The Modernists

Despite the economic and social devastation that followed the end of the First World War in 1918, there was optimism for a new beginning. A spirit of modernism and an enthusiasm for all things new took hold in the visual arts in the 1920s, continuing into the 1930s.

Many British artists reacted against the experimentation of the pre-war years. They returned to traditional subjects like portraiture, still life and landscape. Some, like Matthew Smith, remained under the influence of French art. But most artists looked afresh at the formal qualities of their painting - the handling of shape, line and colour.

Painting also carried a hint of the fashionable Art Deco style of the period. This was characterised by the use of stylised, geometric forms. In the Walker Art Gallery's collection, paintings by lesser-known artists including Cecilia Legge and Edward Halliday reflect this approach. For Ben Nicholson, however, this period was one of more dramatic progression and in the early 1930s he became a pioneer of abstract art in Britain.