Fernand Khnopff (1858 – 1921) was a Belgian Symbolist artist whose distinctive style would win him great success during his lifetime, and influenced other artists in the movement, most notably Gustav Klimt. While Realism was the most advanced style in Belgium at the start of his career, it wasn’t enough for Khnopff: Jeffery Howe states that he ‘insisted that art must suggest the essential mystery behind the visible facts and facades.’ His work is full of allegorical imagery and mystical allusions. He almost exclusively used his sister Marguerite as his model, and his relationship with her was intense and jealous. In many of his paintings of her, he accentuates her jawline to create a more androgynous appearance, blurring the boundaries between gender, creating a fluid sexuality. There’s an eeriness to his work, and a sense of isolation that is at once compelling and discomforting.
Alphonse Osbert (1857-1939) was a French Symbolist who exhibited at the Rose+Croix salons (founded in 1892 by Josephin Peladan with the intention of providing Symbolist art with ideological underpinnings). He was influenced by Pointillism, and his paintings have an ethereal, otherworldly quality to them, and I think his depiction of light is quite lovely.
My first introduction to William Blake was through his poetry, but I’m going to talk about his paintings today. Blake started his career as an engraver, and was influenced by the art of Fuseli, whose interest in the darker side of the supernatural can be seen in Blake’s own work. He was deeply influenced by the mysticism of Swedenborg, and was a supporter of the free love movement, and was strongly opposed to the conventional Christianity of his day. He did not believe that love of Christ entailed self-denial, and spoke out against religious repression. He experienced regular religious visions, and his works of art regularly portrayed the things he witnessed in these states of delirium.
Blake did not attain a great deal of acclaim during his lifetime. His views were too controversial for popular taste, and many believed him to be insane, including William Wordsworth who observed that “there was no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron or Walter Scott.” Blake’s art and poetry would later influence the works of Swinburne and Rossetti, and while he is before the time of Symbolism, his philosophies, and the profound mysticism of his art, place him as a significant forerunner of the movement.
Klimt (1862 – 1918) is probably the best known of the Symbolist artists, and that’s partly why I’ve taken this long to mention him here as I’ve wanted to focus on the less famous contributors to the movement. As it is, I’ve attempted to put together a collection of Klimt’s work that perhaps isn’t so widely recognised.
Klimt became successful in his native Vienna, and was among the founding members of the ‘Vienna Succession’, a group of unconventional artists who mostly adhered to the school of Symbolism. Klimt’s most famous works are his highly stylised paintings from his ‘Golden Phase’, and the majority of his paintings depict erotic sensuality.
There’s a good resource for more Klimt images here.
Special thanks go out to billyjane for introducing me to this wonderful artist!
Boever (1872 – 1949) was a Flemish Symbolist who produced some lovely illustrations to Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. He specialised in erotic portraits of women, almost always in macabre or bizarre settings. He was very successful until around 1935, when he went dramatically out of fashion, and was never able to achieve his former popularity. I’ve found a good website on him here offering a more extensive bibliography and gallery.
Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919) was technically a Pre-Raphealite artist, but the strong parallels between the Pre-Raphealites and the Symbolists merits her inclusion here. She is one of the few women who managed to make a name for herself in the movement, and there has recently been an increase of interest in her work. She is remarkable for the sheer number of paintings she produced, which can be attributed to her fairly formidable work ethic. On the morning of her seventeenth birthday she wrote in her diary, “Art is eternal, but life is short…” “I will make up for it now, I have not a moment to lose.”
As a side note, I’m sorry I’m not posting as often as I used to. I’m currently studying for a Masters Degree, and I have a stupid amount of work on at the moment! I’m hoping that I’ll be able to do more here once May is over!
Jan Toorop (1858 – 1928) is probably one of the most distinctive of the Symbolist artists; his unusual, and slightly unsettling style is instantly recognisable. This could be explained by his childhood spent in Java – many of his figures are highly reminiscent of Javanese shadow theatre puppets. Based in the Netherlands, Toorop was introduced to Symbolism during a visit to Belgium, where he was inspired by the works of Jean Delville and Fernand Khnopff. Further information on the artist’s life can be found here.
This painting takes the unusual form of a testament of love to the artists infant daughter. Michael Gibson writes that ‘the child in the highchair is the daughter of the artist. She turns her back on the past (her mother, who carries withered flowers) and lifts her arms towards the luminous and mysterious world. Modernity is signified by the telegraph post and the rail.’
This painting reminds me of the story of Christ’s last night in the garden with his disciples before his arrest.
Toorop stated that ‘the central fiancee evokes an inward, superior and beautiful desire… an ideal suffering… The fiancee on the left symbolises spiritual suffering. She is the mystic fiancee, her eyes wide with fear…” and the bride on the right with her ‘materialistic and profane expression… stands for the sensual world.’
August Bromse (1873 – 1925) is an artist I have only recently discovered. He was a Czech artist who was strongly influenced by the Germanic Symbolists, most significantly Max Klinger. I’ve fallen in love with his macabre Girl and Death series. The critic Otto M. Urban wrote of it that:
“The series The Girl and-Death, which originated in Berlin in 1901-1902, echoes the relationship of August Bromse with the concert singer Eisa Schünemann (they had known each other since 1902 but did not marry until 1910 when he was already living in Prague and heading the print studio at the Prague Academy), as does the later Nietzsche series “The Whole Being is Burning Sorrow” (1903, awarded a prize 1905 at the Paris exhibition). “The Girl and Death” is a modern variant of the Dance of Death.”
I’m sorry it’s been so long since I last updated – coursework has been eating my life for the past couple of weeks.
Anyway, I have my life back now, so I thought I’d bring you some work by the cheery Symbolist painter, Hugo Simberg (1873 – 1917). A Finnish artist, Simberg’s work is gloomy and macabre, his favourite subject being the supernatural. Death, whom the artist called ‘that poor devil’, plays a central role in his paintings – Simberg once wrote to his brother that he wanted to paint all that made one cry within oneself. He was also a very able photographer, and took many pictures of young boys, which explored the themes of burgeoning adolescence and the loss of innocence.
Luis Ricardo Falero (1851-1896) was a Spanish artist who specialised in paintings of sensual, voluptuous women, usually in an occult setting. His main fault is that he occasionally focusses too much on the sexyness of his female subjects, with the result that they end up looking a lot like pin-up models. At his best, however, he managed to capture the macabre eroticism of Decadence. He died in London aged just 45.