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8 Modern and Contemporary Paintings of Night

  • Peter Doig - Milky Way
October 13, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

For centuries, the nighttime was considered an unpleasant, strange, and spooky period of the day, when dark forces gather, creatures crawl and witches become a frenzy. Nevertheless, with the scientific progress and the invention of electricity in the 19th century, the notion of the night started changing and various social activities became practiced. That theme appeared relevant to artists as well, so they started exploring an array of possible meanings of night images which reflect the interest in the condition of the human mind.

The contemporary moment has an overtly different relationship with the night, since it has become equivalent with day in regards to the concepts of labor and leisure time. On the other hand, this part of the day still is perceived with certain skepticism since all the immoral or illegal things happen then.

The exhibition Painting the Night at Centre Pompidou-Metz tends to investigate this phenomenon by displaying the works of over hundred artists and historical figures; from modernists such as Pablo Picasso, Lee Krasner or Louise Bourgeois to contemporaries such as Martin Kippenberger, Ann Craven, and Peter Doig, to mention a few. It will also feature a couple of installations, some of them specially made for the project, as well as an extensive accompanying program.

Painting by Night is curated by Jean-Marie Gallais and will be on display at the Centre Pompidou-Metz in France from 13 October 2018 until 15 April 2019.

Featured image: Peter Doig – Milky Way, 1989/1990. Oil on canvas, 152 x 204 cm. Collection of the artist © Peter Doig. All Rights Reserved, DACS / Artimage 2018. Photo: Jochen Littkemann / ADAGP Paris, 2018. All images courtesy Centre Pompidou-Metz.

  • Claude Monet - Leicester Square, la nuit

Claude Monet – Leicester Square la nuit

This painting was created by Claude Monet, the founding father of Impressionism. This notable figure embraced the philosophy of the movement to full extent, which he best expressed through his plain air landscapes.

This painting from 1901 embodies the look of a city wanderer so typical for the Impressionists. The artist was not just fascinated with natural surrounding and the way light shapes the sight and enriches the composition, but was also apparently dazzled by the night and the way artificial light enabled by the gas or electricity colored the city.

Featured image: Claude Monet – Leicester Square, by night [Leicester Square, le nuit], 1900/1901. Oil on canvas, 80 x 64 cm © Larock-Granoff Collection.

  • Gerhard Richter - Sternbild

Gerhard Richter - Sternbild

One of the best-known Post-war artists from Germany is Gerhard Richter, known for photo-realistic paintings full of tension, sentiment, and memory. The artist gained fame during the 1960s and early 1970s after creating a series of blurred paintings based on black-and-white photographs.

This particular work is slightly different; it was made in 1969 and can be treated as a reaction to the global political climate as well as the ongoing conquering of the space.

Featured image: Gerhard Richter – Constellation [Sternbild], 1969. Oil on canvas, 92 x 92 cm. Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden © Gerhard Richter 2018

  • Man Ray - A la lumiere lunaire

Man Ray – A la Lumiere Lunaire

The next artwork is by Man Ray, undoubtedly one of the best-known proponents of both Dadaism and Surrealism. His contributions to these movements were huge, due to his experiments with photography – especially the Rayographs. The artist also worked with other media and his practice inspired many artists after him.

Man Ray’s perception of the night was expressed with this particular work titled A la Lumiere Lunaire from 1948. This gouache on wood represents an image of moon surrounded by clouds and is full of mystery and suspense.

Featured image: Man Ray – To the moonlight, 1948. Gouache on wood. Private collection, courtesy Andrew Strauss, Paris © Adagp, Paris 2018

  • Pablo Picasso - Femme nue couchee

Pablo Picasso – Femme nue couchee

One of the greatest masters of modern art, Pablo Picasso is known as the founding father of Cubism, and the creator of the grand and multilayered oeuvre. Through several phases, he explored various motifs, yet the most prominent one is a nude woman lying.

The painting of this very theme is juxtaposed against the starry night, and it reveals Picasso’s interest in this subject; the composition was produced in a typical Picasso manner and a possible interpretation can be that this is as a display of nocturnal desires, a story of pleasure and sensuality.

Featured image: Pablo Picasso – Reclining nude woman (or Starry Nude) [Femme nue couchée (ou Nu étoilé)], 1936. Oil on canvas, 1,306 x 1,625 m. Center Pompidou, National Museum of Modern Art © Picasso Succession 2018. Photo © Pompidou Center, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-GP / Philippe Migeat

  • Paul Klee - Pflanzenwachstum

Paul Klee - Pflanzenwachstum

Next up is the work by Paul Klee, one of the prolific proponents of the international avant-garde. This figure was not only a practitioner of Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism, but he was also dedicated to the color theory and wrote several important books such as Writings on Form and Design Theory. Klee gave lectures at the iconic Bauhaus art school and was very much interested in exploring various aspects of draftsmanship.

When it comes to this artwork titled Growth of plants, Paul Klee was not interested in representing objects; rather, he incorporated organic shapes in order to withdraw from realistic representation. He was fascinated with the nightly growth of his plants, so this painting reflects his own attempt to plunge into the meaning of the night, and into the unrestrained primitive state.

Featured image: Paul Klee – Growth of plants [Pflanzenwachstum], 1921. Oil on cardboard, 54 x 40 cm. Center Pompidou, National Museum of Modern Art © Rights reserved © Department of Photographic Documentation of the MNAM, Center Pompidou

  • Peter Doig - Milky Way

Peter Doig - Milky Way

One of the best know living figurative painters, Peter Doig is known for subtle and slightly abstract landscapes. The artist is influenced by photographs, movie scenes, record sleeves, newspaper clippings, as well as by other artists such as Edvard Munch.

The painting Milky Way reflects the artist’s interest in the nightscape; it is a stretched composition of a specific scale with elongated trees and their reflection enabled by the starry sky. The impressive sight seems limitless, a notion especially underlined by the presence of a tiny canoe drifting by.

Featured image: Peter Doig – Milky Way, 1989/1990. Oil on canvas, 152 x 204 cm. Collection of the artist © Peter Doig. All Rights Reserved, DACS / Artimage 2018. Photo: Jochen Littkemann / ADAGP Paris, 2018

  • Robert Delaunay - Nightscape

Robert Delaunay – Paysage Nocturne

This artwork was made by notable French artist Robert Delaunay. This important member of the avant-garde was the founding father of the Orphism art movement, along with wife Sonia. The artists belonging to this group were interested in geometric shapes, various aspects of colors and the optical effects which they can produce. As time passed by, the works of Delaunay became more abstract and showed the intensity between the form and color.

The painting Paysage Nocturne embodies the ideas of Orphism and the fascination with the shimmering electric lights and their effects on the shapes and contours of city ventures during the night.

Featured image: Robert Delaunay – Nightscape (the cab), 1906/1907. Oil on canvas, 43 x 58 cm. Private Collection Courtesy Galerie Louis Carré & Cie

  • Wassily Kandinsky - Ein Kreis

Wassily Kandinsky – Ein Kreis

One of the most important practitioners of abstraction certainly was Wassily Kandinsky. He was not only a painter but also a theorist, or rather a philosopher of a kind. Kandinsky passed through a period of development of intense articulation of his artistic experiences, and there he found new horizons of his practice which were of a spiritual kind.

The painting Ein Kreis or A Circle represents an enlarged image of the moon in a darkened night shining over the miniature city in the lower plane of the canvas. Kandinsky produced this work in 1928 while he was lecturing at Bauhaus and it summarizes nicely his approach to arts during the last years of the school.

Featured image: Wassily Kandinsky – A Circle (A) [Ein Kreis (A)], 1928. Oil on canvas, 35 x 25 c. Center Pompidou, National Museum of Modern Art Photo © Pompidou Center, MNAM-CCI, DIst. RMN-GP / Philippe Migeat