The Evolution of Sculpture in the 20th Century

The Evolution of Sculpture in the 20th Century

Sculpture is an ancient art form that has long been practiced and is among the most durable forms of expression.

In this article, we will trace the development of sculpture throughout the 20th century. From being highly popular during Classical Antiquity until it virtually vanished following Renaissance, sculpture has seen much change throughout time.

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece cherished sculpture as an integral component of their culture and society, using sculpture as their main form of artistic expression to capture human idealization and represent it visually.

Ancient Greek sculptures differed greatly from what we see today and drew influence from various cultures; their interpretation of human form was unique compared to sculptures found elsewhere. Their focus was often more realistic.

Archaic Period statues were typically crafted of limestone, marble, bronze or terra-cotta and used for public memorials, offerings to temples or oracles or grave markers. Their purpose wasn’t to represent specific individuals but instead depict a beautiful, pious or honorable character.

As time went on, sculptures became less rigid, started moving more freely and started taking on more human-like features; their hair fell more naturally; clothing smelled sensual; posture was more relaxed;

These changes helped make Greek sculptures more realistic, and also had an influence on later artists from Greece and Rome who were inspired by their art form. These artists found great admiration for what Greek sculptors had achieved through their craft.

Greek sculpture has become some of the world’s most renowned and celebrated works of art thanks to their innovative method of sculpting. Their artistic vision of human anatomy remains highly influential today and many other artists have followed in its footsteps throughout history.

Classical Greece

Sculpture’s development in classical Greece was an astounding tale. Over time, its sophistication increased greatly while it expanded in terms of diversity as well.

From Archaic Greece through Classical, Greeks refined their figural sculpture to meet social and religious expectations, creating sculptures in different sizes from clay, stone, metal, and bronze.

Statues were often created as votive offerings to deities or mythological figures in temples, with standing figures or portrait busts created and used as statues to decorate pediments or friezes on temples or treasury buildings.

Hermes of Praxiteles, discovered again in 1877, stands 2.12 meters high in marble and is widely recognized as an example of Praxitelean style and has even been attributed to him.

Another wonderful example from this era is the Lady of Auxerre (650-625 BCE), a small limestone statue combining Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian motifs to form an intriguing hybrid; her narrow waist evokes Minoan statues while her long, rigid legs suggest Egyptian portraiture.

Greek art evolved rapidly following the Peloponnesian wars and Sparta and Athens’ subsequent rise, when sculpture began to focus on depicting nude male forms in Early Classical period sculpture. From 480 BCE through 450 BCE, Greek artists developed an innovative new method of representing human forms that was widely popular in Greek art.

Roman Empire

The Roman Empire or Imperium Romanorum (meaning “Dominion of the Romans”) was an influential political and military entity which controlled much of Europe from its base city, Rome.

The Romans had an imposing army, as well as highly developed skills in law, government, architecture, sculpture, art, music and literature – as well as having profound effects on European culture that still pervade today’s Western civilisation.

One of the greatest contributions of Roman culture was sharing their language with other groups around them, leaving a legacy that can still be heard today in Spanish, French, Italian and Romanian spoken by people descended from these languages spoken by Romans.

Roman influence can also be felt through their religion. Ancient Romans believed in gods who could be worshiped however one wanted. Their belief was that you should give what you can afford towards helping God, even if that means making personal sacrifices to help.

As the Roman Empire expanded, migrants from various regions brought with them different cults – some Christian. By 380, Christianity had become the official religion of Rome.

This change weakened the power of Roman state, eventually leading to its dissolution. Christianity, which did not align with Roman beliefs about their emperor as god, caused many people to lose respect for both emperor and empire; eventually it split in two halves with one half being centered in Constantinople while the other in Rome.

Early 20th Century

Early 20th-century sculpture is marked by an emphasis on experimental materials, modernism and abstract art. Artists began creating three-dimensional works that conveyed emotion or meaning – often created outdoors – featuring concepts like light sculpture or site specific artworks.

Sculptures differ from paintings in that they typically comprise natural materials like rocks, wood and ice; although more modern sculptures such as steel, concrete and glass can also be created using this process. Recently artists have begun mixing sculptural elements into installations using mixed media techniques.

These new works of art have broken down barriers between sculpture and other forms of art by mixing sculptural materials with sound, light, video projections, two-dimensional images and two-dimensional projections – an artistic practice known as installation art that alters our perception of its pieces.

In the early 20th century, a new style of sculpture emerged that was heavily influenced by modern landscape. This movement came to be known as Precisionism, with elements from Cubism and Futurism having profound influences over it.

This art movement had an incredible effect on 20th-century sculpture. Some iconic works, like Henry Moore’s Head with Horns and Alberto Giacometti’s Head with a Ball, represent this style with their abstract designs and bright coloration.


Throughout the 20th Century, artists embraced modernism – an artistic movement and philosophy movement which reflected social changes of that era such as technological advancement, capitalism growth and World War I. All these events led people to question traditional ways of viewing life and society.

As a result, sculptors evolved their work away from naturalism and human representation – an important milestone in art history.

Sculpture soon came to be defined by its material, color, technique and painterly procedures. Artists such as Claude Monet, Piet Mondrian and Jackson Pollock utilized innovative materials when creating their works of art.

Early modernists embraced the belief that reality could change over time, challenging traditional views of culture while at the same time uprooting old social structures and reconsidering women’s roles within society.

Modernism had an influence on numerous disciplines including architecture, music, literature and religion – hence Ezra Pound’s 1934 phrase: “Make It New!” became a cornerstone of this movement.

Modernists believed art should be free from unnecessary sophistications and conventions that detracted from its primary goal – discovery. Furthermore, they desired to portray what was seen rather than create an idealized version.


Sculpture is an art form in which hard or plastic materials are transformed into three-dimensional forms using hand tools or machine cutters, such as knives. These three-dimensional objects may be freestanding, in relief on surfaces, tableaux or contexts that engulf spectators. It draws from both natural and manmade forms for inspiration while being used to convey human emotions and feelings.

Artists began creating sculpture during the 20th century using various materials and ideas. For instance, French sculptor Anthony Caro pioneered three-dimensional abstraction, playing an influential role in contemporary sculpture for nearly five decades and producing works that often suggest movement, weightlessness, improvisation or other qualities associated with its form.

Robert Smithson, Andy Goldsworthy and Thomas McEvilley were pioneers of environmental sculpture – creating large-scale outdoor installations through large-scale outdoor installations.

These sculptures reflected the landscape at their respective sites while questioning art’s boundaries and sculpture itself.

History of sculpture also saw the advent of photography into the field as an invaluable aid. Since the invention of photography cameras have existed alongside sculpture practices. Many renowned sculptors like Rodin and Brancusi utilized photography in order to further their practices.

One of the most acclaimed examples of this kind of sculptural work by Jeff Koons was Balloon Dog (magenta), which received widespread acclaim at Hercules Salon of Chateau de Versailles. Here, an artist had used latex balloons shaped as dogs before modeling it into an actual physical sculpture piece.