The Guggenheim Puts Online 1700 Great Works of Modern Art from 625 Artists

Kandinsky Composition II

If you were to ask me in my cal­low years as a young art stu­dent to name my favorite painter, I would have answered with­out a moment’s hes­i­ta­tion: Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky. His the­o­ret­i­cal bent, his mys­ti­cism, his seem­ing­ly near total cre­ative inde­pen­dence…. There were times when Kandin­sky the thinker, writer, and teacher appealed to me even more than Kandin­sky the painter. This may go a ways toward explain­ing why I left art school after my first year to pur­sue writ­ing and teach­ing. But nowa­days, hav­ing seen a tiny bit more of the world and its boun­ti­ful artis­tic trea­sures, I might pause for just a moment if asked about my favorite painter… then I’d answer: Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky.

Kandinsky Light Picture

If you want to see the pio­neer­ing abstract expressionist’s art in the Unit­ed States, your best bet is to get your­self to New York’s famed Guggen­heim, which has a ver­i­ta­ble trea­sure chest of Kandinsky’s work that doc­u­ments his tran­si­tion from paint­ings and wood­cuts inspired by Russ­ian folk art and French fau­vism to com­plete­ly non-rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al can­vas­es made entire­ly of inter­sect­ing lines, shapes, and colors—his own pri­vate sym­bol­o­gy.

But if you can’t make it to New York, then just head on over to the Guggenheim’s online col­lec­tion, where the muse­um has dig­i­tized “near­ly 1600 art­works by more than 575 artists.” This is the most sweep­ing move toward greater acces­si­bil­i­ty since the pri­vate col­lec­tion went pub­lic in 1937. You’ll find ear­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al Kandin­skys; tran­si­tion­al Kandin­skys like Sketch for Com­po­si­tion II from 1909-10 (top)—with still rec­og­niz­able favorite motifs of his, like the horse and rid­er embed­ded in them; and you’ll find much more abstract Kandin­skys like 1913’s Light Pic­ture, above, show­ing his move even far­ther away from Matisse and Russ­ian folks and clos­er to an inim­itable indi­vid­ual aes­thet­ic like that of Joan Miró or Paul Klee.

Klee Hilterfingen

Speak­ing of Klee, anoth­er of my favorites, you’ll also find the sketch above, from 1895, before he began his for­mal train­ing in Munich. It’s a far cry from his mature style—a prim­i­tive min­i­mal­ism that drew inspi­ra­tion from children’s art. If you know any­one who looks at abstract art and says, “I could do that,” show them the draw­ing above and ask if they could do this. Painters like Kandin­sky and Klee, who worked and exhib­it­ed togeth­er, first learned to ren­der in more rig­or­ous­ly for­mal styles before they broke every rule and made their own. It’s a nec­es­sary part of the dis­ci­pline of art.

Miro Personage

Of the three artists I’ve men­tioned thus far, it is per­haps Miró who moved far­thest away from any sem­blance of clas­si­cal train­ing. In works like Per­son­age (above), the Span­ish sur­re­al­ist achieved his “assas­si­na­tion of paint­ing” and the real­ist bour­geois val­ues he detest­ed in Euro­pean art. Piet Mon­dri­an, anoth­er artist who com­plete­ly rad­i­cal­ized paint­ing, did so by mov­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion, towards a for­mal­ism so exact­ing as to be almost chill­ing. But like all mod­ern artists, Mon­dri­an learned the clas­si­cal rules before he tore them up for good, as evi­denced by his draw­ing below, Chrysan­the­mum, from 1908-09.

Mondrian Chrysanthemum

Of course you won’t only find artists from the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry in the Guggenheim’s online col­lec­tion. This just hap­pens to be one of my favorite peri­ods, and the Guggen­heim is most famous for its mod­ernist col­lec­tion. But you’ll also find work from more con­tem­po­rary provo­ca­teurs like Mari­na Abramović and Ai Wei­wei, as well as from ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry pro­to-impres­sion­ists like Camille Pis­sar­ro. (See Pis­sar­ro’s 1867 The Her­mitage at Pon­toise below.)  And if you find your­self want­i­ng more con­text, the Guggen­heim has made it easy to give your­self a thor­ough edu­ca­tion in mod­ern art. As we’ve not­ed before, between 2012 and 2014, the muse­um placed over 100 art cat­a­logues online, includ­ing a col­lec­tion called “The Syl­labus,” fea­tur­ing books by the museum’s first cura­tor. Look­ing for a way of under­stand­ing that weird phe­nom­e­non known as mod­ern art? Look no fur­ther, the Guggenheim’s got you cov­ered.

Pisarro Hermitage

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Guggen­heim Puts 109 Free Mod­ern Art Books Online

Rijksmu­se­um Dig­i­tizes & Makes Free Online 210,000 Works of Art, Mas­ter­pieces Includ­ed!

Down­load 100,000 Free Art Images in High-Res­o­lu­tion from The Get­ty

The Nation­al Gallery Makes 25,000 Images of Art­work Freely Avail­able Online

Down­load 448 Free Art Books from The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (13)
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  • LA Girl says:

    I remem­ber see­ing Picas­so’s ear­ly works at MOMA mas­sive ret­ro­spec­tive back in the ’80s and being shocked at how beau­ti­ful and tra­di­tion­al his style was. That’s when I real­ized he was incred­i­bly trained and knew exact­ly what he was doing in his lat­er works. I think many peo­ple (includ­ing me) often judge and dis­miss an artist’s work as though it exists in a vac­u­um. If we saw the artist at ear­li­er peri­ods, we’d have, per­haps, more respect for the artist’s skill and vision.

  • This is fan­tas­tic news! I have been in love with Mon­dri­an’s chrysan­the­mums since I first dis­cov­ered them at the Guggen­heim in the mid-1990s. And as you say, you have to know and under­stand the rules before you can break them. These artists are per­fect exam­ples of that truth.

  • Jeanette Krohn says:

    very excit­ing for artists and art lovers to be able to access these images espe­cial­ly in the Antipodese over here in Aus­tralia — thank you Guggen­heim and Josh Jones for this excel­lent and gen­er­ous effort. I find the art repro­duces vivid­ly in these dig­i­tal for­mats — thanks again!

  • Jasminka Ugarkovic says:

    Thank you!!!

  • A. Tygard says:

    Thank you to all!

  • m duffy says:

    love W Kandin­sky but nev­er miss respect for P Picas­so…!

  • Hal says:

    Thanks for this. Want to let you know that your links to the con­nec­tion seem to be bro­ken.

  • James Liao says:

    I like to watch artists works to inspire my men­tal.….……

  • James Liao says:

    lots of knowl­edge could be learn­ing.

  • louis says:

    Art is the same thing seen dif­fer­ent­ly
    , or dif­fer­ent thing’s seen the same…

  • Keith Hedger says:

    Great site, but a search box would be help­ful, or can I just not find it?

  • keith hedger says:

    I’m a dunce! This is for replies to the sto­ry above DUH!!! AND.….I found the search con­trol up top. So, if any­one’s read­ing these.…mea cul­pa.….

  • Ricardl says:

    Nice pho­tog­ra­phy

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