The paintings and sculptures in this gallery give a taste of the diversity of 20th-Century art: from expressive paintings of human figures, to abstracted still lifes, to entirely abstract compositions of colours and forms.

Since 1900, European artists have challenged the idea that creating ‘realistic’, figurative art was the ultimate achievement. Through a series of radical art movements, they redefined the concept of art, and introduced new materials and techniques. Featured artists such as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Barbara Hepworth, and Pablo Picasso all pushed artistic boundaries in different ways, and drew inspiration from philosophy, psychology, literature, music, and traditions beyond Europe and North America.

Modern and contemporary ceramics, and silver work, are displayed in the corridor outside the gallery.


Pencil on paper drawing of a seated nude figure

Amedeo Modigliani. Seated Nude, 1916 Pencil on paper WA1977.28

The IN FOCUS series in this gallery presents special loans and works from the Ashmolean’s collections for short periods of time. Through the rotation of works the display aims to remain exciting also for regular visitors.

The IN FOCUS artworks currently on display are two works on paper by celebrated Paris-based artist Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920), including Seated Nude, 1916, shown here, from the Ashmolean's own collection.

The two works on display are representative of Modigliani’s unique style that modernized figurative drawing in Europe. While often working with life models and gaining inspiration from classical art (including Italian Mannerist painting and African sculpture), Modigliani radically breaks with artistic conventions. He presents the human figure in an uncompromisingly forthright and yet sensuous way. Modigliani’s confident nude paintings and works on paper proved controversial when they were first shown in 1917, leading police to censor his only ever solo exhibition on the grounds of ‘indecency’.