Known in France as the Belle Époque ("beautiful era"), the period prior to World War I in Europe represented the height of artistic and cultural refinement in society. Aesthetic sophistication and old-world values clashed with the arrival of 20th century technology and social values to create a vibrant world filled with beauty, energy, and new ideas.

Looking at pictures and paintings of social and professional life, it is clear that they have one foot in the 19th century and one foot in the 20th. Residences and places of business are characterized by a fading, old-world opulence steadily being overrun by nascent technologies. By the same token, paintings of individuals have elements of 19th century portraiture integrated with distinctly modern styles of dress and attitudes.