Rick Steves' Art of the Modern Age

In the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution spawned new artistic styles: idealized Romanticism, light-chasing Impressionism, sensuous Art Nouveau. Then Europe’s tumultuous 20th century inspired rule-breaking art as exciting as the times: from Expressionism and Cubism to Surrealism to Abstract. The genius of artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, and Dalí express the complexity of our modern world.

Find names and locations for works of art listed in the Script.


[1B, La Défense, Paris] Hi, I'm Rick Steves, here with a fascinating chapter in the rich and inspirational story of Europe's art. In this hour, we venture from dramatic Romanticism and breezy Impressionism to bold new architecture and the wild and rule-breaking art of the 20th century. This is European art of the Modern Age. Thanks for joining us.

[3] The last roughly two centuries — from the mid-1800s on — have seen unprecedented change: advances in technology, the march of democracy, as well as two horrific world wars. And the art reflecting this age has been as turbulent, exciting, and dynamic as the times.

[4 Montage] We'll start with art that gave voice to the struggles for freedom…and art that celebrated the Industrial Revolution. Then, trace how dreamy Romantics countered that by reveling in natureand legends. We'll follow the rapid evolution of styles, from sun-splashed Impressionism to sinuous Art Nouveau. We'll see art capturing the horror of war…how art mirrored wild times…celebrated Europe's modern dynamism…and reflects our ever-changing world. 

[5] In the early 1800s, in the wake of the French Revolution, Europe's masses were hungry for freedom, both political and personal. That urge expressed itself in art that was not cerebral, but about letting hearts run wild. It was called Romanticism. 

[6] Sure, Romantic art embraced traditional romance. But it was much more. It expressed the full range of human emotions: from the highest of highs…to the lowest of lows…the awe-inspiring grandeur of nature…a dreamy nostalgia for times past…and a fascination with the exotic. The Romantic style is melodramatic, with epic-scale canvases, and images that stir the emotions.

[7] Some of the strongest passions of the 19th century were stoked by the struggles of ethnic groups — rising up to form their own nation. Romantic artists had a natural affinity for these patriotic underdogs. And galleries were filled with art that cheered on freedom.

[8] In Germany — still little more than a patchwork of medieval dukedoms — patriots began imagining a united country. By embracing their common German roots — the dreamy medieval legends…heroes fighting for the fatherland — artists stoked idealistic dreams of a glorious German-speaking future.

[9] In Scotland, as patriots chafed at English rule, artists celebrated its independent spirit with a romanticized blend of myth and history. Proud warriors sport clan regalia, as if emboldened by kilts and plaid. In spite of tragic losses, a downtrodden yet resilient nation survived, spirit intact.

[10] In Norway, salt-of-the-earth locals reveled in their Norwegian-ness, celebrating traditional dress, heading for a country wedding, while engulfed in the majesty of the fjords.

[11] And in Italy, patriots united passionately behind dynamic leaders against their foreign oppressors. All across Europe, art illustrated how the modern forces of social progress battled old values, as Europeans demanded freedom.

[12, Pantheon, Paris] To appreciate Romantic art, it helps to understand what preceded it. Back in the 1700s, in the Age of Enlightenment, so much — including art — was subjected to "the test of reason." Art and architecture was Neoclassical — clean, simple, and logical…like this.

[13, Oath of Horatii, David; Death of Socrates, David; Pauline Bonaparte, Canova] In Neoclassical paintings, heroes were poseddeath scenes were stoic…and idealized nudes sat calmly while deep in thought.

[14, The Death of Sardanapalus, 1826, Delacroix, Louvre Museum, Paris] But, the Romantic-style art which followed — like this super-charged orgy of drama and violence — was an unruly explosion of emotions.

[15, Liberty Leading the People, 1830, Delacroix, Louvre Museum, Paris] This fearless Romantic heroine storms the barricades in the cause of liberty as guns blaze, smoke billows, and bodies fall…as she leads the common people to victory.

[16, Raft of the Medusa, 1819, Géricault, Louvre Museum, Paris] And what could be more stirring than shipwrecked souls lost at sea. It's a human pyramid of emotion, from the depths of despair…to a hope-filled pinnacle of ecstasy as they spot the rescue ship. If Romantic art controls your heartbeat, this is a masterpiece.

[17] The Neoclassical and Romantic styles seem like opposites. Yet, both styles coexisted for decades, mirroring the conflicting social trends of the times.  

[18, Francisco Goya, 1746–1828] The Romantic Spanish painter, Francisco Goya, was an artist with a social conscience and a political agenda. As a successful painter of royal portraits, he dutifully recorded their extravagant finery, but also their famously clueless faces. He painted the idle rich at play…

[19, Saturn Devouring His Son, c. 1823, Goya, Prado Museum, Madrid] … while also branching out into more serious subjects. He explored the most extreme of emotions — grotesque scenes of madness and pain, revealing the dark side of the human condition

[20, The Second of May 1808, Goya, Prado Museum, Madrid] And he boldly depicted the painful reality of foreign oppression. First, the brave Spanish resistance, and then… 

[21, The Third of May 1808, 1814, Goya, Prado Museum, Madrid]… he brutal aftermath, when the soldiers of the French emperor — a faceless firing squad — mow down the revolutionaries…idealistic freedom-fighters — one by one. Bodies fall…blood stains the ground. Men cover their eyes in horror. In the darkness, Goya throws a dramatic light on the next victim, a nameless peasant — the common man — who becomes a hero. He spreads his arms and asks, "Why?" This masterpiece of the Romantic style — vivid brushwork, stark shadows, distorted features, so full of human drama — expressed the anguish of Europe's masses, longing to be free.  

[22] Even amid Europe's surging national movements, another revolution was transforming the landscape — the Industrial Revolution. Europe built more in the 19th century than in all previous centuries combined. But all this had a downside: an increasingly machine-like pace of life. Artists — with their free spirits — pushed back. Nature was appreciated as never before: painters were climbing mountains, poets were hugging trees.

[23] Here in the English countryside, artists retreated to take long walks and commune with nature. Romantic painters captured the majesty of soaring clouds…an almost supernatural power, charged from within…and soul-stirring mountains and rainbows that say: Nature is big, we are small.

[24, J. M. W. Turner, 1775–1851; The Fighting Temeraire, 1838, Turner, National Gallery, London] The English artist William Turner infused his canvases with the Romantic forces of Nature — burning sun, swirling clouds, churning waves, storm-tossed souls. His old sailing ship being towed into the sunset by a steamship was a metaphor for the coming of the modern world. As he aged, Turner's brushwork became frenetic and more intense, capturing the stormy and tumultuous inner passions that defined the Romantic Age.

[25] In England, around 1850, the energy of Romanticism was channeled by a spirited brotherhood of artists. Turning away from the frenzy of the Industrial Age and inspired by the dreamy medieval world before the great Renaissance painter Raphael, they called themselves…the Pre-Raphaelites.

[26, The Lady of Shalott (Waterhouse), The Bride (Rossetti), The Mirror of Venus (Burne-Jones)] The Pre-Raphaelites reveled in medieval damsels, mythical goddesses, and legendary lovers…all immersed in the fertile serenity of nature, captured in radiant colors and luminous clarity. They created melancholy visions of pure beauty.

[27, Ophelia, 1852, Millais, Tate Gallery, London] In this quintessential Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, tragic Ophelia, who's fallen while picking a garland of wildflowers, is singing before she drowns. Her body, open and skyward, is somewhere between saintly and sensual…and the nature engulfing her is so fertile while decaying at the same time. So pale in contrast to the richness of nature, she had finally found happiness on the verge of death.

[28] Dreamlike beauty…medieval themes…the wonder of nature…these elements of the Romantic style also came together — all across Europe — in fairy-tale castles.

[29, Pena Palace (1854, Sintra, near Lisbon), Peleș Castle (1883, Romania)] Built during the same generation, fanciful architectural dreams like these capped hills from Portugal…to Romania…to the foothills of Bavaria's Alps.

[30, Neuschwanstein Castle, c 1880, Bavaria] Neuschwanstein — which looks medieval — was built only in the late 1800s. When Bavaria's King Ludwig wanted an escape from the grinding reality of governing, he found it here.

[31, Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, reign 1864 to 1886] Ludwig — a romantic's romantic — had grown up in this castle. From his bedroom chair, reading medieval legends while surrounded by the grandeur of nature, he dreamed up the ultimate castle. And, just up the hill, he built it.

[32] His medieval fantasy was completely modern — with all the comforts of the 1870s. It sits on a hilltop not for defensive reasons, but because the king liked the view. Ludwig slathered the interior with misty medieval themes taken from operas written by his friend, the Romantic composer, Richard Wagner. The golden thrown room, saintly kings, and crown-shaped chandelier placed Ludwig among the great kings of old. With its natural setting, exotic décor, and joyous spirit of freedom, Ludwig's castle is a virtual theme park of Romanticism.

[33, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna] Ludwig's historic looking castle was an example of an architectural style called Historicism. The style spread widely in the late 1800s, when Europe was prosperous and confident. In England it was the Victorian Age, in France, the "Belle Époque," or beautiful age. And here in Vienna, they built this. With the changes of the modern world, many were like King Ludwig…nostalgic for an idealized past. Historicism showed itself in a Romantic mix of both old and new.

[34, Berlin Cathedral, 1905, Berlin; Hungarian Parliament Building, 1902, Budapest] Nineteenth century architects looked back into history for inspiration. Taking a little from here and a little from there — and employing new advances in iron enabling bigger and more decorative architecture--they cobbled it into something that looked old but was new, or "Neo."

[35, Austrian Parliament building, 1883, Vienna; Sacré Coeur church, 1914, Paris; Houses of Parliament or Palace of Westminster, 1876, London] Neo-classical like here in Vienna, Neo-Byzantine here in Parisand when London's medieval parliament building burned down, they rebuilt it in Neo-Gothic style, complete with a bell tower to match.  

[36, Týn Church, Prague; The British Museum, London] The most elaborate medieval looking architecture — like this the spires of this church in Prague, or this castle in Segovia — is not 800 years old like you might think. It's actually Neo-Medieval — about 150 years old; all of this was built or rebuilt in the same generation as the Eiffel Tower. Whether neo-this or neo-that, this style was a romantic way to hang onto a nation's historical roots while embracing the fast-changing times.

[37] By the way, I love how art, as it journeys through the ages, swings like a pendulum from emotional to cerebral: Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, Romanticism…back and forth between your heart and your head. That pendulum of art just kept on swinging.

[38] Think about it: Gothic speaks to your heart…to your soul, Renaissance was calculated and logical…then Baroque was emotional again — with such exuberance. The reation to all that drama: the cool and intellectual art of the Neoclassical Age which then inspired artists to unleash their hearts yet again and embrace Romanticism.

[39, Orsay Gallery, Paris] In the late-19th century, the art world was dominated by the prestigious French art school called the "Academy." But some independent painters struggled to be free from its stuffy dictates. The result: a period with both conservative and revolutionary art at the same time.

[40, The Birth of Venus, 1863, Cabanel, Orsay Museum, Paris] To earn a living, conforming artists painted gauzy market-pleasing scenes like this Venus. Idealized beauty sold well. It was made-to-order for well-off customers who were afraid of change.

[41, A Bar at the Folies-Bergére, Manet; Whistler's Mother, Whistler; The Spinner, Millet; The Gleaners, 1867, Millet; all Orsay Museum, Paris] But outside the Academy, a new breed of artists was painting the real life of real people. Called the "Realists," they captured honest snapshots of everyday life: from no-nonsense portraits, to peasant spinners of yarn, to gleaners bending low to scavenge what they can from an already harvested field.

[42, The Painter's Studio, 1855, Courbet, Orsay Museum, Paris] This unvarnished Realism proved shocking. Instead of painting more dreamy goddesses, Gustave Courbet gave a gritty behind-the-scenes look at his studio. His model — not a goddess but a real woman — takes a break to watch Courbet at work. And the little boy admires the brave artist for bucking conformity.

[43, Edouard Manet, 1832–1883; Olympia, 1863, Manet, Orsay Museum, Paris] Edouard Manet took Realism to another level. He posed this prostitute like a classic goddess, but instead of golden skin and a radiant face, he made her shockingly ordinary. Her hand is a clamp. Her stare…calculating. Ignoring the flowers her servant brings from her last customer, she looks out as if to say, "Next."

[44, Luncheon on the Grass, 1863, Manet, Orsay Museum, Paris] Manet innovated — he placed this woman alongside men in business suits — brazenly accentuating her nudity. Rather than the polished brushwork of the Academy, he experimented with thick paint, sharp outlines, and odd perspective — further perplexing the critics.

[45, A Studio at Les Batignolles, 1870, Fantin-Latour, Orsay Gallery, Paris] When Manet had his work rejected in 1867, he put on his own show — thumbing his nose at the establishment. Manet's boldness attracted a younger generation of artists. They admired him for his everyday subjects, experimental techniques, and his artistic integrity. Soon, they'd strike out on their own. Let the Impressionist revolution begin.

[46, Tuileries Garden, Paris] These artists were known as the Impressionists — freed from the stifling constraints of the Academy and inspired by the Realists, they their easels outdoors. Their philosophy, like a declaration of independence, it was: "Out of the studio and into nature."

[47] The Impressionists painted the French countryside, but the true subject wasn't so much the farms, rivers, and forests. It was all about the light. They even studied which pigments would reproduce reflected light most accurately. And when the light was just right, they painted furiously… to catch the scene before it was gone…the way the light reflected off the passing clouds…the waving grass…a billowing dress.

[48, Claude Monet, 1840–1926; Impression, Sunrise, 1872, Monet, Musée Marmottan, Paris] The father of Impressionism was Claude Monet. The son of a grocer with little formal education, he dedicated his life to discovering new ways of seeing things. With this quick impression of a harbor at sunrise, Monet helped give the movement its name. The real subject: the impression of the light reflected on the water, rendered in a few squiggly lines or broad strokes of paint.

[49, Boating on the Seine, 1880, Renoir, National Gallery, London] Impressionists used an innovative technique: They applied bright colors in thick dabs, side-by-side on the canvas, and let them mix as they traveled to your eye. Up close it's a mess. But move back…and voilà! Since the colors never completely resolve, they continue to vibrate in the mind, giving Impressionist paintings their shimmering vitality.

[50] With Impressionism, the physical object in the painting was now just the rack upon which the light, shadow, and color would hang. And that's what the artist worked to capture.

[51, The Cathedral of Rouen, 1894, Monet, Orsay Museum, Paris] Monet would paint the same subject at different times of day, and in different weather to capture the different light: a cathedral for example, in morning sun…full sun…and grey weather…the same building becomes a montage of subjects as it dissolves into pure light and color. 

[52, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1841–1919; Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, 1876, Renoir, Orsay Museum, Paris] Monet's friend, Renoir, also pioneered the Impressionist style. With his working-class background, Renoir loved to paint everyday Parisians dressed in their Sunday best, gathering at outdoor cafes to eat, drink, and dance. Renoir's bright colors caught the glowing afternoon sunlight, filtering through the leaves, dappling the dancers with darts of light like a 19th-century disco ball. As if snapping a photo with a slow shutter speed, he created a waltzing blur of joy.

[53] With soft focus and broad brushstrokes, Renoir painted easy-going scenes of everyday people… especially women. His nudes were voluptuous…and he caught the innocent joy of middle-class life. As Renoir himself said of his always-happy paintings: "There are enough ugly things in life."

[54] Each of the Impressionists developed their own distinctive style: Pissarro with his grainy earthiness…Sisley with his cloudy landscapes….

[55, Edgar Degas, 1834–1917] And Edgar Degas, with his ballerinas. With his knack for catching subjects at an unguarded moment, Degas showed dancers rehearsing — hot, tired, and bored. But when the lights came on, Degas captured all the onstage glitter…the joie de vivre of France's "Beautiful Age" — the Belle Époque.

[56, Auguste Rodin, 1840–1917] From his mansion in Paris, Auguste Rodin brought Impressionism to sculpting. His rough surfaces — rippling with frosting-like texture — were like thick brushstrokes on a canvas, capturing the effect of reflected light on stone or bronze.

[57, The Kiss, Rodin] Rodin made ordinary people seem noble…and their nudity makes them universal. Their restless poses express their deepest emotions. As this passionate woman twines around her solid man, lost in an embrace with a forever kiss, we can almost read the emotions that led up to this meeting of the lips.

[58, The Thinker, 1904, Rodin, Rodin Museum, Paris] Rodin's famous Thinker — leaning forward, tense and compact, every muscle working toward producing that one great thought — captured the intensity of Rodin's own creative process. Said Rodin: "It is a statue of myself."

[59, Monet's garden at Giverny, outside Paris] Impressionism reached its culmination with the same man who started it — Claude Monet. Late in life, Monet moved to this garden estate. The colorful gardens were like his brushstrokes — a bit slap-dash but part of a carefully composed mosaic. Monet made a pond and filled it with water lilies.

[60, Water Lilies, Monet, Orangerie] He painted the water lilies in this ensemble of canvases — all focusing on the ever-changing light…from the predawn darkness…to clear morning light…to afternoon lavender…to golden sunset. He'd start by laying down thick, big brushstrokes of a single color, horizontal and vertical to create a dense mesh of foliage…then add more color for the dramatic highlights, until he got a dense paste of piled-up paint. Up close, it's messy — but back up, and the colors resolve into a luminous scene…just pure reflected color.

[61] The true subject is not really the lilies, but the changing reflections on the pond…where lilies mingle with the clouds and trees. Monet cropped his scenes ever closer, until there was no shoreline, no horizon, no sense of what's up or down…until you're completely immersed. In his final paintings, the great Impressionist Monet dissolved the physical subject more and more into purely abstract patterns of colorful paint…anticipating the future of art.

[62] The Impressionists were like a tribe. They spoke the same artistic language. But, after that, more than ever, artists went in different directions…creating art that was uniquely their own. And those artists were the Post-impressionists.

[63, Georges Seurat, 1859–1891; The Beach, Seurat, The Circus, Seurat] Georges Seurat took the Impressionist technique to its logical conclusion: Reducing the brush stroke to a brush dot, this was Pointillism. All the dots would blend in the eye like a shimmering mosaic of reflected light.

[64, Paul Cézanne, 1839–1906] Paul Cezanne built his scenes not with dots but with thick slabs. His subjects were simple and familiar…objects reduced to their basic geometrical forms: spherical apples…rectangular houses…and people posed in triangles. By simplifying reality into fundamental shapes, Cezanne inspired future artists to see ordinary things in a new way.

[65, Paul Gauguin, 1848–1903; Arearea, 1892, Gauguin, Orsay Museum, Paris] Paul Gauguin sailed to exotic Tahiti, where he painted the native people. What may seem primitive and simple is actually intentional: flat scenes with no shading…black outlines filled in with bright colors. The space stacks up rather than recedes when he uses the same colors in the foreground and the background. His women — so different from the establishment Venuses of the Academy back in Paris — lounge innocently, giving uptight Europeans a glimpse of a Pacific Garden of Eden.

[66, Vincent van Gogh, 1853–1890; The Potato Eaters, 1885, Van Gogh, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam] And among the boldest of these Post-Impressionists was Vincent van Gogh. For Van Gogh, his life and art were intertwined. A humble pastor's son from a small Dutch town, he spent time helping poor coal miners…in search of his calling. He gave farm laborers the same dignity usually afforded aristocrats. Through his art he portrayed a vibrant world he felt so intensely.

[67, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam] He moved to Paris, and the City of Light opened up a whole new world of color. Vincent hobnobbed with the Impressionists. He studied their bright colors, rough brushwork, and everyday scenes.

[68] He painted shimmering reflections like Monet…café snapshots like Degas…still-lifes like Cézanne…and self-portraits like nobody else. He set out for the south of France. Energized by the sun-drenched colors and the breathtaking vistas, in just two years Vincent produced an explosion of canvases. Sunshine!Rolling hills!the patchwork farmsWorking in the open-air, he feverishly painted the landscape, the simple workers, and the starry starry nights.

[69] His unique style — thicker paint, brighter colors, and swirling brushwork — made everything he painted pulse with life.

[70] Vincent's ecstasy alternated with dark times. He painted the loneliness of his own room. He drank too much and suffered bouts of depression.

[71] He was admitted to a local hospital where he found peace painting calm scenes of nature. But it seems he also wrestled with his inner demons, capturing spiritual scenes with surreal colors, twisted forms, and dark outlines.

[72, Wheatfield with Crows, 1890, Van Gogh, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam] In one of his last works, the canvas is a wall of thick paint, with roads leading nowhere, and ominous crows taking flight. Overwhelmed with life, Vincent walked into a field like this one… and shot himself.

[73] With his paintings, Van Gogh — though unappreciated in his own time — inspired his fellow artists to seek a new kind of beauty.

[74] The year before Van Gogh died, in 1889, Paris erected its Eiffel Tower. The centerpiece of a world's fair, it was a symbol of Europe's progress…celebrating how technology could merge with art to be both functional and beautiful.

[75] The mighty tower proclaimed the can-do spirit of the Industrial Age. Its no-nonsense iron beams were not plastered over with older styles, like Neo-gothic or Neoclassical, but proudly displayed. With its graceful curves and unabashed embrace of technology, the Tower helped inspire a new style of art: Art Nouveau.

[76, Art Nouveau, 1890–1910; Republic House, Prague; various Gaudí works in Barcelona; Paris Métro station] This "New Art" turned modern technology — iron, glass, ceramic tiles — into beauty. Inspired by the curves of plants, artists made columns and ribs feel like a forest. They decorated humdrum Metro entrances with artistic ironworkemployed a playful blend of organic swoops and vertical lines… façades are colorful…and interiors glow with stained glass.

[77, Republic House, Prague] Art Nouveau was an ethic of beauty. It celebrated creativity, and the notion that art, design, fine living — it all flowed together.

[78, jewelry by Rene Lalique] In their homes, the wealthy decorated with leafy designs. They added curves and beautiful inlays to furniture and even added a graceful touch to the latest home technology turning even the most practical everyday objects into works of art. The sumptuous beauty of Art Nouveau was wearable as well.

[79, Alphonse Mucha, 1860–1939] In Paris, a struggling Czech immigrant named Alphonse Mucha created a theatrical poster, with a uniquely sinuous touch. It was an overnight sensation, and Mucha had set a template for Art Nouveau: willowy maidens…with elegant gowns…and flowing hair…immersed in a background of flowery pastel designs…visions of the good life and pure beauty.

[80, Galleries Lafayette Department Store, Paris; Secession Building, Vienna] The flowery style blossomed all over Europe. While in France, it was called Art Nouveau, in Germany and Austria, it was Jugendstil — "young style."

[81, Park Güell, Gaudí, Barcelona] And, in Barcelona it was Modernisme. Upscale neighborhoods shimmered with colorful, leafy, and organic shapes.

[82, Block of Discord, Barcelona, various architects] On this street, several mansions jostled to outdo each other in creativity: galloping gables…molded concrete…colorful ceramic tiles and shards of glass.

[83 Casa Milà, 1905, Gaudí, Barcelona] Perhaps the most innovative mansion of all — with its roller-coaster curves and melting ice cream eves — was by hometown boy Antoni Gaudí.

[84, Sagrada Familia, Gaudí, Barcelona] Gaudí's grandest work is his Church of the Sagrada Família, or Holy Family. He worked on this mega-structure for over 40 years and left it to later architects to finish. With its soaring honeycomb towers, it radiates like a spiritual lighthouse.

[85] The stone ripples and the surface crawls with life: animals, birds, trees, and people. Gaudí combined Christian symbolism, images from nature, and the playful flair of Modernisme. Like a concrete forest, the church seems to grow organically, reaching to Heaven.

[86] The soaring nave features columns that blossom with life. Gaudí said, "Nothing is invented; for it's first written in nature." Light filters in, as if through the canopy of a rain forest, creating space for an intimate connection with God. Gaudí's futuristic vision captured the spirit of Art Nouveau on an epic scale.

[87] As the 20th century dawned — from telephones and cars to physics and Freud — the world was moving fast. Artists kept up, capturing the accelerated pace of life, as Europe stepped boldly into the modern age. As the world changed, so did art, fragmenting into a kaleidoscope of new styles.

[88] Atop Paris' Montmartre hillcrowned by the dramatic Sacré-Cœur church — bohemians and free spirits could literally look down on the stuffy, bourgeois values of Paris. Since the days of Renoir, artists gathered here for the low rent, rustic ambience, and to stoke each other's non-conformity…to live carefree lives, with a hint of decadence…and watch can-can girls kick up their heels.

[89, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864–1901] Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec captured the turn-of-the-century scene. Crippled from youth, Toulouse-Lautrec felt most at home among fellow outcasts: the women of the brothels he frequented, and the performers of the notorious and decadent Moulin Rouge nightclub. He gave them a dignity denied them by societylike this aristocratic-looking dancer….weary of the nightlife yet unable to escape it.

[90] Predictably, Toulouse-Lautrec died young. But, with his unabashed realism — candid subjects, spontaneous snapshots…like dashed-off sketches in paint — he had documented this golden age of artistic rebellion.

[91, Gustav Klimt, 1862–1918; Judith I, 1901, Klimt, Belvedere Palace, Vienna] In opulent Vienna, this simmering hedonism came out in the sumptuous paintings of Gustav Klimt. Klimt favored sensual women — who he depicted as alternately noble…bewitching…mysterious…and dangerous, like this biblical heroine with the head of her victim: a modern femme fatale.

[92, The Kiss, 1908, Klimt, Belvedere Palace, Vienna] Here, Klimt's woman is no longer dominant. Kneeling on a grassy precipice in a vast universe, the passionate couple is engulfed in colorful patterns and the golden glow of their desire. As the two patterned shapes flow together, the figures merge. The only thing that stands out clearly is the woman's face: eyes closed, cheeks flushed, as she succumbs to the pleasure…of The Kiss

[93] The early 20th century was a time of new "isms," including Fauvism. With their bold primitive style, the Fauves — or "wild beasts" — brought an untamed spirit to the art world.

[94, Fauvism, c. 1905–1908] The Fauves, led by Henri Matisse, painted with intense and clashing colors…colors that ignored reality. Artists, using thick paint with rough brush work, portrayed more what they felt than what they saw. Fauves painted simple but powerful figures with mask-like faces. This simplification to abstraction is quintessentially modern…modern yet primeval…a celebration of the sheer joy of life. While the movement lasted only a few years — Fauvism helped pave the way for the abstract artists who followed.

[95] A young artistic genius from Spain — Pablo Picasso — was a brilliant example of the creativity that came with the new century. His work showed both where art had come from and where it was headed.

[96, Pablo Picasso, 1881–1973; Science and Charity, 1897, Picasso, Picasso Museum, Barcelona] Even as a teenager, Picasso had exceptional talent — capturing the human anatomy brilliantly, learning the rules he would later break. His early self-portraits show great self-awareness. And he could paint realistically while conveying deep feeling.

[97, Motherhood, 1903, Picasso, Picasso Museum, Barcelona] Young Picasso moved to turn-of-the-century Paris, where he went bohemian, making friends with poets, prostitutes, and fellow artists. He experimented with many different styles, painting Impressionist landscapes like Monet, posters like Toulouse-Lautrec, still-lifes like Cézanne, and the bright colors of Van Gogh. Times of grief and depression led to his Blue Period — paintings of society's outcasts, that matched his mood.

[98, Le Bateau-Lavoir, Paris] When he emerged from his blues, Picasso took on his next challenge. Here in Paris, he and his friends created art freed from convention, pioneering a whole new way to look at the world…Cubism.

[99, Seated Nude, 1909, Picasso, Tate Modern, London] With Cubism, increasingly the subject — like, say, a person — dissolves into its visual building blocks. It's like Cubists shattered a three-dimensional reality and then reassembled the shards onto a two-dimensional canvas. Cubism shows "multiple perspectives" at the same time on a flat surface. We might see the front and side view on a single face. The foreground and background blend together into a flat pattern. Increasingly, what mattered was not the subject itself but how we see it. Picasso and his fellow artists innovated bold new styles that freed us to see the world in new ways. The notion of representational art — painting things the way they look — that had guided Europe for centuries was breaking up.

[100] The peace and confidence of that age was also breaking up. While technology brought progress and prosperity, it also brought the weaponry to kill millions and derail the good old days of the "fin de siècle" or end of the century. There was an underlying sense of anxiety.

[101, Edvard Munch, 1863–1944; The Scream, 1893, Munch, National Gallery, Oslo] Society's darker side was captured by a troubled Norwegian expressionist/painter, Edvard Munch. On a lonely bridge, an emaciated man claps his hands to his face…and screams. The sound swirls up in twisting lines and lurid colors, blending into the blood-red sky…we literally "see" the man's torment. By fusing the emotional intensity of the Post-Impressionists, Munch had captured the simmering anxiety in Europe over what lay ahead.

[102] Expressionism is the general term for art that captured the angst of the early 20th century. Often exploring isolation…and loneliness…its focus was on the emotional experience rather than the physical reality.

[103] When it finally ended in 1918, WWI left Europe demoralized and disillusioned. Artists — many of whom fought in the trenches — captured the horror.

[104] Expressionists expressed their trauma and cynicism with distorted scenes, haunted eyes, thick paint…simple figures with garish colors. They depicted the anguish of a world that had lost its bearings.

[105] In the 1920s, Paris was still the epicenter of modern culture…with art that captured the excitement of the times. Painters like Picasso, writers like Hemingway, and musicians like Cole Porter gathered and jammed. And art was becoming ever more bizarre…even surreal.

[106] Artists known as Surrealists explored the subconscious…deep urges, dark fantasies, weird dreams. Painting landscapes of the mind…with collages of everyday images in jarring juxtapositions, they freed the viewer to connect the dots.

[107] Rene Magritte used his training in advertising to push people's buttons. He painted real objects with camera-eye clarity but jumbled together in provocative ways. People morph into bizarre objects…and stairs lead nowhere. The strange pairing only short-circuits your brain when you try to make sense of it.

[108, Salvador Dalí, 1904–1989; Dalí Theater-Museum, Figueres, Spain] Salvador Dalí of Spain combined surreal dreamscapes with astonishing realism. He purposely chose images — from religious to sexual — that packed the biggest emotional punch. Ever the entertainer, promoter, and trickster, Dalí used his own mausoleum — he was buried right here — to showcase his life's work…both intriguing and disturbing.

[109] Leave it to Dalí to show a crucifix from an angle you never considered. To paint squares that, when you squint, look like Abe Lincoln…a head filled with a candle…and furniture that morphs into the screen siren Mae West. His portrait on the ceiling, with his drawers wide open and empty, declares he gave it all to his art.

[110] Twentieth-century artists, like Salvador Dalí, were pushing the world of art into uncharted territory, where truly anything goes. Art that represented things realistically had long since been mastered. Now artists freed themselves from the limits of realism…to create art that was Abstract.

[111] Abstract artists simplify reality: A person becomes a face on a stick, a mountain a triangle. They are masters of leaving things out — letting us fill in the rest — until the three-dimensional world becomes a two-dimensional pattern of colors, lines, and shapes…patterns that evoke the inner world we all feel — the world of emotions, ideas, and pure beauty.

[112, Marc Chagall, 1887–1985; paintings from Marc Chagall National Museum, Nice, France] The Russian-born painter Marc Chagall used the abstract to create windows into the unseen spiritual world. With deceptively childlike simplicity — heavy outlines, spilling over with brilliant colors — Chagall celebrated nature, and its creator. His scenes, while often Biblical, were lighter-than-air collages of his own life as well: his childhood in a humble village…his Jewish upbringing — the idea that God is everywhere, in everyday things. Chagall's mystical world featured flying animals, angels, and lovers twirling blissfully in mid-air. To Chagall, people loving each other mirrored God's love of creation. He wrote, "In art as well as in life, anything is possible, provided there is love." With Fauvist colors, Cubist shards, and a Surrealistic lack of gravity, Marc Chagall created an enchanting world.

[113] In the 20th century, Europe saw the rise of fascist dictators, like Adolf Hitler. As war clouds gathered, Europeans got a foretaste of WWII with the Spanish Civil War. That tragedy inspired the creation of one of the most powerful pieces of 20th-century art.

[114] It was a typical market day in the peaceful Spanish town of Guernica, when suddenly warplanes — courtesy of Hitler's air force — appeared overhead…and reduced the town to rubble.

[115, Guernica, 1937, Picasso; Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid] In the wake of history's first saturation bombing, Picasso wove the shattered shards into a large Cubist-inspired painting that told the sad story. A woman looks to the sky, horses scream, a soldier falls — body shattered, sword broken. A wounded woman flees a burning house. A bull — symbol of Spain — ponders it all, watching over a mother and her dead baby — a modern pietà. Picasso put a human face on collateral damage. His painting caused a sensation, throwing a stark light on the brutality of rising fascism…and the specter of World War II.

[116, Vienna] World War II was devastating, with millions dead, and entire cities reduced to rubble. But — with the help of generous American aid — Europe bounced back stronger than ever.

[117, La Joie de Vivre, 1946, Picasso, Picasso Museum, Antibes, France; paintings from Picasso Museums in Antibes and Barcelona] As Europe emerged from the rubble of war, so did its art. Pablo Picasso settled on the French Riviera. Like Europe itself, he had a renewed joie de vivre, with a new girlfriend dancing across the beach, and flute-playing creatures celebrating the newfound freedom. With his distinct style, Picasso painted a carefree paradise, where civilized people could let their hair down and indulge in simple, animal pleasures.

[118, The Pigeons, 1957, Picasso, Picasso Museum, Barcelona] All his life, Picasso said, "Paintings are like windows open to the world." These canvases, painted when he was in his 80s, show the joys of the sun-splashed French Riviera. To the end, Picasso continued exploring and loving life through his art. As a child — he told his friends — he was taught to paint as an adult. And as an old man, he had learned to paint like a child.

[119] While Western Europe rebounded from the War, the Eastern half languished under Communist rule. Taking full advantage of the power of art as propaganda, Communism allowed public art only if it promoted its ideology.

[120, Memento Park, Budapest; paintings from Kumu art museum, Tallinn, Estonia] Ruled by the Soviet Union for nearly 50 years, Eastern Europe developed its own culture, and state-sponsored art, called "Social Realism." It was doggedly optimistic, realistic yet idealized — sticking with traditional techniques, and never tired of depicting the Communist All-Stars — Marx…local wannabe Stalins…and Lenin — shown here in his ever-popular "hailing a cab" pose.

[121, Building the Republic, 1952, Lingner, Berlin; Museum of Socialist Art, Sofia, Bulgaria] Censorship was extreme. Art was only acceptable if it promoted socialism and the symbols of its values — the heroic soldier…the obedient worker…the tireless mother…anonymous cogs in the machine, diligently serving the state…art as propaganda. For nearly a half century, this ideology had its day, but, when Communism collapsed, its monuments fell with it, becoming museum pieces.

[122, Fantastic Characters, Miró, La Défense, Paris] With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Cold War was over and Europe was reunited. There was an explosion of even more new styles and forms of expression. Increasingly, in the art world, there were no rules. And, more than ever, interpretation was up to the viewer.

[123, Tate Gallery of Modern Art, London; Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain; ARoS Art Museum, Arhus; and others] Artists — with increasing American influence — were blazing new frontiers in expression. No longer limited to conventional canvases and statues, they worked with non-traditional materials. They traded paint brushes for blow torches. Art played with the eye…it was interactive…and engaged all the senses. Light became art…and so did cartoons. Pop art became high art. Flowers became puppies…little boys became big boys. It was experimental, it was experiential, and it was fun.

[124, Rioja winery, Calatrava; Klee Museum, Bern; Pompidou Gallery, Paris; Rotterdam train station] Architects enjoyed breaking with worn out traditions. This museum in Paris took the mantra "Form follows Function" to the extreme — with the functional guts of the building — pipes, heating ducts, and escalators — draped on the outside to free up the gallery space inside.

[125, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain] Europe's cityscapes were energized by bold new designs. Here in Bilbao, the latest technology, unusual materials, and daring forms that integrate with the urban environment, made the city both more beautiful and livable.

[126, Denmark-Sweden bridge; Reichstag Building, Berlin; pyramid entry at Louvre, Paris; Millennium Bridge, London; Opera House, Oslo] Across the Continent, infrastructure was state-of-the-art. And venerable old buildings were renovated new — from Berlin…to Paris. Cities out-did each other with architectural daring…from London…to Rotterdam and Oslo.

[127, Psyri District, Athens] Another dimension of Europe's increasingly vibrant urban scene was "street art" — art that's public, out of the galleries, and spilling into the streets. With this, Europe's art world was reaching beyond the privileged and wealthy.

[128, street art in Glasgow, Athens, Plovdiv, Berlin] Street art included everyone in the broader community and gave voice to the voiceless. It generally comes with a social message as it offends, angers, inspires and amuses — often at the same time.

[129] Random public spaces have become the canvas. What began as tagging and street graffiti has evolved into a new art-form — a way for those on the fringe to make a statement. For example, the remains of the Berlin Wall became the world's longest art gallery.

[130] Cities from Glasgow to Athens are turning streets into virtual galleries — preserving and even commissioning the art…art that's bringing life and color to otherwise dreary neighborhoods, and providing a creative outlet for the community.

[131, Statues by Gustav Vigeland in Frogner Park, Oslo] This public park in Oslo, a lovely place to this look at Europe's art, lets us feel the pulse of Europe today.

[132] People go about their everyday lives amid the wonders of nature, while enjoying art that celebrates the stages of human life…from birth…to love…to death. Its centerpiece is a tangle of figures that rockets skyward.

[133] Art connects us with our past and points the way forward. Like these timeless figures, we're all in this together, spiraling upward and onward toward…who knows? It's the forever unfolding story of our lives — the mystery that finds expression in art.

[134B] Art is oxygen to the creative spirit…a form of human expression as vital in the Modern Age as ever. Thanks for joining us. I'm Rick Steves, celebrating the art of Europe.