What was once considered to be primitive art by Westerners African art is now appreciated for its aesthetic value. Where as it was once generally believed that African artist lacked true artistic ability they are now appreciated for their superb talents. This change in appreciation for the art of Africa began in the early twentieth century when such artists as Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Matisse, Derain, and Modigliani were influenced and inspired by various types of art created in Africa. African art influenced these artist to break from the naturalism type of art that had defined Western art for centuries; as does African art their art started to depict emotional and psychological aspects. Art movements such as cubism, fauvism, and expressionism were strongly influenced by the freedom of form present in the art of Africa. On this page we will explore some specific examples of the African art influence on modern art.
African Art Influence on Picasso
The paintings of this great artist produced from 1906 through 1909 were greatly influenced by African sculpture. This period of his artwork is referred to as his African Period (also referred to as his Black Period). Although this is not one of his most famous periods it was an important period for the recognition of African art. Picasso’s interest in the artwork of Africa perhaps originated when another great artist, Henri Matisse, showed him a mask he had collected from Africa. The early 1900s was a time when the French empire was expanding into Africa; as a consequence museums throughout France and especially Paris were starting to display pieces of art brought back from the African continent. This created a great interest, for many people, in Africa. In 1907 Picasso visited the Trocadero Museum of Paris where he was fascinated with the African art on display there. He stated “the masks were not like any other pieces of sculpture, not at all. They were magic things”. In 1907 he painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon which has five female figures two of which have African mask looking faces. This work is considered the first Cubist work. Other art produced by Picasso during his African Period are the Bust of a Woman (1907), Mother and Child (1907), Three Women (1908), and Woman Seated (1908).
The Influence of African Art on Other Early Modern Artist
The beginning of the 20th century saw the beginning of the Expressionism movement originate in Germany. This movement involved the creation of art that expressed emotion and broke from naturalism. Artist aimed at evoking emotional effects from viewers and this involved art that often displayed distorted figures and images with little connection to reality. The influence of African art on this movement was great. Artist such as Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Kirchner, and Emil Nolde were all influenced by the works of African artist. Henri Matisse was another famous artist inspired by African art. This is apparent in his series of paintings called Blue Nudes created in 1952 which were inspired by his collection of sculptures from Africa.