Art in Europe after 1900

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), The François Zola Dam , oil on canvas, about 1879.

NMW A 29292, Cedric Morris, Two Sisters , 1935, '© Cedric Morris Estate'

In this gallery we see the development of modern art in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.

By 1900 Impressionism had lost its revolutionary edge and began to be viewed as a safe, academic style. Artists rejected loose, impressionistic brushwork and even questioned the need to capture the visual appearance of the world.

The work of Paul Cézanne and the discovery of ‘primitive’ art – including African sculpture and European folk art – created new avenues for artists to explore. The recognition that the formal qualities of a work (such as shape, line, texture and colour) could be important and expressive in their own right led to the development of abstract or non-representational art.

A little later a group of radical artists looked to unleash the power of the subconscious imagination. The Surrealist movement began in Paris in the 1920s and developed new artistic techniques to connect with dreams and the subconscious. Like the development of abstraction some ten years earlier, Surrealism’s influence soon spread across Europe.