mutiny soon took on the form of a revolution calling everything into question: the spirit as well as the technique, the way of thinking and feeling as well as the way of painting and sculpting. The result was an attitude of rejection, a revolt of the mind and of the soul. The artist, as much as or more than the architect, decorator and technician, began working against the stream. In these years the divorce between society and living art was absolute. Confronted with an arrogant middle-class and official conventionality, the creative artist was now an outlaw. The Manet scandal became an everyday affair. But almost at once the 'maudits' formed themselves into independent colonies (Montmartre, Worpswede, Dresden, Munich, Laethem-Saint-Martin, Moscow, etc.), real spiritual homes where, linked together by bonds of affinity and fruitful meetings, they created a new humanist network extending all over Europe and beyond. This tremendous efflux of ideas, feelings and forms, thought up by men like Seurat, Cézanne, van Gogh, Munch, Ensor, Gauguin, Picasso, Kandinsky, Mondrian and other independents, was to crystallise in 'isms', whose apparent contradictions only betokened an extraordinary wealth.
Following Symbolism, which was inspired by poets and musicians and was strongly tinged with fin-de-siècle decadence, and Nabism, a mild endeavour to rehabilitate colour by enlisting it in the service of bourgeois cosiness, modern art after 1900 was dominated by two main streams, one of them rational, the other irrational.
The first was an Apollonian stream, heir to the art of Ancient Greece and of Piero della Francesca, Poussin, David and Ingres. It accepted the discipline of reason and displayed a love of order, balance and clarity, based upon a set of rules within which feeling was channelled. These were the systematized movements -- Divisionism, Cézannism, Cubism, Futurism, Suprematism, Orphism and Neo-plasticism.
The second, the Dionysian stream issued from Baroque, Goya and Romanticism. Launched by van Gogh, Munch, Ensor and Gauguin, it gave birth to Fauvism, Expressionism (German, Scandinavian and Flemish), metaphysical art, Dada and informal abstract art.
Set in motion by a few isolated giants, this double stream gradually attracted to itself a growing number of nonconformist artists and avant-garde circles. Each of these contributed an individual note, even a new trend, but, at the end of thirty years, and despite individual, regional and national differences, there emerged two powerful international styles which constitute Modern Art and, by the inevitable process of evolution, led to the abstract arts of the present day.
In the following pages we shall attempt to recount briefly the glorious adventure of an artistic revolution without its like in human history.