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Entries in Symbolism (23)


Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer: A Multi-Talented Artist

Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, Head of Medusa, 1915, ink on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum (click photo for larger image)Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer (1865–1953) was a French Symbolist/Art Nouveau artist whose works include paintings, drawings, ceramics, furniture and interior design. In 1896 he exhibited his first pastels and paintings under the name Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer; he'd added the last two syllables of his mother's maiden name (Goldhurmer), likely to differentiate himself from other people named Lévy. 

His paintings soon became popular with the public and among fellow artists as well. He earned high praise for the academic attention to detail with which he captured figures lost in a Pre-Raphaelite haze of melancholy, contrasted with bright Impressionist coloration. 

His works in ink are particularly compelling and embody an influence of the Renaissance. He also exerted a powerful influence on the development of ceramics.


Edvard Munch: The Fragility of Life

Edvard Munch - The Sick Child - 1907 - Oil on canvas - 1187 x 1210 mm - Tate Modern, London (click photo for larger image)Norwegian Symbolist/Expressionist painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a leader in the revolt against the naturalistic dictates of 19th-century academic painting and also went beyond the naturalism still inherent  in Impressionism. His concentration on emotional essentials sometimes led to radical simplifications of form and an expressive, rather than descriptive, use of color. You can read more about Munch on What About Art?.

The Sick Child touches on the fragility of life. It draws upon Munch’s personal memories, including the trauma of his sister’s death, and visits to dying patients with his doctor father. He described the 1885 painting as ‘a breakthrough in my art’ and made several subsequent versions, of which [the one featured here] is the fourth.” (Tate Modern, London) 

All modern art was considered ‘degenerate’ by the National Socialist (Nazi) party. Expressionism was particularly singled out, and the work featured here was given that label. In 1937, German museums were purged of modern art by the government, with a total of some 15,550 works being removed. A selection of these was then put on show in Munich in an exhibition titled Entartete Kunst (meaning degenerate art). This exhibit was carefully staged so as to encourage the public to mock the work. At the same time an exhibition of traditionally painted and sculpted work was held, which extolled the Nazi party and Hitler’s view of the virtues of German life: ‘Kinder, Küche, Kirche’: roughly, family, home and church. Ironically, this official Nazi art was a mirror image of the socialist realism of the hated Communists.

Some of the degenerate art was sold at auction in Switzerland in 1939 and more was disposed of through private dealers. About 5,000 items were secretly burned in Berlin later that year. The Sick Child was sold at the 1939 auction.


Pierre Bonnard: The Spirit of the Moment

Pierre Bonnard - The Checkered Blouse - 1892 - Oil on canvas - Height: 61 cm (24.02 in.), Width: 33 cm (12.99 in.) - Musée d’Orsay - Paris (click photo for larger image)French painter and printmaker, Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) member of the group of artists called Les Nabis, and afterward a leader of the Intimists. Bonnard is generally regarded as one of the greatest colorists of modern art. He attended the École des Beaux-Arts, but, failing to win the Prix de Rome (a prize to study at the French Academy in Rome), he transferred to the Académie Julian, where he came into contact with some of the major figures of the new artistic generation. 

During the 1890s Bonnard became one of the leading members of the Nabis, a group of artists who specialized in painting intimate domestic scenes as well as decorative curvilinear compositions akin to those produced by painters of the contemporary Art Nouveau movement. Bonnard painted many of his scenes from memory, capturing the spirit of the moment rather than the exact person or place. Bonnard did not paint from life but rather drew his subjects - sometimes photographing them as well - and made notes on the colors. He then painted - and especially, colored - the canvas in his studio from his notes.


Arthur Bowen Davis: Artist of an Era in Change

Arthur B. Davies - A Greater Morning - ca. 1900-1905 - Oil on canvas - Smithsonian American Art Museum (click photo for larger image)American artist Arthur Bowen Davies (1862-1928) trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York City. Davies was active at a time when late nineteenth century Romanticism was giving way to more modernist approaches. He created his most characteristic works after 1900—graceful, idyllic scenes of elegant nude figures and mythological creatures—and is often associated with the Symbolists.

In 1908 Davies organized an exhibit of artists who came to be known as the Ashcan School. As president of the Society of Independent Artists, Davies was also a major figure in the organization of the game-changing Armory Show of 1913, which brought the works of European and American modernists to the attention of the U.S. public. 

Like many other turn-of-the-century artists, Davies’ work responded to the country's increasing urbanization by showing idealized images of people relating to nature. In the work featured here he presents “two figures softly lit by the light of an early dawn. They evoke Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, unaware of their own nudity and waking to a new beginning in an untouched world.”


Édouard Vuillard: An Intimist

Édouard Vuillard – The Album – 1895 – Oil on Canvas - 26 3/4 x 80 1/2 in. (67.9 x 204.5 cm) – Metropolitan Museum of Art (click photo for larger image)French Symbolist painter Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940) was a member of the Symbolist group known as Les Nabis (from the Hebrew and Arabic term for "prophets" and, by extension, the artist as the "seer" who reveals the invisible). However, he was less drawn to the mystical aspects of the group and more attracted to fashionable private venues, where philosophical discussions about poetry, music, theatre, and the occult occurred. Because of his preference for painting interior and domestic scenes, Vuillard is often referred to as an "intimist".

The work featured here is best described by the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

In 1894–95, Thadée and Misia Natanson commissioned from Vuillard a series of five decorative panels known collectively as "The Album." The unusual character of these works matched that of the Natansons' Paris apartment, a large open space adjoined by several small alcove areas. Its unconventional decor reflected Misia's taste, which was inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement. The apartment often served as an alternative office for Thadée's lively avant-garde journal, "La Revue blanche." Among the contributors to this influential publication were Claude Debussy, Léon Blum, Stéphane Mallarmé, and André Gide. The evocative Symbolist qualities of Mallarmé's poetry and Debussy's music find echoes in Vuillard's five panels, which take their name from this painting.

You can read more about the Symbolists and Vuillard on this site. Just search “Symbolists” and “Vuillard” and you find several articles of interest.