Abstract Art and Britain between the Wars

10am-5pm daily

Admission free | Advance booking required


Modern One and our exhibition NOW | Katie Paterson are open. Booking is required and can be made up to two weeks in advance. Modern Two will reopen on Saturday 24 October.

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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: Barbara Hepworth, Wave, 1943-1944, © BOWNESS for works by Barbara Hepworth

Event accessibility

Display accessibility

  • Wheelchair access


Gallery facilities

The Changing Places toilet is located in the rear car park of Modern One with accessible parking spaces located nearby. The unit is open 10am-5pm, every day, a key is not required.

A full accessibility guide is available at www.accessibilityguides.org for Modern One and Modern Two.

  • Wheelchair access
  • Changing places toilet
  • Public toilets
  • Disabled parking
  • Baby changing facilities
  • Bike rack
  • Parking

Getting here

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.

In addition to the transport options below there are bike racks at each site and Just Eat Cycle Hire stations nearby.

75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3DR
Modern One 10am-5pm daily
Modern Two Reopening on Saturday 24 October

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Book your visit to Modern One

Book your visit to Modern One

We will be limiting the number of visitors in each gallery at any one time. To manage this we've instituted a free, timed ticketing system for both venues.

Admission is free, but tickets must be booked in advance.

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