Display Closing Soon

Abstract Art and Britain between the Wars

On now until Sun 21 Aug 2022

Open daily, 10am-5pm

Admission free

During the period 22 August – 24 September, the forthcoming Conversations with the Collection exhibition will be getting installed at Modern One. See which rooms will be open during this period.


From the early years of the twentieth century, artists wondered if they could create paintings without subject matter or motifs drawn from nature, but which instead relied solely on patterns of colour, lines and forms. They were influenced by music, which is often conveyed through its own forms, without references from the world. Practice, however, proved much more difficult than theory. How could an artist give abstract forms and colours meaning that everyone could grasp?

British artists were generally reluctant to follow an abstract path. While abstract art developed on the continent just before the First World War, it was not until the 1930s that it became a major force in British art. Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson were key figures in British abstraction, although their work often carries a subtle reference to the landscape (Hepworth) and still lifes (Nicholson). Their work was influenced by the purist, utopian brand of abstract art which was championed on the continent by artists such as Naum Gabo.

With the rise of Facism and Nazism on the continent, some international artists chose to move to Britain. Gabo lived in England from 1936 to 1946; László Moholy-Nagy lived in London from 1935 to 1937. These major figures from the continental Avant-Garde had a powerful effect on British art. For a period, at the end of the 1930s, British art was at the forefront of new, radical tendencies. In London many of the artists were based in Hampstead, and then during the Second World War, some moved to the small town of St. Ives in Cornwall.

Image: John Wells, Music in a Garden, 1947

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Detailed information on accessibility at the National Galleries of Scotland

Parking for visitors is available at both Modern One and Modern Two. A donation is requested of £3 for up to 4 hours and £6 for 4-8 hours. Our payment meters have contactless capability. There is free accessible parking for blue badge holders.

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The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is located 15 minutes’ walk from Princes Street. It includes two buildings, Modern One and Modern Two, set in a beautiful sculpture park.

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73 & 75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3DR

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