Modernism was posited on the belief that the present - what was happening now, the activities of city and country life, the lives, loves and foibles of everyday people - was central. History was swept aside and art never looked back.
The materiality of painting became paramount, each brushstroke standing proud rather than blended to an even gradation of tones. Artists experimented with form, space, light and colour, creating new languages of expression.
Each new development built on the one before. Post-Impressionists rejected the luminous light-dabbed views of the Impressionists, concentrating on boldly defining form, and often using synthetic paints. The Pointillists used dabs rather than brushstrokes of colour, while the Fauves (wild beasts) chose a deliberately bright, unnatural palette. In the first decade of the 20th century, the Cubists broke down objects into fragmentary parts within an indeterminate space, which the viewer's eye then 're-formed' into identifiable everyday objects. The Surrealists made their focus the subconscious mind and the secret world of dreams.
Paris had a pivotal role as the centre for modernist art and literary debate. It became a melting pot of émigré artists drawn to its vibrant atmosphere and avant-garde approaches to art. Many British artists visited France, absorbing and adapting what they learned, but modernism in Britain only took off after the Post-Impressionist exhibition in London in 1908. Artists developed their own way of working, creating paintings and sculptures that spoke of their own political and social mores, defined within a British landscape.