“Good artists copy, great artists steal,” Picasso’s quote encapsulates the European art community from 1900 to 1914 and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ current temporary-exhibit Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Impressionism to Expressionism.

We’ve heard their names before, maybe we’ve seen a couple prints on a friend’s wall or had the opportunity to see the greats in person. Now we all have the opportunity to experience one of the most important artistic movements of all time in our own city. But it only runs until January 25, 2015, so don’t miss it

If you’re looking for an insight into what you’ll see or hoping to impress a friend with your knowledge, check out our overview of the exhibit:

The First Room: Paris in the 1900s

Maurice de Vlaminck, The Seine and Le Pecq (detail), 1906, oil on canvas. Kunsthaus Zürich, Collection Johanna and Walter L. Wolf

Maurice de Vlaminck, The Seine and Le Pecq (detail), 1906, oil on canvas. Kunsthaus Zürich, Collection Johanna and Walter L. Wolf

The first room of the exhibit sets up a context for the rest of the art to follow. Paris in the 1900s was the main artistic hub and it’s interesting to imagine the painters, musicians and writers gathering in cafes to eat, drink and discuss their art. While the exhibit focuses on the French and German art movements, Paris played an extremely central role as the cosmopolitan trading post of ideas for artists of all kinds. Unique to the Montreal exhibit, the Canadian Centre for Architecture provided the museum with unique and original photographs and sketches of Paris at the time. In 1889, the Eiffel Tower was constructed, originally for radio transmission and this new platform for communication is a theme seen throughout the entire exhibit.

The free movement of expression from the first traveling exhibitions created an explosion of cross cultural artistic exchanges and a giant melting pot of European expression. These first modern artists were focusing on incorporating new mediums into their art and we can see this in woodcuts produced by Gauguin and the way this medium influenced his work.

Continuing On: Radical Developments in Painting

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Maximilien Luce, The Pile Drivers (The Pavers) (detail), 1902–03, oil on canvas. Paris, musée d’Orsay, gift of Frédéric Luce, son of the artist, 1948

As the exhibit continues, we’re exposed to a general survey of art in the 1900s. Taking the color theory advances of the time into account, artists began to concern themselves with the way the eye perceives color. Pointillist and diversionist styles began to develop, both neo-impressionist styles. These types of paintings, while they’re aesthetically pleasing, they still appear as quite conventional fitting into our notion of contemporary art. However, these artists were in fact rebelling against the academies and commenced a rejection of the bourgeoisie.

What’s important to realize while viewing these paintings is that almost all of these artists were penniless in life and died with very little money to their name. The paintings exhibited were painted truly for art’s sake and to express an emotion.

Van Gogh: A Catalyst for Change

Self-Portrait About 1887 Oil on canvas Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art,. gift of Philip L. Goodwin in memory of his mother, Josephine S. Goodwin

Self-Portrait About 1887 Oil on canvas Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art,. gift of Philip L. Goodwin in memory of his mother, Josephine S. Goodwin

You might know him as that crazy, talented painter who cut off his own ear, but regardless of what you might have know prior to the exhibit, Vincent Van Gogh changed everything. You can see his direct influence on other artists with his “The Sower” and Vlaminck’s “The Farmer” placed right beside it. Not only is Van Gogh’s artistic style mimicked but the theme as well; glorifying the working man and an awakening of social awareness. Van Gogh was truly the catalyst for the works that succeeded him. It’s interesting to note that he painted over 30 self portraits, simply because he could not afford a model.

Delaunay: Influences and Cubisms

Robert Delaunay, Red Eiffel Tower (detail), 1911–12, oil on canvas. New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Solomon

Robert Delaunay, Red Eiffel Tower (detail), 1911–12, oil on canvas. New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Solomon

Delaunay’s “Red Eiffel Tower” really ties together what we’re exposed to in the first room with the cubism that was emerging. This idea of international communication was truly taking over in art, figuratively and literally. This dissemination of ideas and the exchange of art just goes to prove how art does not exist in a vacuum, the influences are just as important as the final product. Influence did not discriminate either; literature, music, philosophy and African culture, as seen in Gauguin’s work were all equally important.

The Die Brücke Movement: Nietzsche, German Expressionism, and Sexual Revolution

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Woman Tying Her Shoe, 1912, woodcut on wove paper. Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, gift of Vivian and David Campbell, 1998. Photo © 2014 Musée des beaux-arts de l’Ontario

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Woman Tying Her Shoe, 1912, woodcut on wove paper. Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, gift of Vivian and David Campbell, 1998. Photo © 2014 Musée des beaux-arts de l’Ontario

While each room presents a new movement, the Die Brücke artistic movement was something particularly new and exciting. Die Brücke which translates to “The Bridge”, refers to a group of German expressionists. Influenced by Nietzsche’s quote, “What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal” shows the value in man as a connection. This group of painters including the likes of Kirchner and Pechstein to name a couple, lived in a community together and experienced the first real sexual revolution. Similar to our modern idea of hippies, these artists lived together, painted and even a couple were vegetarians. Sound familiar?

The Final Room: Kandinsky’s Music and the Great War

Wassily Kandinsky, Arabian Cemetery (detail), 1909, oil on cardboard. Hamburger Kunsthalle

Wassily Kandinsky, Arabian Cemetery (detail), 1909, oil on cardboard. Hamburger Kunsthalle

The exhibit’s final room of paintings stays true to the exhibit’s name and gives us a lot of Kandinsky. He truly believed in the spirituality that existed in art and although his paintings seem completely abstract, he would spend a great deal of time planning them out. You might lose yourself in one of his paintings but his main goal was to induce emotion and contemplation. Knowing that he focused on painting movement and music, it’s interesting to look for these inspirations in his paintings.

The final room, with photographs provided by McGill University, displays the reality of World War I and the history behind it. While it’s a grim end to a rather lively exhibit of vibrant colors transitioning into a room of black and white war photographs, it’s important to realize how much context and outside circumstances influence art. It makes you wonder, what would have happened to art if the war hadn’t started? Where would art be today without this 4 year hiatus of cultural exchange and expansion?

Whether you’re versed in art history or not, being surrounded by the art that has influenced so many subsequent cultural movements, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with appreciation and awe. There’s plenty more to see so make sure to head over and check it out. The exhibit runs until January 25, 2015. For more information visit www.mbam.qc.ca.

While you’re there, see if you can spot all of the horses in Franz Marc’s “Stables” and tweet us the answer!