The twentieth century in Eastern Europe is characterized by political and artistic turmoil. At the turn of the century, Eastern European artists are in close contact with Western European developments, and Russian artists avidly follow avant-garde movements in France and elsewhere. In particular, artists in Eastern Europe take note of Western tendencies toward abstraction in painting and sculpture, and in the first decades of the century Russians lead the movement toward the elimination of conventional narrative motifs in their works. Russia is in the forefront of modernist art production before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1918, and many Russian avant-garde artists are in sympathy with the political movement; later, however, official attitudes toward their work turn hostile. While some artists attempt to adapt the language of abstraction to the Revolutionary cause, the Soviet state increasingly supports Socialist Realism. Despite the politically and artistically repressive character of the Communist regime, challenging works are produced surreptitiously. The dissolution of the Soviet Union late in the century leads to more pluralistic art making as well as the opening of great Russian collections of earlier European art to Western audiences, including that of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
As in Eastern Europe, in Scandinavia prior to the turn of the century, there is a strong interest in continental European art (although in the decade preceding 1900, visual artists become increasingly absorbed by nationalism and Symbolism, forsaking earlier concerns with French Realism and Naturalism). The search for national styles parallels struggles for political autonomy in many of the Scandinavian countries after 1900. By the middle decades of the century, it is possible to speak of a “Scandinavian Modern” aesthetic, especially in architecture and design. The style shares much with modernist works produced in continental Europe and North America, but also expresses some of the unique characteristics of Scandinavia, especially its natural beauty. Scandinavian modern architecture is thus engaged with the landscape and incorporates natural materials like wood and stone. At the end of the century, increasing environmental awareness in the West leads to a new interest in Scandinavian design and especially its respectful relationship to the natural world. Simultaneously, a revitalized contemporary art and music scene emerges in certain Scandinavian cities, especially Reykjavik and Helsinki.