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, Iceland and Helsinki, Finland.
The World of Art (Mir Iskusstva) periodical, founded and edited by ballet impresario and art critic Serge Pavlovich Diaghilev (1872–1929), introduces Russian audiences to Western European avant-garde literature, painting, and architecture. In 1909, Diaghilev takes his avant-garde Ballets Russes to Paris, where the group performs—in addition to touring Western Europe and the United States—up to the time of Diaghilev’s death. Among the dancers who perform with the Ballets Russes are Anna Pavlova (1881–1931) and Vaslav Nijinsky (1890–1950).
Finland struggles against Russia for political autonomy and democratization. In 1917, Finland declares independence from Russia. A civil war between Rightist and Leftist political factions ensues in 1918 and is followed by the establishment of the Republic of Finland in 1919.
The decoration of the Finnish National Pavilion at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle by Louis Sparre (1863–1964) and Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931) constitutes official recognition of those artists who are attempting to create a progressive art that corresponds to their democratic-socialist ideals.
The first Nobel Prizes are awarded. The prizes, for scientific achievements as well as accomplishments in literature and world peace, are established in the will of Alfred Nobel (1833–1896), the Swedish inventor of dynamite.
August Strindberg (1849–1912) writes The Dance of Death, a play dealing with some of the central themes of the Swedish realist literary movement, especially the fraught psychological relationships between men and women.
Anton Chekhov’s (1860–1904) play The Cherry Orchard depicts the declining fortunes of landowners and the rising power of the entrepreneurial class in pre-Revolutionary Russia.
Danish silversmith Georg Jensen (1866–1935) opens a workshop in Copenhagen and becomes known for his modernist jewelry designs and silver flatware.
Norway declares independence from Sweden, thus completing its struggle for political and cultural autonomy begun in the late nineteenth century.
Russian artist Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944) creates his first abstract paintings. In 1912, he publishes Concerning the Spiritual in Art, in which he locates the origins of abstraction in mysticism. Having lived in Germany since 1897, Kandinsky returns to Russia in 1914, where he remains until 1921.
The Jack of Diamonds (Bubnovyi Valet) group is founded by Mikhail Larionov (1881–1964). It sponsors exhibitions of Cubist and other modernist works by Western European artists, as well as the work of contemporary Russian artists, in Saint Petersburg (Leningrad) and Moscow.
Mikhail Larionov (1881–1964) and Natalia Goncharova (1881–1962) establish a movement they refer to as Rayonism, which grows out of Cubism and Futurism and emphasizes abstracted depictions of rays of light in painting.
Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935) produces a drawing entitled Basic Suprematist Element, which he considers his first work to entirely abandon recognizable subject matter and to thus exemplify Suprematism.
World War I begins with the declaration of war on Serbia by Austria-Hungary. Russia will be aligned with the other Allies (Great Britain, France, and the U.S.) against the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria). Sweden, Denmark, and Norway all remain neutral with respect to World War I.
Composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) leaves the Saint Petersburg Conservatory to travel to London, where he encounters the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) and is commissioned by Serge Pavlovich Diaghilev (1872–1929) to write a score for the Ballets Russes. The score is rejected but another, Chout, is eventually performed in 1921. Prokofiev’s later works include the ballet Romeo and Juliet (premieres 1938) and the film score for Serge Eisenstein’s (1898–1948) Alexander Nevsky (1938).
Political reform in Sweden, aimed at preventing revolution, gives greater power to the Liberals and Social Democrats in Parliament and reduces the monarchy to a largely ceremonial role.
The abdication of Russian czar Nicholas II (1868–1918) leads to the transfer of political power to a provisional government. The October Revolution by the Bolsheviks subsequently overthrows the provisional government.
Edvard Munch (1863–1944) exhibits his Frieze of Life, a series of Symbolist paintings including The Scream (1893), at Blomqvist’s Gallery in Christiania, Norway. The Frieze of Life had been shown earlier, at the Berlin Secession, in 1902.
By provisions of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Russia cedes large tracts of land to Germany. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan all declare independence from Russia.
Czar Nicholas II (1868–1918) and his family are executed at Ekaterinburg, where they had been imprisoned. Civil war begins in Russia in the same year, between the Bolsheviks, or Reds, and anti-Bolsheviks, or Whites.
A movement begins across Scandinavia to enfranchise women. Norwegian women gain the right to vote in 1918, Swedish women in 1921.
The Railway Station in Helsinki, designed by architect Eliel Saarinen (1873–1950), is completed. The National Romantic conception of Saarinen’s 1904 winning competition entry had been roundly criticized and the completed building shows how Saarinen moved to a more frank and modernist expression of the concrete structure in response to the debate.
Vladimir Tatlin (1885–1953) produces a model for the Monument to the Third International, a proposed 1,300-foot-high spiraling metal frame containing geometric forms to accommodate government institutions brought into being by the Russian Revolution. Although never built, the monument typifies Russian Constructivism.
Eastern European and Scandinavian countries increase their international political roles. Norway joins the League of Nations in 1920 and the Soviet Union joins in 1934.
Brothers Naum Gabo (1890–1977) and Anton Pevzner (Antoine Pevsner, 1886–1962), both sculptors, publish the Realistic Manifesto, an outgrowth of recent Russian experiments with abstract painting and sculpture, and a call for a new artistic style appropriate to the period.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is formed and will eventually include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorussia (now Belarus), Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
Vladimir Ilich Lenin (1870–1924) of the Soviet Union dies and Joseph Stalin (1879—1953) begins his rise to power.
Filmmaker Serge Eisenstein (1898–1948) directs The Battleship Potemkin. Employing the technique of montage, the influential and well-received film was based on an actual event of 1905 in which a battleship’s Russian crew turned on their officers. The film was part of Eisenstein’s ongoing use of the medium to support the Communist cause.
The Swedish glass manufacturer Orrefors comes to international attention with the display of its products at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.
Swedish architect Erik Gunnar Asplund (1885–1940) employs a functionalist vocabulary in his design for the buildings of the Stockholm Exposition, marking the emergence of modernism in Scandinavia.
The “Three Finnish Wars” of the World War II era take place: the Winter War (1939–40) against Soviet aggression; the Continuation War (1941–44), fought with Germany against the Soviet Union over land conquests in the east; and the Lapland War (1944–45), which drives German forces out of northern Finland.
Germany and the Soviet Union sign a nonaggression pact, despite which Germany will invade the Soviet Union in 1941, drawing the latter into World War II.
The Villa Mairea in Noormarkku, Finland, by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) is completed. The building exemplifies Aalto’s work, and Scandinavian modern architecture generally, through its engagement with the landscape and use of organic materials.
The occupation of Denmark and Norway by Nazi Germany begins. It ends in 1945 with the conclusion of World War II.
Iceland declares independence from Denmark and joins the United Nations the next year (1945). Norway joins the UN the same year, and Finland a decade later in 1955. Scandinavian participation in international organizations is furthered when Denmark and Norway join NATO in 1949.
World War II ends when the U.S. drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. But this demonstration of nuclear capability also begins the Cold War between the U.S. and USSR, compounded by the provisions of the Yalta Conference of the same year, attended by the U.S., UK, and USSR. In 1949, the Soviet Union will detonate an atomic bomb, demonstrating that it too has nuclear weapons. The political tension between the two superpowers will continue until the collapse of the latter in the late 1980s.
Finland pursues a policy known as “Finlandization,” which consists of political neutrality and peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union.
The Nordic Council, which is intended to create greater political unity among the Scandinavian countries, is founded by Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, and Norway. Finland will join in 1955.
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (1894–1971) becomes first secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union, in which capacity he will serve until 1964. His official denunciation of Stalin at the XX Party Congress in 1956 is the first step in a gradual process of “destalinization” in the Soviet Union and its satellites. He becomes premier in 1958, but is deposed on the basis of his perceived mishandling of the Cuban missile crisis (1962).
The Warsaw Pact, a treaty of friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance, is signed by the USSR, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. The Warsaw Pact countries are intended to balance the political power of the U.S.-aligned NATO countries.
The Soviet Union initiates the Sputnik program of space exploration; in 1961, Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin (1934–1968) becomes the first man to orbit the Earth.
Russian author Boris Pasternak (1890–1960) is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, but the controversy surrounding the award forces him to reject it. His novel Doctor Zhivago had appeared in Italian in 1957 and English in 1958, but was considered too anti-Marxist and counterrevolutionary to be published in the Soviet Union.
The S.A.S. Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, designed by Arne Jacobsen (1902–1971), is completed. The building and its furnishings—also designed by Jacobsen and including the “Egg” and “Swan” chairs—exemplify his unique approach to modernist design. Jacobsen is credited with bringing international modernism to Denmark and adapting it to his own organic approach.
“One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” the first work of Russian dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (born 1918), is published in the Soviet magazine Novyi Mir. In 1970, Solzhenitsyn will receive the Nobel Prize in literature.
Persona, a film by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman (born 1918), premieres. Like many of his major works, it explores the intense psychological relationships between the principal characters.
The production of North Sea oil bolsters the Norwegian economy. The general prosperity results in increased support for artists. In 1978, Norway establishes a system of state support for artists, thereby contributing to the revitalization of the country’s contemporary art scene through the end of the century.
Denmark joins the European Community, but the nation’s further integration into Europe is limited when in 1992 the country votes against the Maastricht Treaty establishing a more unified European Union. In the following year (1993), the Danes adopt the treaty but opt out of the common currency and some other provisions. Sweden and Finland become members of the European Union in 1995.
The Soviet Union and the U.S. sign the SALT-1 arms control agreement. This begins a period of “détente,” or easing of political tensions between the two countries. Détente collapses with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Mikhail Baryshnikov (born 1948), a solo dancer with Leningrad’s Kirov Ballet and a Soviet celebrity, defects to the West while on tour in Canada.
The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe is held in Helsinki. The resulting Helsinki Accords define basic human rights for the European and North American nations that are signatories.
The Bagsværd Church, near Copenhagen, is designed by Jørn Utzon (born 1918), also the architect of the Sydney Opera House (1957–73). The church represents Utzon’s perpetuation of the organicism associated with earlier Scandinavian modernist architecture.
Finland’s boom economy of these years leads to it being known as the “Japan of Europe.” The boom’s end coincides with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Mikhail Gorbachev (born 1931) becomes general secretary of the Communist party in the USSR and in this position pursues policies of openness (glasnost) and restructuring (perestroika).
The worst nuclear accident in history takes place at the V. I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant located in Chernobyl in north-central Ukraine.
Soviet control of Eastern Europe ends, signaling the beginning of the collapse of the USSR, which by this point includes fifteen republics. The dismantling of the Soviet Union is completed by 1991.
Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn (born 1924) wins the Pritzker Architecture Prize (awarded from 1979 on), in recognition of his ongoing work in the tradition of Alvar Aalto, beginning with the Norwegian Pavilion at the 1958 Exposition Universelle in Brussels.
Finland becomes the only Nordic country to join the European Monetary Union, which initiates the use of the Euro as an electronic currency in the following year (1999). Scandinavia thus maintains a certain independence from Continental Europe.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, “Kiasma,” in Helsinki, opens. Designed by New York architect Steven Holl (born 1947), the building is intended to support practicing artists in Finland and to revitalize the city.
The Iceland Airwaves annual music festival is launched in Reykjavik and showcases experimental musicians. The festival plays an ongoing role in making Reykjavik one of the newly culturally vibrant cities of Scandinavia.
The Coastline 2000 exhibit near Reykjavik includes fifteen site-specific sculptures by Eastern European and Scandinavian artists and affirms the continuing importance of the landscape to Icelandic and Scandinavian art.
“Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, 1900 A.D.–present.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=11®ion=eue (October 2004)