A fascination with the 'primitive' lies at the heart of some of the most influential developments in Western art between 1890 and 1950 - a time that witnessed both the 'heroic' period of modern art and the apogee and decline of the West's colonial power. Many groups have at times been labelled as 'primitive', including the so-called tribal peoples from Africa, Oceania and North America, but also prehistoric cultures, European peasants, the insane and children. Through the lens of their own society, many modern artists looked both to the art and to the world-view of the 'primitive' as means of challenging established beliefs, but the 'primitive' to which they turned was a varied as the movements in modern art.
Here, Colin Rhodes breaks new ground, drawing on a wide and diverse range of material, from high art to popular entertainment and from Darwin to Freud. The critical overview he presents supersedes all previous studies on the subject.