The 5 best artists of the ‘40s

The ‘40s were years of great crisis, the birth of Expressionism and informal painting, from action painting to dripping

Barnett Newman, an artist who can be placed in abstract American Expressionism, stated: “[…] in 1940 some of us woke up and realized that we didn’t have any hope; that in reality there wasn’t any painting […] It was that awakening that inspired desire, an elevated purpose, something very different from simple ambition, a start from point zero, as if painting had never existed. […]” And therefore, the era of great avant-garde movements, groups together figures that are very different from one another, but brought together by the deep sense of horror for the war that was going on and the desire to adventure out into the meanders of the unconscious in a search for the essence of mankind and nature. Here’s the five most significant and crucial artists of the ‘40s.

The 5 best artists of the ‘40s - Arshile Gorky Arshile Gorky ( 1904–1948 )
Arshile Gorky was born in the village of Khorkom, in Armenia, on April 15th 1904. His real name is Vosdanik Adoian. During the ‘40s Gorky leaned towards Surrealism. He was particularly influenced by Joan Miró and André Masson’s work. His artworks take on a mature aspect, populated by organic forms and anatomical elements fluctuating in washed-out spaces, similar to an aquarium. In 1945 Julien Levy became his gallery reference, and in New York he had a solo exhibition every year. Also in 1945, his friends Hebbeln moved to Sherman, Connecticut. They converted the granary into a studio for Gorky. The artist settled there, but in January 1946 a fire broke out and destroyed 27 canvases. In 1947 he underwent a delicate surgery to remove a tumor. In June 1948 he was a victim of a car accident, in which he broke his neck and arm, which impeded him from working. A month later his wife left him, taking their children with her. These difficulties threw him into a crisis without any way out. On July 21st 1948 Arshile Gorky hung himself in his studio in Sherman, Connecticut.
The 5 best artists of the ‘40s - Henri Cartier-Bresson Henri Cartier-Bresson ( 1908–2004 )
Henri Cartier-Bresson was born on August 22nd 1908 in Chanteloup (France). In 1931 he bought a Leica and set off for a trip that brought him to the south of France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. The anxiety that ate at Cartier-Bresson during his trips and seeing images of the world brought him to an insatiable curiosity, incompatible with the bourgeois environment that surrounded him, where he couldn’t stand the paralysis and closure, the smallness of minds. In 1933, a trip to Spain gave him the chance to create his first reportage photos where he used all his abilities, and applied his philosophy of the “decisive moment”. In 1943 in Paris he became part of MNPGD, a clandestine movement that organized assistance for escaped war prisoners and people who were sought after. In 1946–47 he was in the United States, where he photographed mostly for Harper’s Bazaar. In 1947 along with his friends Robert Capa, David “Chim” Seymour, George Rodger and William Vandivert he founded Magnum Photos, a cooperative of photographers that would become the biggest photo agency in the world. In 1955 his first large retrospective was inaugurated, which then toured around the world, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The acknowledgments he’s received over the years have been innumerable, as the exhibitions that have honored his extraordinary photographic production.
The 5 best artists of the ‘40s - Edward Hopper Edward Hopper ( 1882–1967 )
Born on July 22nd in 1882 in Nyack, a small town on the Hudson. The sense of taste is fundamental for ordinary painting, between clear and linear. This training, which appears to be academic, in reality pushes and encourages the artist to find his own personal path based on a filter of his own sensitivity. Since the beginning of his artistic career, Hopper was interested in figurative urban and architectural composition where he would place a single character, alone and psychologically separated, as if he lived in an isolated dimension. Studying the impressionists then gave him a taste for representing interiors and the use of a photographic framing. In 1933 the Museum of Modern Art of New York dedicated the first retrospective to him, and the Whitney Museum the second one, in 1950. During the ‘40s Hopper became the symbol of America. In fact during these years there was a strong need for “reality”, to “photograph” the American world. During the early fifties Hopper actively participated in the magazine “Reality”, a common front for artists tied to representation and realism. Besides various possible interpretations of his painting, Hopper stayed loyal to his own internal vision until his death, on May 15th 1967 in his New York studio.
The 5 best artists of the ‘40s - Giorgio Morandi Giorgio Morandi ( 1890–1964 )
Giorgio Morandi, painter and engraver, born in Bologna into a small bourgeois family, on July 20th 1890. Starting from 1940 Giorgio Morandi’s painting production intensified by frequently repeating the same motif, still-lives, often adding or taking away, with minimal variations of composition, accessory elements to the main theme. The new subject of the shell in the still-lives first appeared in ’21 and then in ’30, placing itself next to everyday objects such as bottles, candles, carafes, cups and flowers, to then become the sole protagonist in small canvases, then in ’43, a particularly fertile year for Morandi, it became the unifying subject for seventeen different artworks. The Biennale in ’48 gave the artist the first prize for painting and his artworks were shown alongside those of Carrà and de Chirico. In the same year the Calcografia Nazionale of Rome dedicated an anthological review to his activity as an etcher. Giorgio de Chirico wrote of Giorgio Morandi: “He looks at things with the eyes of a man that believes and the intimate skeleton of these things that are dead to us, because they are immobile, appears to him in its most consoling aspect: in its eternal aspect. He thus participates in the great lyricism created by the last deep European art: the metaphysics of the most common objects. Those objects that routine has made so familiar, that we, even if we are shrewd in the mysteries of aspects, we often look at things with the eye of a man that sees and does not know”.
The 5 best artists of the ‘40s - Alberto Giacometti Alberto Giacometti ( 1901–1966 )
A sculptor famous for his slender and threadlike human figures, Alberto Giacometti, son of the neoimpressionist painter Giovanni Giacometti, was born on October 10th 1901 in Borgonovo (Switzerland). After his father’s death, in 1933, Giacometti felt the need to go back to the theme of “absolute resemblance”. From 1935 to 1940, in fact, he concentrated on studying the head, starting with the gaze, the seat of thought. He also tried to draw full figures, in the attempt to grasp the identity of each human being with just one look. In this period he became close with Beckett, and started a dialogue with Jean-Paul Sartre that would often influence each other’s work. He spent the years of World War II in Geneva. In 1946 he returned to Paris and found his brother Diego, and took on a new artistic phase during which his statues become longer and their limbs extend in a space that contains and completes them. In 1947 he took up painting and drawing from real life again, as he did during his youth, while still cultivating sculpture. His favorite theme for sculpture is loneliness, the vulnerability of man in the infinite emptiness of space (Uomo indicante, 1947, London, Tate Gallery). In 1962 he received the main prize of the Biennale of Venice and in 1965 the Grand prix des arts de la villa de Paris.
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