History of Art through its major exponents: Matisse, Wassily Kandinsy, Otto Dix, Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali and Max Ernst

1. BBC Matisse
Matisse was an artist who followed a rigorous work ethic. This is true even toward the fag-end of his career, when he conceived and created his monumental chapel. It is ironic that his architecture should garner such popularity, when for most part of his career he gained fame as a painter. He was not a believer in Christianity, or any other religion, for that matter. Yet, as a token of gratitude for a Christian nun who took care of him during his convalescence, Matisse set upon this final artistic work. The chapel he built was unconventional in many ways. Symbolic scultures were preferred over regular iconography. Instead of murals and frescos, huge translucent sheets of window panes were chosen as mediums of art. In these, using brilliant combination of colors and patterns, Matisse was able to invoke an atmosphere of optimism and regeneration within the enclosed space.

2. Wassily Kandinsy, Composition VII

Composition VII is a complex painting on a grand scale. The abstract name suggests how the painter is attempting to draw parallels to musical symphonies. Kandinsy’s close friendship with music composer Schoenberg further bears out this hypothesis. Just as Schoenberg’s music is typified by its atonality, Kandinsy’s work creates a similar mood. This affective mood is achieved through the use of dissonant colors, shapes and object orientations. This very abstract work raises suggestions of chaos and doom. Produced before the break of the First World War, it could be taken as a harbinger of events to unfold. But the underlying message seems to be that destruction is followed by renewal. Invoking Christian symbolism, Kandinsy is perhaps implying the great hope that lies beyond impending apocalypse. In sum, the painting is intriguing and intellectually satisfying.

3. Otto Dix, German artist

No other painter captured the horrors of war as Otto Dix had done. Based on his first hand experiences during the First World War, Dix produced some of the most vivid, graphic and provocative war sceneries ever. Where it suits him, Dix abstracts the idea of destruction into various manifestations. Though his images belong to what he saw during the Great War, it could equally apply to any war ever fought. This is so because human suffering is a constant across wars of various epochs. As one of the paintings sadly conveys, it is worms which are the real winners in any war. Dix also captured the cultural atmosphere during the inter-war years. Pictures of this genre showed human decadence in lurid detail. The cheap excesses of brothel interiors and the gaudy make-ups of prostitutes were particularly well-rendered. Due to his mastery of human facial expression, Dix was highly sought after as a portraitist.

1 2