By Philip Hook
The years leading up to World War I were the most exciting, frenzied, and revolutionary in the history of art. This was the crucible of Modernism, when Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, and finally Abstract Art all developed in quick succession. There were phenomenal new innovations in avant-garde painting and sculpture—above all, in Paris, where a community of artists, critics, and collectors was flourishing. Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Kandinsky, Malevich, Klimt, and Schiele all came to prominence during this period, though few understood their genius.
While extraordinary new works were being created, conventional art still continued to be produced and widely appreciated. Exhibitions—of Old Masters and of new art—were held amid huge public interest, shock, and horror. The styles made popular in the nineteenth century held sway, and many people’s tastes remained conservative. The years 1905 to 1914 saw the biggest boom in prices for Old Masters ever in history, while most of the avant-garde lived like paupers.
This was a unique generation; although many of their lives were cut tragically short by the outbreak of war. Here, Sotheby’s art expert Philip Hook explains how it took less than a decade for everything to change, boldly asserting that this period was more influential than the Renaissance.