Covering the period between 1890 and 1914, the Belle Époque (‘Beautiful Era’) is nostalgically viewed as a period of optimism, peace, prosperity, new technology and scientific discoveries. It was then that arts and sciences developed with an incomparable speed and intensity. Many masterpieces of literature, music, theatre, and visual arts gained recognition. At that time Paris was a cultural centre of global influence, and her educational, scientific and medical institutions were at the leading edge of Europe.
The Belle Époque was named in retrospect, when it began to be considered as a ‘golden age’, in contrast to the horrors of World War I. Unlike the early 20th century, the Belle Époque was a time of relative peace and prosperity. It was, however, not the entire reality of life in Paris or in France. France had a large economic underclass who never experienced much of the Belle Époque’s wonders and entertainments. Poverty remained endemic in Parisian urban slums and among rural peasantry for decades after the Belle Époque ended.
During the Belle Époque France enjoyed relative stability. The most serious political issue of that period was the so-called Dreyfus Affair and the subsequent rise of anti-Semitism. International tensions grew considerably between 1897 and 1914, and the immediate pre-war years were marked by a general armaments competition in Europe.
International movements supporting working class rights caused stirrings and uproar throughout European societies. Similarly, women’s suffrage resonated and rocked the foundations of political systems wordwide. This era also saw massive overseas colonialism, known as the New Imperialism.
The Belle Époque was an era of great scientific and technological advancement in Europe and the world in general. Inventions of that time include the perfection of lightly sprung, noiseless carriages, automobiles, pneumatic tires, telephones and telegraphs, cinema, airplanes and antibiotics.
The Belle Époque gave rise to many innovative artistic movements; these include, among others, Art Nouveau, Impressionism, Expressionism, Symbolism, Cubism, and Abstraction. Art Nouveau is the most popularly recognised art movement to emerge from the period and its use in Paris (e.g. the Paris Metro stations) has made it synonymous with the city.