The first decades of the 20th century transformed life in Western cities. Electric streetlights were installed, and horse-driven trams were replaced by electric ones. Modern express trains made travel between European centres faster than ever.
The spread of photography and the emergence of film changed visual culture. It was also a time of political tension culminating in the breakout of World War I in 1914. Denmark, which remained neutral during the war, experienced an economic boom that also had a positive impact on the cultural scene.
The realities of society only rarely show directly in the works created during this period. Young artists were interested in modernising their idiom, but many of their motifs are classical.
Figures from abroad, such as Gauguin and Cézanne and, later, Cubists and Expressionists, provided Danish artists with important inspiration for their ongoing efforts to reinvent form and colour. Several of them, among these Weie and Jerichau, had even loftier ambitions.
An anti-rationalistic trend formed a counterpoint to industrialised culture and manifested itself as a celebration of subjectivity and a yearning for spiritual values.
The first Danish artists to travel to Paris and witness the new trends for themselves were Giersing and Swane. The circle also included Isakson and Weie, both of whom became keenly interested in exploring the potential of colour. After the breakout of war a slightly younger generation emerged, including artists such as Jais Nielsen, Rude, and Lundstrøm.
During the waryears the experiments became more radical, and experiences from modern urban reality gained a foothold among the artists’ subject matter. Reactionary critics claimed that the artists suffered from a mental illness. The tone became increasingly confrontational.