Dreams and symbols: A captivating first ever show of symbolist landscape painting...
Symbolism was a multifarious thing. It spanned not only many painterly approaches, but also music and literature (where it actually started). Essentially underpinned by a collective turning away from all the horrible business of a rapidly changing reality, it saw artists explore outside the strict realist box, and indulge in dreamlike representations of nature, among other things.
A window onto the turn-of-the-century European imagination, this new show includes huge names and lesser-known symbolist proponents. If you can't get to The National Gallery of Scotland for it, here's a glimpse of some highlights...
Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lake Keitele, 1905. Lahti Art Museum, Finland
This is broadcaster Jon Snow's favourite painting. Those grey lines cutting the water's surface are from the wake of Finish folklore legend Väinämöinen's boat, which adds a mythical dimension to what is otherwise a pleasingly tranquil (and very Scandinavian) scene.
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, A Vision of Antiquity, 1887-89. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
An influential figure to say the least Pierre Puvis de Chavannes is credited with inspiring Gaugin. This is a fine example of his Arcadian scenes in which archetypes of antiquity enjoy themselves in the sun. Such subject matter had been dealt with before, but de Chevannes propelled it into the new age with his stylised forms and lack of narrative.
Paul Signac, Setting Sun, Sardine Fishing, 1891. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Friend to Monet, and fellow pointillist Georges Seurat, Signac had a knack for landscapes that give a whole new meaning to the phrase dot-to-dot, helping develop the painting style that's resonated through the decades from Lichtenstein to the ultimate spot-lover, Damien Hirst.
Vincent Van Gogh, Wheatfield with a Reaper, 1889. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
Taken from Van Gogh's iconic oil painting series The Wheat Fields (started in 1889) that charted the progression of the seasons across his beloved landscape subject, this particular rendition was produced during the artist's self-committed hospitalisation in Saint-Remy.
Paul Gauguin, Vision of the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel), 1888. Scottish National Gallery
Gaugin’s super-stylised aesthetic saw him credited by French critic Albert Aurier as the first artist to understand the symbolist movement visually. This is one of his most famous works, painted in France before his famous relocation to the tropics, and depicts the real and the unreal on the same plane: in the artist’s words ‘the landscape and the fight only exist in the imagination of the people praying after the sermon'.
Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau with Church II, 1910. Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.
Aiming to capture emotive experiences in colour, such as listening to music, Kandinsky was one of the great modernist pioneers. Cossacks sees the Russian artist developing what would become his signature style, sowing the seeds of what would go on to become painterly abstraction.
Lord Frederic Leighton, Clytie, 1892. Leighton House Museum, London.
Sir Frederic Leighton’s final painting takes its inspiration from a literary source, Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It is based on the story of the nymph Clytie and her longing for Apollo, the sun god. It’s that sun, and the depiction of sublime light, that impresses most and looks almost Turner-like.
For more information on Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910 and to book tickets click here.
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