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August 19 2011

The people's painters: what makes a work of art popular?

Monet, Van Gogh, and Klimt are the favourite artists among virtual art collectors. But before you turn your nose up at these obvious choices, let's consider their mass appeal

What makes a painting popular? As I write, the social media-style art site Artfinder lists the top five works collected by its users as follows:

1. Claude Monet, Impression: Sunrise

2. Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night

3. Gustav Klimt, The Kiss

4. Gustave Caillebotte, The Parquet Planers

5. Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave

It's interesting that popularity in this case depends on what people add to their online collection. I have always believed that artistic taste varies wildly between works we might find challenging and stimulating in a gallery, and those we'd love to own. Putting a work of art in your digital collection is not quite the same as buying the actual painting – but it means you want to have it around, at least on screen. Collecting a work of art, even virtually, means you can live with it.

So it is not surprising that the Artfinder top five may strike some as conservative. Or a little bit obvious. After all, the only surprising name here is Gustave Caillebotte, whose enigmatic, arguably homoerotic image of working men is a fascinating treasure of the Musée d'Orsay.

But popularity always is obvious. And it is healthy. On the whole, the world's favourite works of art are the world's best works of art. Monet deserves his number one slot. He is an artist you don't find a lot of cooler-than-thou art theory books being written about – because he is popular. But there are few experiences in art as rapturous as losing yourself in a Monet. What is retardataire about the sensory and psychological journeys into which his paintings lure the beholder?

Van Gogh, the visionary, and Klimt, the hedonist, are two more artists whose popularity is heartening. It is a great posthumous gift to Van Gogh to be loved by so many when he was so lonely in life. And Klimt, however many snobs try to do him down, is a mystic priest of love.

Japanese art was loved by Van Gogh and his contemporaries, so Hokusai confirms that the mood here is early modernist.

Perhaps what it reveals is that the most popular art, that hits most people most deeply, is the art of the early modernist era from the 1860s to the 1900s, when new visions changed painting forever while still drawing on its long global history. It was a golden moment. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 25 2011

The Habsburgs shaped the story of Europe – and of its art

European art from Titian to Klimt mirrors the history of the royal dynasty that commissioned or inspired it

The recent burial of Otto von Habsburg – his body in Vienna, his heart in Hungary – drew attention to one of the most powerful families in European history. For centuries the Habsburg dynasty ruled not only Austria and a vast tract of central Europe but, at their height, Spain, the Low Countries and much of south America.

Otto von Habsburg, though he never inherited the empire that collapsed in 1919 when he was still a child, is remembered as a "good European" who served the continent well. But the Habsburg who defined Europe in the Renaissance was Charles V, who in the 16th century became ruler of Spain and its American possessions and was elected Holy Roman Emperor. Titian's famous equestrian portrait of Charles is truly imperial, modelled on Roman statues of horseborne Caesars, and illuminated by a sky glowing with stormy intimations of power and wrath. The landscape surely symbolises Europe, submitting to its ruler.

Titian worked not only for Charles V but for his son Philip II, the Habsburg who launched the Spanish Armada. It was for Philip that he painted his grand atmospheric mythological canvases including The Rape of Europa. In fact, the entire story of European art from the 1500s to the birth of modernism could be told as a family history of the Habsburgs. Sensual mythological canvases and court portraits both found their greatest patrons in this royal family.

Rudolf II – whose rich collections will be shown at the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge this summer – sponsored the fantastical paintings of Arcimboldo, while the Spanish branch of the dynasty employed Velázquez. To this day, the family network means that the Kunsthistorisches museum in Vienna has great Velázquez portraits, while Titian's Charles V is in the Prado in Madrid. The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch is in the Prado because of Habsburg rule in Flanders, and a sensual tendency in Habsburg taste means that Correggio's Jupiter and Io, a painting of a woman being embraced by a cloud, is in Vienna.

At their height the Habsburgs transmitted the Renaissance. In decline, they provoked modernist revolt. In the last stagnant days of Habsburg Austria, a combination of imperial largesse for decorative schemes in extravagant public buildings with a cynical rejection of authority by artists who saw no future for the society they decorated, unleashed the dream art of Klimt. Out of the doomed empire came some of the most provocative and brilliant art of the modern age, with Klimt and contemporaries such as Schiele investigating sexuality and the psyche years before the surrealists. The Habsburgs deserve to be remembered. They played a colossal role in the story of Europe, and its art. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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June 01 2011

Peter Duggan's Artoons – Gustav Klimt

In the third of our weekly send-ups of the art world, cartoonist Peter Duggan gives Gustav Klimt's The Kiss a dose of modern-day reality

April 21 2011

Museum to return $44m Klimt painting seized by Nazis

Researchers discover Gustav Klimt's piece, Litzlberg am Attersee, was confiscated during second world war

An Austrian museum has announced plans to return a precious Gustav Klimt painting to the heir of its rightful owner after researchers discovered it was confiscated by Nazis during the second world war.

The painting, Litzlberg am Attersee, currently owned by the modern art museum MdM Salzburg, could be worth as much as €30m ($44m).

Research showed that the Nazis seized the 96-year-old painting from an apartment of a woman named Amalie Redlich in a village near Vienna. Redlich was deported to Poland, where she was killed, Salzburg deputy governor Wilfried Haslauer and the head of the museum, Toni Stooss, told reporters. Her 83-year-old grandson, Georges Jorisch, lives in Montreal, Canada.

The painting was bought by Salzburg art collector and dealer Friedrich Welz who exchanged it in 1944 for a piece from Salzburg's state gallery. It was subsequently taken over by the state gallery's successor, the Salzburger Residenzgalerie, in 1952 and later became part of the inventory of Salzburg's modern art museum.

"This is looted art, there's absolutely no question about that," Haslauer said in comments carried by Austrian radio Oe1.

Redlich's heir is her 83-year-old grandson, Georges Jorisch, who lives in Montreal, Canada, according to Haslauer's spokesman, Thomas Kerschbaum.

Salzburg's government now has to decide whether to proceed with the restitution, as recommended by Haslauer. It is expected do so by this summer, Kerschbaum said.

Jorisch's lawyer, Alfred J. Noll, appeared impressed by the way the matter has been handled so far.

"In no other case have I experienced such openness and objectivity during the discussion of individual points," Noll said in comments also carried by Oe1. He said Stooss met personally with Jorisch.

The likely restitution is a reminder of the return in 2006 of five other Klimt paintings by Vienna's Belvedere gallery to the late Maria Altmann of Los Angeles, niece of a Viennese art patron. Altmann had waged a seven-year fight for their return. An arbitration court had ruled that they were improperly seized by the Nazis who annexed Austria in 1938.

Austria has returned looted works of art held by federal museums to their rightful owners or heirs, most of them Jewish, under a 1998 restitution law. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 28 2011

Beautiful rebels: the daring art of the aesthetic movement

The aesthetic movement was more than William Morris wallpaper – it turned Victorian values upside down. Jonathan Jones goes to Paris to seek out its dark side

In spring sunlight, art students rush through the grand courtyard of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Artists such as Matisse studied here. But I am looking for a British and Irish cultural hero. On the Rue des Beaux Arts, a narrow Left Bank street next to the famous art academy, an expensive hotel (simply called L'Hôtel) is getting ready for the lunch hour. Only if you know this was once the run-down Hotel d'Alsace where Oscar Wilde died in 1900, disgraced, despised, penniless, his health broken by Reading jail, will you stop and notice the plaque that commemorates him.

My trip is a pilgrimage inspired by the new V&A exhibition The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900. Remembered today as a dramatist and wit, in his lifetime Wilde was notorious as the spokesman of this daring art movement and its bold declaration that art exists solely to create beauty with no moral purpose whatsoever. To follow this idea to the hotel where its persecuted hero died is to discover that the V&A's spring blockbuster is not just a delve into the drawing rooms of Victorian England, but a portal to the very origins of modern attitudes to art, sex and death.

In 1873, the students of Oxford were shaken by a very strange book. The Renaissance, by Walter Pater of Brasenose College, is a vision of life as pure sensual experience and a manifesto for hedonism. Writing in Victorian England, in that age of stern hypocrisy and repression, Pater gleefully expounds on the sexual adventures of the great Renaissance artists, openly praising gay desire. His febrile vision of art culminates in a bizarre description of the Mona Lisa: "Like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave."

Pater concludes that the purpose of life is to pursue sensual beauty and live in the moment. "To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life," he declares. His students were enthralled – one of them was expelled because of love letters Pater sent him. Another, Oscar Wilde, was inspired to become the high priest of the movement Pater launched and to defy the age until finally it destroyed him, convicting him for homosexual "crimes", imprisoning him, then leaving him to eke away his final years abroad.

Not far from L'Hôtel is the Musée d'Orsay, where a painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec portrays Wilde at the moment of his fall (they had met in London when Wilde was awaiting trial). Toulouse-Lautrec pictures him in Paris, watching the wild dance of the Moulin Rouge star La Goulue. As she kicks and leaps, Wilde stands massive and melancholy, with an unhealthily red face and dry yellow-grey hair. He looks like a ruined man.

Wilde's portrait underlines that the aesthetic movement was not merely a Victorian taste for William Morris wallpapers and peacock-tail Liberty prints – though it abounded in such beautiful creations. It was dangerous. This was the age of Gladstone, the British Empire, the pious bourgeoisie. The idea of "art for art's sake" turned Victorian values upside down. The aesthetic movement inspired an astonishing range of innovations in art and design that the V&A exhibition brings together, from Edward Burne-Jones's spectral, waxy paintings to "aesthetic" clothes for men and women. Wilde took the lead in dressing in knee-length velvet, while women wore simple dresses in blue or white, a reaction against the stuffy frocks of their forebears. In the best aesthetic movement designs, you see a simplicity that is beguilingly modern. As a young man, Morris was disgusted by the ugly exhibits piled up in the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition: he set out to reform taste and society. If Pater and Wilde advocated a liberation of the senses, Morris was a Marxist who believed the triumph of beauty would destroy capitalism. The repeated, interlocking patterns of his wallpapers and fabrics are not just lovely – they are abstract art.

For all its rich creations, the real point of the aesthetic movement was rebellion. In France, modern art was already born – aestheticism is contemporary with Manet, Monet and Renoir. While Britain was buttoned up, the French capital was hedonistic. The aesthetes set out to live as if they were in France, and it was in Paris that the most beautiful art of the movement was born. James Abbott McNeill Whistler was by far the greatest painter linked with the aesthetic movement. As a cosmopolitan art star, famous on both sides of the channel and across the Atlantic, he blended heady ideas from London with new techniques from Paris. While most aesthetic painters – even Burne-Jones – are hampered by their acceptance of very traditional ideas of the well-crafted depiction, Whistler's paintings fizz with impressionist suggestion. This makes their declaration of the supremacy of beauty all the more striking. If Pater's book The Renaissance is the literary manifesto of the aesthetic movement, its visual masterpiece is Whistler's 1871 painting Arrangement in Grey and Black, No 1 – otherwise known as Whistler's Mother. She sits today in the Musée d'Orsay among the masterpieces of impressionism. But where Monet enjoys, Whistler argues. Greys and silvers, whites and blacks shimmer across the canvas with the restrained beauty of a Japanese screen. The message is provocative: Whistler pours scorn on the sentimentality and piety of his age. Whatever he felt for his mother, her portrait does not show it. In Whistler's eyes, art has no moral duty to convey any feeling except the sheer bliss of visual stimulation. His painting, its title and its formal purity, make that message explicit.

The aesthetic movement soon revealed its dark side. The hero of Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray destroys lives in his pursuit of beauty without limits. When Pater compared the Mona Lisa with a "vampire", he linked the cult of beauty with depravity and death. There is a close parallel between the heady prose of Pater and the art of his French contemporary Gustave Moreau, whose paintings reimagined Renaissance art as a decadent ecstasy of the senses. Moreau's beautifully preserved home in Paris is near the Moulin Rouge and the sleaze of Pigalle. Its walls are lined with his paintings of orgies, beheadings and cruel goddesses, but the bed he slept in is a single bed, austere and lonely. An eerily similar single bed can be seen in Leighton House in London, where the rich aesthetic painter Frederic Leighton created a fantastic realm of Arabic tiles, a delicate fountain, bronzes, flowers. Like Moreau, Leighton painted beauties, but seemingly slept alone. It was easier to dream than to act.

Today we visit Leighton House to glimpse the world of these sensuous dreamers, but an ideal aesthetic movement tour would include the long-vanished opium dens of London's docklands, where Dorian Gray attempts to fulfil the aesthetic ideal. Nothing modern was lost on these pioneers. But the supreme expression of the darkening mood of aestheticism in British art – and in the V&A show – is in the gorgeous macabre drawings of Aubrey Beardsley, ornate fantasmagoria of sin.

In the end, these adventurers were Victorians, and pure hedonism was never going to be simple for them. Thus, the culmination of the aesthetic movement in Britain was to be a golden age of horror fiction that began with Gray's portrait. The most famous Victorian aesthete, immortalised in a thousand screen bites of sex and death, may be Count Dracula, the connoisseur of young beauty in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel that popularised aesthetic decadence. The lingering morality of the Victorian age pushed imaginations inward – in those single beds of the aesthetes – to feast on macabre visions of sin.

It is the intensity of the aesthetic movement, dreaming of a hedonism just out of reach, that made it influential. Across Europe its passion for flowers and vampires, decor and desire can be glimpsed in Van Gogh's Sunflowers, Munch's macabre women, Klimt's Kiss. Its legacy weaves through modern times in the defiance of dandies from Salvador Dalí to David Bowie. In art, it is still provocative because champions of culture (and arts funding) still feel obliged to claim that art has a moral value, a political value. Today as the arts face cuts, such proclamations of usefulness seem all the more necessary. So it is salutary for us to read the aesthetic philosophy expressed in the preface to The Portrait of Dorian Gray. We can still be provoked by its Victorian modernist hauteur: "All art is quite useless." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 14 2010

Christie's sale dazzles public with 33 centuries of masterpieces for four days

Art auction covering work from 13BC bronze items to Picasso, Klimt and Warhol expected to break world sale records

It is surely the shortest ever art exhibition to cover the longest period of history. For only four days, Christie's is showing some breathtakingly impressive examples of artistic achievement stretching over 33 centuries.

The show at the auction house's London headquarters is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see some amazing works, everything from 13BC bronze cooking vessels to some of the finest 13th century illuminated manuscripts to an important blue period Picasso. The exhibition ends at 4.30pm on Thursday because all the works are being sold – most of them this month and next.

Christie's European president, Jussi Pylkkanen, said the auction house had decided to put on a curated show of this year's highlights because the auction season was shaping up to be the strongest for a generation. "I can honestly say we've never had an exhibition of this quality in my 25 years here," he said.

Certainly, both Christie's and Sotheby's have persuaded sellers that 2010 is the year to sell. Pylkkanen said: "The art market is particularly firm at the moment, there is a flight to quality and we have what I would term 'medici collectors', who are keen to buy the very, very best irrespective of the categories in which they are being offered."

And the super-rich buyers are coming from far more parts of the world than ever before. Western European and American buyers are now joined by Russian oligarchs and secretive Asian and Middle Eastern millionaires – or billionaires – keen to create art collections.

There are high expectations that the auction record for a work of art will be set in next week's London auctions at Christie's and Sotheby's, after it was twice broken this year – first by a Giacometti Walking Man statue, and then by a Picasso in New York that sold for $106m (£70m).

The best bet to break the record is, arguably, a Picasso being sold for charity in aid of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation. Portrait of Angel Fernández de Soto, or The Absinthe Drinker, is conservatively estimated at £30-£40m.

The Christie's show groups works thematically – "power", "patronage", "women in art". It is a free opportunity for the public – the majority of who probably can't quite stretch to the asking prices, at least not this year – to see jaw-dropping art.

In one room you can see a Chris Ofili next to a Gustav Klimt deathbed portrait of Ria Munk, who killed herself in dramatic fashion – she aimed a shotgun in to her chest – after she fell out with her lover. In another room is a Warhol Silver Liz – Elizabeth Taylor, that is – opposite a colourful Matisse nude unseen in public since the year after it was painted. And in another room is a heartstopping Monet waterlily painting, not far from a Van Gogh work executed while he was in voluntary confinement at the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole.

• Juxtaposed: Masterpieces Through the Ages is at Christie's in St James's until 8.30pm tomorrow, and then 9am-4.30pm on Wednesday and Thursday. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 29 2010

Art on the couch

The father of psychoanalysis was also an inspiring writer on art – but do his ideas stand the test of time?

Freud loved art and collected it. In his London home, you can see the collection that came with him when he fled Vienna: a rich and diverse array of archaeological objects, a Rembrandt print, images of Egypt. It is often said that although Freud was the contemporary of Gustav Klimt, he showed no interest in modern art; but this is not fair. He dreamed about Arnold Böcklin's symbolist masterpiece The Isle of the Dead, and his books are themselves works of modernism that went on to inspire the surrealists.

His famous book on Leonardo da Vinci is anything but conservative. Making bold claims about Leonardo's sexuality, personality and the way works of art relate to real life, his book on this Renaissance genius is hugely suggestive and stimulating. It's one of the classics on Leonardo and always will be.

But what is wrong with it is the belief that art can ultimately be theorised and explained. It's not that Freud gets the artist wrong – his essential claims are convincing, his characterisation of the genius's indecisive and gentle personality acute – but that the quest for ultimate origins and final explanations seems futile. You might say that Freud's bedside manner towards Leonardo – his doctoring – is superb, but his scientific analysis seems to go beyond that humane sensitivity.

The genius of the surrealists was to adopt Freud's insights while ignoring the underlying science – or, as more hostile critics might say, pseudo-science. They took what is living in Freud – the deeply insightful recognition of the psyche and sexuality – and left out the cumbersome dogmatic superstructure. What endures of Freud is the artist, the writer, the man of feeling. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 12 2010

Lost Klimt to go on sale

Masterpiece saved from Nazis in 1938 to sell alongside key works by Cézanne and Giacometti. See gallery here

A rare and luminously beautiful landscape by Gustav Klimt that was crated up by its owners during the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938 and then more or less disappeared for decades is to be auctioned in London, Sotheby's announced today.

The painting – which represents a key turning point for the artist – is being sold in what the auction house says is one of the most eye-catching sales of impressionist and modern art it has ever held. As well as the Klimt, conservatively valued at £15m-£18m, there is a quintessential Cézanne still life estimated at £10m-£15m and a similarly valued Giacometti life-size sculpture. It will be the first London sale of its type to include a trio of £10m-plus masterpieces.

All three were today displayed at the auction house's London headquarters; but it was the gorgeousness of the Klimt that was turning heads.

"It is absolutely wonderful," said Sotheby's specialist Patrick Legant. "It's a dream in a way to be so privileged to handle a painting like this."

But it is the story it tells – of Klimt and Vienna as well as the tragic story of its owners – that makes the painting so special. "In one painting you get some of the history of the 20th century," said Legant.

Klimt painted Church in Cassone – Landscape with Cypresses while he was on holiday in Italy with his lover and muse Emilie Klöge in 1913. The picture postcard village on the edge of Lake Garda, with its dominating church and ramrod cypress trees, clearly caught the artist's eye, but the nearest point he could paint it from was too far away – so he used a telescope.

The painting represents a key moment in Klimt's artistic journey, the point where he began embracing the modernist influences that were swirling, ever louder, around Europe. So while you can see the influence of the impressionists and Monet – just look at the reflections in the water – the new influences also loom large, ­people such as his friend Egon Schiele and the Cubists.

Legant said: "When you think of all the earlier Klimt landscapes you have the beautiful meadows, lots of flowers, all very playful. This picture is one of the first that shows a much more modern style – it's very geometrical and architectural, and that's something you wouldn't have found in his earlier pictures. This painting reflects the change in approach to art, an absolutely new way of approaching landscapes."

It was owned by one of Klimt's most important patrons, the Austro-Hungarian steel magnate Viktor Zuckerkandl and his wife Paula. After they died childless in 1927 it passed into the hands of Zuckerkandl's sister Amelie Redlich, where it occupied pride of place in the family's grand Vienna home.

Everything changed with the Anschluss in 1938. Redlich had arranged for her paintings to be stored by a shipping company, even paying what was an enormous bribe of 2,000 Reichsmarks for them to be kept safe and away from the Nazis.

In 1941 the story takes a depressingly predictable turn: Redlich and her daughter Mathilde were deported by the Nazis to Lodz in Poland. They were never heard of again.

Redlich may have succeeded in keeping the art from the Gestapo but the overall goal failed: when her son-in-law went looking for the paintings in 1947 the crates were empty. No one knows what happened and that, for the Klimt, was pretty much that until 1962 when it suddenly appeared at an exhibition in Austria labelled 'from a private collection'.

It comes to auction after a deal was brokered by Sotheby's between the painting's unnamed owners – who bought it in good faith – and the Redlich family's surviving heir and son of Mathilde, Georges Jorisch, a retired Montreal camera shop manager, now 81.

He was lucky enough to get out of Vienna aged 10. An amicable restitution deal has been struck in which the ­proceeds from the sale are split.

The Klimt, the Cézanne and the Giacometti will be sold at Sotheby's on 3 February along with works by artists including Henri Matisse, René Magritte and Joan Míro.

Sotheby's impressionist and modern art vice-chairman, Helena Newman, said the success of its New York November sale – it realised $182m when the upper estimate had been $163m – had encouraged sellers that the big buyers were still out there.

The top end of the market has also seen a new buoyancy because of the new billionaires on the block – the Chinese.

A few years ago they were mainly buying Chinese contemporary art; now Chinese collectors are competing with Russians, Americans and British buyers for the very best examples of European impressionist and modern art, Newman said.

The Giacometti sculpture of a thin walking man (L'Homme qui marche I) has the distinction of being the only lifetime cast of the subject ever to come to auction and could easily realise a record price for the artist. That it has come to market is partly down to the banking crisis – it was part of the collection of the collapsed Dresdner Bank and is being sold by new owners Commerzbank, with proceeds going to charities.

The Cézanne, Pichet et fruits sur une table, is regarded as a particularly fine example of the artist's work, so quintessential that it was used as the cover for John Rewald's authoritative biography of the artist. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Sotheby's auctions three modern masterpieces

Sotheby's has unveiled three impressionist and modern art masterpieces which are to be auctioned at the Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, London

December 21 2009

For art, nothing compares to the noughties

Bold artistic revolutions, stunning new architecture ... Only one problem: it's not the first decade of the 21st century I'm talking about, but a century ago

Say what you like about the first decade of this new century, in art it has been epochal. Never did the accident of a change in dates resonate so thrillingly with a new movement in art. The signs of rebirth are everywhere. In Barcelona, Gaudí is creating those buildings of his that resemble sculptures dreamed up by an intoxicated prophet. In Vienna, young Egon Schiele is adding his genius to that of Gustav Klimt. The Italians are up to something and so are the Russians. But above all, it's in Paris that Picasso and Matisse have made the achievements of the last decades of the 19th century appear gentle. Only yesterday, the art world was arguing over the validity of impressionism. Now we are confronted by images that belong to, well, to a new century. As we toast the 1900s, a thought occurs: what will artists be doing a century from now? What unimaginable revolutions will take place in the first decade of the 21st century?

A critic who wondered this, in the closing days of 1909, and then stepped into HG Wells's Time Machine and hurtled forward to our own time, would be in for some disappointments. Art in the first decade of the 20th century revolutionised itself so completely that it was a different thing, in 1909, from what it had been in 1900. Cubism was under way. Futurism was in the works. Fauvism was already established. Picasso had painted Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. As Tony Soprano might say, those guys were in at the beginning of something; what do we got?

The time traveller from 1909 surveying art in 2009 would not be completely crushed. There would be things to admire – a powerful installation here, a brilliant painting there, a lot of interesting films. From Douglas Gordon to Richard Wright, there are some terrific artists at work.

But in comparison with the 1900s, this has been a conservative decade. Most artists are making use of ideas established in the 1960s. The pop, minimal and conceptual movements that originate in that decade still fundamentally shape the look of art. Just as if Picasso's Demoiselles were a homage to Manet's Olympia. As if Matisse were basically a disciple of Monet. We're still living in the last century. Our revolution has not yet taken place.

The time traveller would go home to 1909, puzzled and a little saddened. Time does not always move forward, he would try to tell Picasso among the streamers and shrieks on New Year's Eve. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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