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What Is Early Modernism?

Early Modernism was a movement within the arts that questioned the values of Western civilization and disputed the existence of God and universal moral principles. Early Modernists experimented with form and style in the arts.


A rejection of Victorian morality typified early Modernism. The Modernist movement dates from the turn of the 20th century through the mid-1900s; Christopher Butler, a professor of English literature at the University of Oxford, places early Modernism in the period between 1900 and 1916 in his work "Early Modernism: Literature, Music, and Painting in Europe, 1900-1916."


Butler asserts early Modernism ended during World War I because the profound disillusionment that the war engendered among writers, artists, and composers led to even greater innovation in the arts.


Movements within early Modernism include Symbolism, which was a move among poets to represent reality through metaphors and symbols, and Futurism, which was a trend in art to reject the old and celebrate the new and technological.

Major Figures

Among the early Modernists are artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. In music, Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" (1913) was an influential piece. Writers Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot inaugurated the Modernist movement in literature.


Modernists turned away from absolute values, seeing in Victorianism a dangerous tendency to view the world in black-and-white terms. Such a worldview, Modernists believed, led to social ills like imperialism, slavery, and war.

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