Object begins with some of the pioneers working in France in the 1930s – then capital of the art world – who were leading the way for modern art. Before arriving in St Ives Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth were already part of this progressive European art scene, greatly affected by their visits to the Paris studios of such radical artists as Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi. Both Cubism and Surrealism were important influences: Cubism with its analysis of space and volume, and Surrealism through its exploration of imagination and the unconscious.
At this time, European avant-garde artists had reconsidered some fundamental aspects of their work. Painters had redefined how they viewed objects; some presented multiple viewpoints or emphasised that their canvases were objects in themselves, rather than windows offering views of the world. At the same time, sculptors began to draw inspiration from or even used the objects they encountered in everyday life.
In England, particularly, this was complemented by a back-to-basics mentality, which followed the First World War. It encouraged a more integrated approach to the previously separate disciplines of art, craft and design. Traditional potters such as Bernard Leach made standard tableware, as well as exhibiting one-off pieces alongside fine artists. The search for innocence and authenticity also encouraged admiration for the work of Alfred Wallis, a retired fisherman whose naïve paintings, made on found bits of card and board with household paint, had a marked influence on British modernists – especially those in St Ives.