Like other parts of Continental Europe, the Low Countries are marked in the twentieth century by the two world wars. During World War I, Belgium is the scene of bloody battles between Allied and Axis forces, and during World War II the Low Countries suffer under German occupation.
The wars disrupt thriving avant-garde artistic cultures in the Low Countries. At the turn of the century, Belgian artists are at the forefront of the Art Nouveau and Symbolist movements. During the interwar period, Belgian artists René Magritte (1898–1967) and Paul Delvaux (1897–1994) are central to the development of Surrealism. In the Netherlands, De Stijl artists develop abstraction in painting, which has implications for design and architecture as well. Some of the artists associated with De Stijl emigrate to the United States as a consequence of World War II.
In the postwar period, rebuilding projects spark the development of a unique modernist idiom in architecture and design. During the last decades of the century, government investment in good design makes the Netherlands an international leader in the field. Moreover, the particular concern in the Netherlands with the environmental aspects of design and architecture places the Low Countries in the forefront of sustainable development.