Beginnings: the 19th century
According to one critic, modernism developed out of
Romanticism's revolt against the effects of the
Industrial Revolution and
bourgeois values: "The ground motive of modernism,
Graff asserts, was criticism of the nineteenth-century bourgeois social order and its world view [...] the modernists, carrying the torch of romanticism."
J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851), one of the greatest landscape painters of the 19th century, was a member of the
Romantic movement, as "a pioneer in the study of light, colour, and atmosphere", he "anticipated the
French Impressionists" and therefore modernism "in breaking down conventional formulas of representation; [though] unlike them, he believed that his works should always express significant historical, mythological, literary, or other narrative themes."
The dominant trends of industrial
Victorian England were opposed, from about 1850, by the English poets and painters that constituted the
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, because of their "opposition to technical skill without inspiration."
:815 They were influenced by the writings of the art critic
John Ruskin (1819–1900), who had strong feelings about the role of art in helping to improve the lives of the urban working classes, in the rapidly expanding industrial cities of Britain.
:816 Art critic
Clement Greenberg describes the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as proto-Modernists: "There the proto-Modernists were, of all people, the pre-Raphaelites (and even before them, as proto-proto-Modernists, the German
Nazarenes). The Pre-Raphaelites actually foreshadowed
Manet (1832–83), with whom Modernist painting most definitely begins. They acted on a dissatisfaction with painting as practiced in their time, holding that its realism wasn't truthful enough."
Rationalism has also had opponents in the philosophers
Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55)
 and later
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), both of whom had significant influence on
However, the Industrial Revolution continued. Influential innovations included steam-powered industrialization, and especially the development of railways, starting in Britain in the 1830s,
 and the subsequent advancements in physics, engineering, and architecture associated with this. A major 19th-century engineering achievement was
The Crystal Palace, the huge cast-iron and plate glass exhibition hall built for
The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. Glass and iron were used in a similar monumental style in the construction of major railway terminals in
London, such as
Paddington Station (1854)
King's Cross station (1852).
 These technological advances led to the building of later structures like the
Brooklyn Bridge (1883) and the
Eiffel Tower (1889). The latter broke all previous limitations on how tall man-made objects could be. These engineering marvels radically altered the 19th-century urban environment and the daily lives of people. The human experience of time itself was altered, with the development of the electric
telegraph from 1837,
 and the adoption of
standard time by British railway companies from 1845, and in the rest of the world over the next fifty years.
But despite continuing technological advances, from the 1870s onward, the idea that history and civilization were inherently progressive, and that progress was always good, came under increasing attack. Arguments arose that the values of the artist and those of society were not merely different, but that Society was antithetical to Progress, and could not move forward in its present form. The philosopher
Schopenhauer (1788–1860) (
The World as Will and Representation, 1819) called into question the previous optimism, and his ideas had an important influence on later thinkers, including Nietzsche.
 Two of the most significant thinkers of the period were biologist
Charles Darwin (1809–82), author of
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), and political scientist
Karl Marx (1818–83), author of
Das Kapital (1867). Darwin's theory of
natural selection undermined religious certainty and the idea of human uniqueness. In particular, the notion that human beings were driven by the same impulses as "lower animals" proved to be difficult to reconcile with the idea of an ennobling spirituality.
 Karl Marx argued that there were fundamental contradictions within the
capitalist system, and that the workers were anything but free.
The beginnings of modernism in France
Historians, and writers in different disciplines, have suggested various dates as starting points for modernism. Historian
William Everdell, for example, has argued that modernism began in the 1870s, when metaphorical (or
ontological) continuity began to yield to the discrete with mathematician
Richard Dedekind's (1831–1916)
Dedekind cut, and
Ludwig Boltzmann's (1844–1906)
 Everdell also thinks modernism in painting began in 1885–86 with
Divisionism, the "dots" used to paint
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. On the other hand, visual art critic
Clement Greenberg called
Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) "the first real Modernist",
 though he also wrote, "What can be safely called Modernism emerged in the middle of the last century—and rather locally, in France, with
Baudelaire in literature and
Manet in painting, and perhaps with
Flaubert, too, in prose fiction. (It was a while later, and not so locally, that Modernism appeared in
 The poet Baudelaire's
Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), and Flaubert's novel
Madame Bovary were both published in 1857.
In the arts and letters, two important approaches developed separately in France. The first was
Impressionism, a school of painting that initially focused on work done, not in studios, but outdoors (
en plein air). Impressionist paintings demonstrated that human beings do not see objects, but instead see light itself. The school gathered adherents despite internal divisions among its leading practitioners, and became increasingly influential. Initially rejected from the most important commercial show of the time, the government-sponsored
Paris Salon, the Impressionists organized yearly group exhibitions in commercial venues during the 1870s and 1880s, timing them to coincide with the official Salon. A significant event of 1863 was the
Salon des Refusés, created by
Emperor Napoleon III to display all of the paintings rejected by the Paris Salon. While most were in standard styles, but by inferior artists, the work of Manet attracted tremendous attention, and opened commercial doors to the movement. The second French school was
Symbolism, which literary historians see beginning with Charles Baudelaire (1821–67), and including the later poets,
Arthur Rimbaud (1854–91) Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell, 1873),
Paul Verlaine (1844–96),
Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–98), and
Paul Valéry (1871–1945). The symbolists "stressed the priority of suggestion and evocation over direct description and explicit analogy," and were especially interested in "the musical properties of language."
Cabaret, which gave birth to so many of the arts of modernism, including the immediate precursors of film, may be said to have begun in France in 1881 with the opening of the
Black Cat in
Montmartre, the beginning of the ironic monologue, and the founding of the Society of Incoherent Arts.
Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
, detail of the figure to the lower right
Influential in the early days of modernism were the theories of
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939). Freud's first major work was
Studies on Hysteria (with
Josef Breuer, 1895). Central to Freud's thinking is the idea "of the primacy of the unconscious mind in mental life," so that all subjective reality was based on the play of basic drives and instincts, through which the outside world was perceived. Freud's description of subjective states involved an unconscious mind full of primal impulses, and counterbalancing self-imposed restrictions derived from social values.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was another major precursor of modernism,
 with a philosophy in which psychological drives, specifically the "
will to power" (Wille zur Macht), was of central importance: "Nietzsche often identified life itself with 'will to power', that is, with an instinct for growth and durability."
Henri Bergson (1859–1941), on the other hand, emphasized the difference between scientific, clock time and the direct, subjective, human experience of time.
:131 His work on time and consciousness "had a great influence on twentieth-century novelists," especially those Modernists who used the
stream of consciousness technique, such as
James Joyce, and
Virginia Woolf (1882–1941).
 Also important in Bergson's philosophy was the idea of élan vital, the life force, which "brings about the creative evolution of everything."
:132 His philosophy also placed a high value on
intuition, though without rejecting the importance of the intellect.
Important literary precursors of modernism were
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–81), who wrote the novels
Crime and Punishment (1866) and
The Brothers Karamazov (1880);
Walt Whitman (1819–92), who published the poetry collection
Leaves of Grass (1855–91); and
August Strindberg (1849–1912), especially his later plays, including the trilogy To Damascus 1898–1901, A Dream Play (1902) and The Ghost Sonata (1907).
Henry James has also been suggested as a significant precursor, in a work as early as
The Portrait of a Lady (1881).
Out of the collision of ideals derived from Romanticism, and an attempt to find a way for knowledge to explain that which was as yet unknown, came the first wave of works in the first decade of the 20th century, which, while their authors considered them extensions of existing trends in art, broke the implicit contract with the general public that artists were the interpreters and representatives of bourgeois culture and ideas. These "Modernist" landmarks include the
atonal ending of
Second String Quartet in 1908, the
expressionist paintings of
Wassily Kandinsky starting in 1903, and culminating with his first abstract painting and the founding of the
Blue Rider group in
Munich in 1911, and the rise of
fauvism and the inventions of
cubism from the studios of
Georges Braque, and others, in the years between 1900 and 1910.
Explosion, early 20th century to 1930
An important aspect of modernism is how it relates to tradition through its adoption of techniques like reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody in new forms.
T. S. Eliot made significant comments on the relation of the artist to tradition, including: "[W]e shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of [a poet's] work, may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously."
 However, the relationship of Modernism with tradition was complex, as literary scholar Peter Childs indicates: "There were paradoxical if not opposed trends towards revolutionary and reactionary positions, fear of the new and delight at the disappearance of the old, nihilism and fanatical enthusiasm, creativity and despair."
An example of how Modernist art can be both revolutionary and yet be related to past tradition, is the music of the composer
Arnold Schoenberg. On the one hand Schoenberg rejected traditional
tonal harmony, the hierarchical system of organizing works of music that had guided music making for at least a century and a half. He believed he had discovered a wholly new way of organizing sound, based in the use of
twelve-note rows. Yet while this was indeed wholly new, its origins can be traced back in the work of earlier composers, such as
Richard Strauss and
 Furthermore, it must be noted that Schoenberg also wrote tonal music throughout his career.
In the world of art, in the first decade of the 20th century, young painters such as
Pablo Picasso and
Henri Matisse were causing a shock with their rejection of traditional
perspective as the means of structuring paintings,
 though the impressionist
Monet had already been innovative in his use of perspective.
 In 1907, as Picasso was painting
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon,
Oskar Kokoschka was writing Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (Murderer, Hope of Women), the first Expressionist play (produced with scandal in 1909), and Arnold Schoenberg was composing his String Quartet No.2 in F sharp minor (1908), his first composition without a tonal centre.
A primary influence that led to
Cubism was the representation of three-dimensional form in the late works of
Paul Cézanne, which were displayed in a retrospective at the 1907
 In Cubist artwork, objects are analyzed, broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form; instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context.
 Cubism was brought to the attention of the general public for the first time in 1911 at the
Salon des Indépendants in Paris (held 21 April – 13 June).
Henri Le Fauconnier,
Fernand Léger and
Roger de La Fresnaye were shown together in Room 41, provoking a 'scandal' out of which Cubism emerged and spread throughout Paris and beyond. Also in 1911,
Kandinsky painted Bild mit Kreis (Picture with a Circle), which he later called the first abstract painting.
:167 In 1912, Metzinger and Gleizes wrote the first (and only) major Cubist manifesto,
Du "Cubisme", published in time for the Salon de la
Section d'Or, the largest Cubist exhibition to date. In 1912 Metzinger painted and exhibited his enchanting
La Femme au Cheval (Woman with a Horse) and Danseuse au Café (
Dancer in a Café). Albert Gleizes painted and exhibited his
Les Baigneuses (The Bathers) and his monumental Le Dépiquage des Moissons (
Harvest Threshing). This work, along with La Ville de Paris (City of Paris) by
Robert Delaunay, was the largest and most ambitious Cubist painting undertaken during the pre-War Cubist period.
In 1905, a group of four German artists, led by
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, formed
Die Brücke (the Bridge) in the city of
Dresden. This was arguably the founding organization for the
German Expressionist movement, though they did not use the word itself. A few years later, in 1911, a like-minded group of young artists formed
Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in Munich. The name came from
Wassily Kandinsky's Der Blaue Reiter painting of 1903. Among their members were Kandinsky,
Paul Klee, and
August Macke. However, the term "Expressionism" did not firmly establish itself until 1913.
:274 Though initially mainly a German artistic movement,
 most predominant in painting, poetry and the theatre between 1910 and 1930, most precursors of the movement were not German. Furthermore, there have been expressionist writers of prose fiction, as well as non-German speaking expressionist writers, and, while the movement had declined in Germany with the rise of
Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, there were subsequent expressionist works.
Expressionism is notoriously difficult to define, in part because it "overlapped with other major 'isms' of the modernist period: with
 Richard Murphy also comments: "the search for an all-inclusive definition is problematic to the extent that the most challenging expressionists" such as the novelist
Franz Kafka, poet
Gottfried Benn, and novelist
Alfred Döblin were simultaneously the most vociferous anti-expressionists.
:43 What, however, can be said, is that it was a movement that developed in the early 20th century mainly in Germany in reaction to the dehumanizing effect of industrialization and the growth of cities, and that "one of the central means by which expressionism identifies itself as an
avant-garde movement, and by which it marks its distance to traditions and the cultural institution as a whole is through its relationship to
realism and the dominant conventions of representation."
:43 More explicitly: that the expressionists rejected the ideology of realism.
There was a concentrated Expressionist movement in early 20th century German theatre, of which
Georg Kaiser and
Ernst Toller were the most famous playwrights. Other notable Expressionist dramatists included
Hans Henny Jahnn, and
Arnolt Bronnen. They looked back to Swedish playwright
August Strindberg and German actor and dramatist
Frank Wedekind as precursors of their
Murderer, the Hope of Women was the first fully Expressionist work for the theatre, which opened on 4 July 1909 in
 The extreme simplification of characters to mythic
types, choral effects, declamatory dialogue and heightened intensity would become characteristic of later Expressionist plays. The first full-length Expressionist play was
The Son by Walter Hasenclever, which was published in 1914 and first performed in 1916.
Futurism is yet another modernist movement. In 1909, the Parisian newspaper
Le Figaro published
F. T. Marinetti's first manifesto. Soon afterwards a group of painters (
Luigi Russolo, and
Gino Severini) co-signed the
Futurist Manifesto. Modeled on
Engels' famous "
Communist Manifesto" (1848), such manifestoes put forward ideas that were meant to provoke and to gather followers. However, arguments in favor of geometric or purely abstract painting were, at this time, largely confined to "little magazines" which had only tiny circulations. Modernist primitivism and pessimism were controversial, and the mainstream in the first decade of the 20th century was still inclined towards a faith in progress and liberal optimism.
En Canot (Im Boot)
, oil on canvas, 146 x 114 cm (57.5 in × 44.9 in), exhibited at Moderni Umeni,
, Prague, 1914, acquired in 1916 by
at the Galerie
, confiscated by the Nazis circa 1936–37, displayed at the
show in Munich, and missing ever since.
Abstract artists, taking as their examples the
impressionists, as well as
Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) and
Edvard Munch (1863–1944), began with the assumption that color and
shape, not the depiction of the natural world, formed the essential characteristics of art.
Western art had been, from the
Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the logic of
perspective and an attempt to reproduce an illusion of visible reality. The arts of cultures other than the European had become accessible and showed alternative ways of describing visual experience to the artist. By the end of the 19th century many artists felt a need to create a new kind of art which would encompass the fundamental changes taking place in technology, science and philosophy. The sources from which individual artists drew their theoretical arguments were diverse, and reflected the social and intellectual preoccupations in all areas of Western culture at that time.
Piet Mondrian, and
Kazimir Malevich all believed in redefining art as the arrangement of pure color. The use of
photography, which had rendered much of the representational function of visual art obsolete, strongly affected this aspect of modernism.
Modernist architects and designers, such as
Frank Lloyd Wright and
Le Corbusier, believed that new technology rendered old styles of building obsolete. Le Corbusier thought that buildings should function as "machines for living in", analogous to cars, which he saw as machines for traveling in.
 Just as cars had replaced the horse, so modernist design should reject the old styles and structures inherited from
Ancient Greece or from the
Middle Ages. Following this machine aesthetic, modernist designers typically rejected decorative motifs in design, preferring to emphasize the materials used and pure geometrical forms.
skyscraper is the archetypal modernist building, and the Wainwright Building, a 10-story office building built 1890-91, in
St. Louis, Missouri, United States, is among the
first skyscrapers in the world.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's
Seagram Building in New York (1956–1958) is often regarded as the pinnacle of this modernist high-rise architecture.
 Many aspects of modernist design still persist within the mainstream of
contemporary architecture, though previous dogmatism has given way to a more playful use of decoration, historical quotation, and spatial drama.
In 1913—which was the year of philosopher
Edmund Husserl's Ideas, physicist
Niels Bohr's quantized atom,
Ezra Pound's founding of
Armory Show in New York, and in
Saint Petersburg the "first futurist opera",
Victory over the Sun—another Russian composer,
Igor Stravinsky, composed
The Rite of Spring, a ballet that depicts
human sacrifice, and has a musical score full of dissonance and primitive rhythm. This caused uproar on its first performance in Paris. At this time though modernism was still "progressive", increasingly it saw traditional forms and traditional social arrangements as hindering progress, and was recasting the artist as a revolutionary, engaged in overthrowing rather than enlightening society. Also in 1913 a less violent event occurred in France with the publication of the first volume of
Marcel Proust's important novel sequence
À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–1927) (In Search of Lost Time). This often presented as an early example of a writer using the
stream-of-consciousness technique, but Robert Humphrey comments that Proust "is concerned only with the reminiscent aspect of consciousness" and that he "was deliberately recapturing the past for the purpose of communicating; hence he did not write a stream-of-consciousness novel."
Stream of consciousness was an important modernist literary innovation, and it has been suggested that
Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931) was the first to make full use of it in his short story "Leutnant Gustl" ("None but the Brave") (1900).
Dorothy Richardson was the first English writer to use it, in the early volumes of her
 The other modernist novelists that are associated with the use of this narrative technique include
James Joyce in
Ulysses (1922) and
Italo Svevo in
La coscienza di Zeno (1923).
However, with the coming of the
Great War of 1914-18 and the
Russian Revolution of 1917, the world was drastically changed and doubt cast on the beliefs and institutions of the past. The failure of the previous status quo seemed self-evident to a generation that had seen millions die fighting over scraps of earth: prior to 1914 it had been argued that no one would fight such a war, since the cost was too high. The birth of a machine age which had made major changes in the conditions of daily life in the 19th century now had radically changed the nature of warfare. The traumatic nature of recent experience altered basic assumptions, and realistic depiction of life in the arts seemed inadequate when faced with the fantastically surreal nature of
trench warfare. The view that mankind was making steady moral progress now seemed ridiculous in the face of the senseless slaughter, described in works such as
Erich Maria Remarque's novel
All Quiet on the Western Front (1929). Therefore, modernism's view of reality, which had been a minority taste before the war, became more generally accepted in the 1920s.
In literature and visual art some Modernists sought to defy expectations mainly in order to make their art more vivid, or to force the audience to take the trouble to question their own preconceptions. This aspect of modernism has often seemed a reaction to
consumer culture, which developed in Europe and North America in the late 19th century. Whereas most manufacturers try to make products that will be marketable by appealing to preferences and prejudices,
high modernists rejected such consumerist attitudes in order to undermine conventional thinking. The art critic
Clement Greenberg expounded this theory of modernism in his essay
Avant-Garde and Kitsch.
 Greenberg labeled the products of consumer culture "
kitsch", because their design aimed simply to have maximum appeal, with any difficult features removed. For Greenberg, modernism thus formed a reaction against the development of such examples of modern consumer culture as commercial
Hollywood, and advertising. Greenberg associated this with the revolutionary rejection of capitalism.
Some Modernists saw themselves as part of a revolutionary culture that included political revolution. In
Russia after the 1917
Revolution there was indeed initially a burgeoning of avant-garde cultural activity, which included
Russian Futurism. However others rejected conventional politics as well as artistic conventions, believing that a revolution of
political consciousness had greater importance than a change in political structures. But many modernists saw themselves as apolitical. Others, such as
T. S. Eliot, rejected mass
popular culture from a conservative position. Some even argue that modernism in literature and art functioned to sustain an
elite culture which excluded the majority of the population.
Surrealism, which originated in the early 1920s, came to be regarded by the public as the most extreme form of modernism, or "the avant-garde of Modernism".
 The word "surrealist" was coined by
Guillaume Apollinaire and first appeared in the preface to his play
Les Mamelles de Tirésias, which was written in 1903 and first performed in 1917. Major surrealists include
Joan Miró, and
By 1930, Modernism had won a place in the establishment, including the political and artistic establishment, although by this time Modernism itself had changed.
Modernism continues: 1930–1945
Modernism continued to evolve during the 1930s. Between 1930 and 1932 composer
Arnold Schoenberg worked on
Moses und Aron, one of the first operas to make use of the
 Pablo Picasso painted in 1937
Guernica, his cubist condemnation of
fascism, while in 1939
James Joyce pushed the boundaries of the modern novel further with
Finnegans Wake. Also by 1930 Modernism began to influence mainstream culture, so that, for example,
The New Yorker magazine began publishing work, influenced by Modernism, by young writers and humorists like
E. B. White,
S. J. Perelman, and
James Thurber, amongst others.
 Perelman is highly regarded for his humorous short stories that he published in magazines in the 1930s and 1940s, most often in The New Yorker, which are considered to be the first examples of
surrealist humor in America.
 Modern ideas in art also began to appear more frequently in commercials and logos, an early example of which, from 1919, is the famous
London Underground logo designed by
One of the most visible changes of this period was the adoption of new technologies into daily life of ordinary people in Western Europe and North America. Electricity, the telephone, the radio, the automobile—and the need to work with them, repair them and live with them—created social change. The kind of disruptive moment that only a few knew in the 1880s became a common occurrence. For example, the speed of communication reserved for the stock brokers of 1890 became part of family life, at least in middle class North America. Associated with urbanization and changing social mores also came smaller families and changed relationships between parents and their children.
Another strong influence at this time was
Marxism. After the generally primitivistic/irrationalist aspect of pre-World War I Modernism, which for many Modernists precluded any attachment to merely political solutions, and the
neoclassicism of the 1920s, as represented most famously by
T. S. Eliot and
Igor Stravinsky—which rejected popular solutions to modern problems—the rise of
Great Depression, and the march to war helped to radicalise a generation.
W. H. Auden,
Louis Aragon and the philosophers
Antonio Gramsci and
Walter Benjamin are perhaps the most famous exemplars of this Modernist form of Marxism. There were, however, also Modernists explicitly of 'the right', including
Wyndham Lewis, T. S. Eliot,
Ezra Pound, the Dutch author
Menno ter Braak and others.
Significant Modernist literary works continued to be created in the 1920s and 1930s, including further novels by
Robert Musil, and
Dorothy Richardson. The American Modernist dramatist
Eugene O'Neill's career began in 1914, but his major works appeared in the 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s. Two other significant Modernist dramatists writing in the 1920s and 1930s were
Bertolt Brecht and
Federico García Lorca.
D. H. Lawrence's
Lady Chatterley's Lover was privately published in 1928, while another important landmark for the history of the modern novel came with the publication of
The Sound and the Fury in 1929. In the 1930s, in addition to further major works by Faulkner,
Samuel Beckett published his first major work, the novel
Murphy (1938). Then in 1939 James Joyce's
Finnegans Wake appeared. This is written in a largely
idiosyncratic language, consisting of a mixture of standard English
lexical items and
portmanteau words, which attempts to recreate the experience of sleep and dreams.
 In poetry T. S. Eliot,
E. E. Cummings, and
Wallace Stevens were writing from the 1920s until the 1950s. While Modernist poetry in English is often viewed as an American phenomenon, with leading exponents including Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot,
William Carlos Williams,
Louis Zukofsky, there were important British Modernist poets, including
Basil Bunting, and
W. H. Auden. European Modernist poets include
Federico García Lorca,
Constantine Cavafy, and
The Modernist movement continued during this period in
Soviet Russia. In 1930 composer
Dimitri Shostakovich's (1906–75) opera
The Nose was premiered, in which he uses a
montage of different styles, including
popular song and
atonality. Amongst his influences was
Alban Berg's (1985–1935) opera
Wozzeck (1925), which "had made a tremendous impression on Shostakovich when it was staged in Leningrad."
 However, from 1932
Socialist realism began to oust Modernism in the Soviet Union,
 and in 1936 Shostakovich was attacked and forced to withdraw his 4th Symphony.
 Alban Berg wrote another significant, though incomplete, Modernist opera,
Lulu, which premiered in 1937. Berg's
Violin Concerto was first performed in 1935. Like Shostakovich, other composers faced difficulties in this period. In Germany
Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) was forced to flee to the U.S. when Hitler came to power in 1933, because of his Modernist
atonal style as well as his Jewish ancestry.
 His major works from this period are a
Violin Concerto, Op. 36 (1934/36), and
Piano Concerto, Op. 42 (1942). Schoenberg also wrote tonal music in this period with the Suite for Strings in G major (1935) and the
Chamber Symphony No. 2 in E♭ minor, Op. 38 (begun in 1906, completed in 1939).
 During this time Hungarian Modernist
Béla Bartók (1881–1945) produced a number of major works, including
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) and the
Divertimento for String Orchestra (1939),
String Quartet No. 5 (1934), and
No. 6 (his last, 1939). But he too left for the US in 1940, because of the rise of
fascism in Hungary.
Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) continued writing in his
neoclassical style during the 1930s and 1940s, writing works like the
Symphony of Psalms (1930),
Symphony in C (1940) and
Symphony in Three Movements (1945). He also emigrated to the US because of World War II.
Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992), however, served in the French army during the war and was imprisoned at
Stalag VIII-A by the Germans, where he composed his famous
Quatuor pour la fin du temps ("Quartet for the End of Time"). The quartet was first performed in January 1941 to an audience of prisoners and prison guards.
In painting, during the 1920s and the 1930s and the
Great Depression, modernism is defined by
Expressionism, and Modernist and masterful color painters like
Henri Matisse and
Pierre Bonnard as well as the abstractions of artists like
Piet Mondrian and
Wassily Kandinsky which characterized the European art scene. In Germany,
George Grosz and others politicized their paintings, foreshadowing the coming of World War II, while in America, modernism is seen in the form of
American Scene painting and the
social realism and
regionalism movements that contained both political and social commentary dominated the art world. Artists like
Thomas Hart Benton,
John Steuart Curry,
Reginald Marsh, and others became prominent. Modernism is defined in
Latin America by painters
Joaquín Torres García from Uruguay and
Rufino Tamayo from Mexico, while the
muralist movement with
José Clemente Orozco,
Pedro Nel Gómez and
Santiago Martinez Delgado, and
Symbolist paintings by
Frida Kahlo, began a renaissance of the arts for the region, characterized by a freer use of color and an emphasis on political messages.
Diego Rivera is perhaps best known by the public world for his 1933 mural,
Man at the Crossroads, in the lobby of the RCA Building at
Rockefeller Center. When his patron
Nelson Rockefeller discovered that the mural included a portrait of
Vladimir Lenin and other communist imagery, he fired Rivera, and the unfinished work was eventually destroyed by Rockefeller's staff. Frida Kahlo's (Rivera's wife's) works are often characterized by their stark portrayals of pain. Kahlo was deeply influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, which is apparent in her paintings' bright colors and dramatic symbolism. Christian and Jewish themes are often depicted in her work as well; she combined elements of the classic religious Mexican tradition, which were often bloody and violent. Frida Kahlo's Symbolist works relate strongly to Surrealism and to the
Magic Realism movement in literature.
Political activism was an important piece of David Siqueiros' life, and frequently inspired him to set aside his artistic career. His art was deeply rooted in the
Mexican Revolution. The period from the 1920s to the 1950s is known as the Mexican Renaissance, and Siqueiros was active in the attempt to create an art that was at once Mexican and universal. The young
Jackson Pollock attended the workshop and helped build
floats for the parade.
During the 1930s radical leftist politics characterized many of the artists connected to Surrealism, including
 On 26 April 1937, during the
Spanish Civil War, the
bombed by Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe. The Germans were attacking to support the efforts of
Francisco Franco to overthrow the Basque government and the Spanish Republican government. Pablo Picasso painted his mural-sized
Guernica to commemorate the horrors of the bombing.
Great Depression of the 1930s and through the years of World War II, American art was characterized by
Social Realism and
American Scene Painting, in the work of
Thomas Hart Benton, and several others.
Nighthawks (1942) is a painting by Edward Hopper that portrays people sitting in a downtown diner late at night. It is not only Hopper's most famous painting, but one of the most recognizable in American art. The scene was inspired by a diner in
Greenwich Village. Hopper began painting it immediately after the
attack on Pearl Harbor. After this event there was a large feeling of gloominess over the country, a feeling that is portrayed in the painting. The urban street is empty outside the diner, and inside none of the three patrons is apparently looking or talking to the others but instead is lost in their own thoughts. This portrayal of modern urban life as empty or lonely is a common theme throughout Hopper's work.
American Gothic is a painting by
Grant Wood from 1930. Portraying a
pitchfork-holding farmer and a younger woman in front of a house of
Carpenter Gothic style, it is one of the most familiar images in 20th-century
American art. Art critics had favorable opinions about the painting; like
Gertrude Stein and
Christopher Morley, they assumed the painting was meant to be a satire of rural small-town life. It was thus seen as part of the trend towards increasingly critical depictions of rural America, along the lines of
Sherwood Anderson's 1919
Sinclair Lewis's 1920
Main Street, and
Carl Van Vechten's The Tattooed Countess in literature.
 However, with the onset of the Great Depression, the painting came to be seen as a depiction of steadfast American pioneer spirit.
The situation for artists in Europe during the 1930s deteriorated rapidly as the Nazis' power in Germany and across Eastern Europe increased.
Degenerate art was a term adopted by the
Nazi regime in Germany for virtually all
modern art. Such art was banned on the grounds that it was un-German or
Jewish Bolshevist in nature, and those identified as degenerate artists were subjected to sanctions. These included being dismissed from teaching positions, being forbidden to exhibit or to sell their art, and in some cases being forbidden to produce art entirely.
Degenerate Art was also the title of an exhibition, mounted by the Nazis in
Munich in 1937. The climate became so hostile for artists and art associated with modernism and
abstraction that many left for the Americas. German artist
Max Beckmann and scores of others fled Europe for New York. In New York City a new generation of young and exciting Modernist painters led by
Willem de Kooning, and others were just beginning to come of age.
Arshile Gorky's portrait of someone who might be Willem de Kooning is an example of the evolution of
abstract expressionism from the context of figure painting, cubism and surrealism. Along with his friends de Kooning and
John D. Graham, Gorky created biomorphically shaped and abstracted figurative compositions that by the 1940s evolved into totally abstract paintings. Gorky's work seems to be a careful analysis of memory, emotion and shape, using line and color to express feeling and nature.