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    19th century (1863-1899) Impressionism Timeline
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    20th century(1900-1999) ART OF THE 20TH CENTURY
19th century (1800-1899)
  Neoclassicism and Romanticism
Realism, Impressionism and
The Pont-Aven Schooland and the Nabis

 Maurice Denis's statement that "what Manet was for his generation in 1870, Gauguin was for his in 1890'' generally referred to the manner in which Gauguin encouraged young artists to choose their models and styles freely, and to draw on figurative sources inspired by all cultures, not just those of the West. Between 1886 and 1888, in the town of Pont-Aven in Brittany,Gauguin gathered a circle of painters around him, including Emile Bernard and Louis Anquetin. Their experiments led to the adoption of a style known as cloisonnisme, which was characterized by dark lines enclosing areas of intense, pure, and flat colour. The effect was highly decorative and marked the emergence of a new attitude towards nature (in contrast to Impressionism), in which inspiration came from memory rather than real life and confined itself to the "essence" of an object, rather than its appearance. Under the guidance of Gauguin in Pont-Aven, Paul  Serusier (1863-1927) painted a landscape in 1888 that summarized this new artistic freedom; it was later named The Talisman because of its significance in the development of Symbolism. Once back in Paris, at the Academie Julian, Serusier urged his fellow students to seek out the basic roots of art. Among them were Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Maurice Denis (1870-1943), Henri-Gabriel Ibels (1867-1936),Paul Ranson (1864-1909), and, later, Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) and Felix Vallotton (1865- 1925). The young painters formed a group in 1892, taking the name of Nabis, "prophets'' in Hebrew. Within the group, each artist had his own particular role, for example, Denis was the "Nabi aux belles icones", while Bonnard was the "Nabi tres japonard". The group members would all meet periodically in Paul Ranson's studio, which became their "temple". Here, the group experimented with the spiritual, supernatural world of magic through ritual practices. It was Maurice Denis, theorist of the Symbolist movement, who made the famous rallying cry to the avant-garde: "Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or any interpretation you want, is essentially a flat surface covered in colours assembled in a certain order". While some Nabis portrayed scenes from Parisian life, others painted imaginary and mythological subjects. Nonetheless, the whole group was united in its contempt for naturalism. They translated feeling and emotion into decorative compositions, ''synthetist" shapes reminiscent of inlay work, and rhythmic colour harmonies modelled on stained-glass windows, medieval enamelwork, andJapanese prints. With their emotional use of colour and line they contributed, at the threshold of the new century, to the breakdown of distinctions between fine and decorative arts. They also heralded the beginnings of Modernism.

In the filiation thus formed, we see how an artistic tendency comes into being, scatters and merges again like quick-silver. 
Puvis de Chavannes had been the first to use colour in unified planes; young Emile Bernard had arrived at this practice by his own devices; Gauguin seized on the intuition and carried it to its highest point of intensity, while Serusierfinally passed it on to his friends, forming with them the group known asNabis . 

We can thus perceive the first steps of an approach which, by an entirely "phylogenetic" logic was to lead to Fauvism and the art of Henri Matisse . 
Matisse acknowledged that his painting Luxury I was in direct line of descent from Puvis de Chavannes' Young Girls at the Seaside.

Nabi is the Hebrew word for prophet. The group designated themselves prophets with a hint of irony; the term at first referred to a group of friends who met once a month, first in a cafe in the passage Brady, then, after Paul Ranson married, in his town house at, 22 Boulevard du Montparnasse, which they dubbed "the Temple".

Paul Ranson (1862-1909) came of wealthy stock; his father was the Mayor of Limoges in 1861. A portrait by Paul Serusier   shows Ranson as a "Nabi", wearing a chasuble and clutching a bishop's crook while reading from anilluminated manuscript; around his head is a red halo. Ranson drew tapestry cartoons for his wife to embroider. Matisse appreciated his sinuous line and is said to have been influenced by it.

Maurice Denis decided at only fourteen years of age that he wanted to be a "Christian painter". His mild-toned paintings with their flat areas of colour and sinuous line show formal similarities with those of Ranson. 
In 1918, Denis and Georges Desvallieres (1861-1950), founded the Ateliers de l'Art Sacre.

Edouard Vuillard (1868 - 1940), french Symbolism, studied in Paris at the Academie Julien alongside Pierre Bonnard. As a result of their admiration ofSerusier and Gauguin’s color theories, the pair formed the Nabis in 1889. Hisearly works were small-scale prints, primarily color lithographs of Parisian life. His mother, with whom he lived with until her death, was a dressmaker, which inspired Vuillard’s interests in textiles and patterns. He began to paint intimate interior scenes, incorporating these decorative aspects into his work. Another hobby of Vuillard’s was photography, which he used to study the innate movements of his friends and family in their everyday life. He gained more recognition after 1900 and was commissioned as a portrait artist. 

Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard  also chose to treat the canvas as a flat surface. But at the same time they favoured a novel form of tension between the two-dimensional arrangement they created and the spectator's inclination to interpret the picture as a three-dimensional space. 
Both artists avoided the ornamental quality from which Denis' paintings sometimes suffer, but it was Bonnard who made perhaps the most original use of the revelation afforded by The Talisman, creating an illusion of depth exclusively through the interplay of colours. This is why a Bonnard always seems two-dimensionsal at first glance. To the viewer's delight, space unfolds only gradually, as though another world were unfolding before his eyes. But his lyrical, intimate work lies outside the scope of Symbolism proper, as does that of Vuillard.


Felix Vallotton
The Abduction of Europa

Emile Bernard
Spanish Musicians

Pablo Picasso
Emile Bernard meanwhile felt that he had been cheated of his undeniable originality. He painted a few more paintings in the manner he had devised, including a group of Spanish Musicians (1897). 

Did the young Picasso see this painting? The dominant blue tone and the attitudes of the figures strongly suggest that he did, a presumption that gains in strength when we compare it to Picasso's painting Life (1903).

Bernard then sailed for the Middle East where he remained for ten years, painting in a more traditional idiom. Long afterwards, he grumbled to Renoir: "I was twenty years old, he (Gauguin) was forty. It was easy for him to pass for the creator of something he had merely stolen."
He was unaware that his had been the spark that had set off a great conflagration, and that he could not have kept it to himself if he had wanted to.

Aristide Maillol was an artist with a large and varied range of interests. During his highly productive life he worked in many media, concentrating first on painting within the Nabis group, then on tapestry and, later, wood-engraving, including fine, limited edition woodcuts, which he produced for a version of Virgil's Eclogues(1913). During the 1890s he began to sculpt in wood and to make terracotta statuettes, which Vollard later arranged to be cast in bronze. Maillols sculpture was, in style, the exact opposite of Rodin's. Where Rodin's style was emotional, passionate, and highly expressive, Maillol's style was calm and meditative, with smooth, flowing lines. A trip to Greece in 1906 had helped to define Maillol's idyllic classical style, although the influence of the sculpture of his friend Renoir, with its round and smooth female shapes, made a significant contribution, as did the sculpture of The Bathers by Henri Matisse.

Aristide Maillol

Paul Ranson
Nabi Landscape
Georges Lacombe (1868-1916), french painter. Much influenced by Gauguin, he became a member of the Nabis. 1892 met Serusier. Gauguin's influence is particularly clear in his wooden sculptures. These treat symbolic (sometimes esoteric) subjects illustrating the cycle of life and death.
Georges Lacombe
The Gray Sea

Group of artists who, through their widely diverse activities, were a majorinfluence on the art produced in France during the late 19th century. Preaching that a work of art is the end product and visual expression of an artist's synthesis of nature into personal aesthetic metaphors and symbols, they paved the way for the early 20th-century development of abstract and nonrepresentational art.

The Nabis were greatly influenced by Japanese woodcuts, French Symbolist painting, and English Pre-Raphaelite art. Their primary inspiration, however, stemmed from the so-called Pont-Aven school which centred upon the painterGauguin Paul. Under Gauguin's direct guidance, Serusier Paul, the group's founder, painted the first Nabi work, “Landscape at the Bois d'Amour at Pont-Aven” (also called the “Talisman,” 1888).

Armed with his painting and the authority of Gauguin's teachings, Serusier returned to Paris from Pont-Aven and converted many of his artist friends, who received his aesthetic doctrines as a mystical revelation. Assuming the name Nabis (from Hebrew navi, “prophet,” or “seer”), the original members of the group were the French artists Denis Maurice (with Serusier the group's main theoretician), Bonnard Pierre, Henri-Gabriel Ibels, Roussel Ker Xavier,Ranson Paul, Vuillard Edouard, and Rene Piot. Later, a Dutch painter, Jan Verkade, and the Swiss-born Vallotton Felix  joined the group, as did two French sculptors, Lacombe Georges and Maillol Aristide.

In 1891 the Nabis held their first exhibition, attempting in their works to illustrate Denis's dictum: “A picture, before being a war horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered by colours in a certain order.” They soon began to apply this idea to such varied works as posters, stained glass, theatre sets, and book illustrations. But dissensions and desertions quickly occurred within the group, which finally disbanded in 1899. Only Vuillard and Bonnard, who came to call themselves Intimists, and Maillol continued to produce major works of art.

Encyclopædia Britannica

Pierre Bonnard
The Palm

Ker Roussel
Faun carrying a nymph on his back

Georges Lacombe
Mort et Volupte 

Edouard Vuillard
Two Schoolboys

Intimism - variety of late 19th- and early 20th-century painting that made an intense exploration of the domestic interior as subject matter. It was practiced principally by Bonnard Pierre and Vuillard Edouard, the two most distinguished members of the Nabis. To convey the warmth, comfort, and quiet isolation of interior scenes, Bonnard and Vuillard used the Impressionist broken-colour technique of capturing the light and atmosphere of the fleeting moment. But unlike the Impressionists, who derived their colours from precise observation of the visual world, these painters exaggerated and distorted natural colour to expressmood.

Both Bonnard and Vuillard displayed a strong decorative sense in the arrangement of dense areas of colour. Using rich, subdued colours, Vuillardproduced paintings characterized by harmonious composition and exquisite form. Bonnard, somewhat less concerned with formal structure, infused a playful tenderness into his bright, gently coloured scenes (which usually included the unobtrusive figure of his wife). Although Intimism did not attract a wealth of followers as a movement, its achievements were considerable enough to give it an influential place in the art of the period. The term Intimism is best characterized by Andre Gide's description of Vuillard's four-panel Figures and Interiors (1896) as art “speaking in a low tone, suitable to confidences.”


Maurice Denis

George Rouault
Head of Christ

Andre Derain

Raoul Dufy
Nice, La Promenade Des Anglais Aux Mouettes
The Pont-Aven filiation was a singular phenomenon affecting several generations of painters. The new understanding of colour out of which it arose was not in itself Symbolist, but under its influence artists rejected the realistic or naturalistic style favoured by those who naively believed in "science and progress".

By contrast, the Rose+Croix Salon, founded in 1892 by the novelist and publicist Josephin Peladan (1859-1918), was intended to provide Symbolist art with an ideological underpinning. It lasted only six years, and its chief meritwas to bring together works from all over Europe.

 In Huysmans' novel La-Bas (Down There), one of his characters speaks of Peladan as the "magus of trash" and the "Wobbly Man from the South" (Peladan was born in Lyon). "These people are, for the most part, old, failed columnists, journalists or petty youths seeking to exploit the taste of a public worn out by Positivism!... In addition to the dupes and simpletons, these little sects harbour some frightful charlatans and windbags. - Peladan, among others..." Theo van Rysselberghe, writing in 1892 to Octave Maus, shared Huysmans' view: "Nothing is quite as sickening as the self-promotion of Peladan and his abominable long-haired accomplices... and it is sad to see worthwhile people believing in the sincerity and honest intentions of this crooked character."

The son of a publisher of religious and literary periodicals, Peladan was an eccentric and exhibitionistic Catholic who claimed to have discovered Christ's tomb in Jerusalem (in the Mosque of Omar). He acquired a measure of celebrity through his 1884 novel Le Vice supreme (The Supreme Vice), for which Felicien Rops drew the frontispiece and Barbey d'Aurevilly contributed a highly laudatory preface.

 Peladan revived for his own purposes the defunct secret society of the Rosicrucians ("Rose+Croix"), which had brought together various occult movements in the early 17th century. Its twin goals had been world faith and a universal religion; the English theosopher Robert Fludd (1574-1637) was a representative member. The mission of Peladan 's Rose+Croix Salon (Salon de la Rose+Croix) was to "honour and serve the ideal."

 In 1891, Peladan, the poet Saint-Pol Roux and Count Antoine de la Rochefoucauld promulgated "The Commandments of the Aesthetic Rose+Croix". They proscribed history, patriotic and military painting, "all representation of contemporary life," portrait painting, rural scenes, seascapes, orientalism, "all animals either domestic or connected with sport... flowers, bodegones, fruit,accessories and other exercises that painters are habitually insolent enought to exhibit." On the positive side, "in order to favour mystic ecstasy and the Catholic ideal, the order welcomes any work based on legend, myth, allegory, or dream..." 

 The salon attracted artists from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany; participants included Ferdinand Hodler, Carlos Schwabe, Jan Toorop, Fernand Khnopff, Jean Delville, Georges Minne and Xavier Mellery.


Albert Marquet
Matisse dans l'atelier de Manguin

Maurice Vlaminck
Nu Couche

Kees van Dongen
The Corn Poppy

Henri Matisse
The Joy of Life

Style of painting that flourished in France around the turn of the 20th century. Fauve artists used pure, brilliant colour aggressively applied straight from the paint tubesto create a sense of an explosion on the canvas.

The Fauves painted directly from nature, as the Impressionists had before them, but Fauvist works were invested with a strong expressive reaction to the subjects portrayed. First formally exhibited in Paris in 1905, Fauvist paintings shocked visitors to the annual Salon d'Automne; one of these visitors was the critic Louis Vauxcelles, who, because of the violence of their works, dubbed the painters fauves (“wild beasts”).

The leader of the group was Henri Matisse, who had arrived at the Fauve style after experimenting with the various Post-Impressionist approaches of Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat. Matisse's studies led him to rejecttraditional renderings of three-dimensional space and to seek instead a new picture space defined by movement of colour. He exhibited his famous Woman with the Hat (1905) at the 1905 exhibition. In this painting, brisk strokes of colour—blues, greens, and reds—form an energetic, expressive view of the woman. The crude paint application, which left areas of raw canvas exposed, was appalling to viewers at the time.

The other major Fauvists were Andre Derain, who had attended school with Matisse in 1898–99, and Maurice de Vlaminck, who was Derain's friend. They shared Matisse's interest in the expressive function of colour in painting, and they first exhibited together in 1905. Derain's Fauvist paintings translate every tone of a landscape into pure colour, which he applied with short, forceful brushstrokes. The agitated swirls of intense colour in Vlaminck's works are indebted to the expressive power of van Gogh.

Three young painters from Le Havre, France, were also influenced by Matisse's bold and vibrant work. Othon Friesz found the emotional connotations of the bright Fauve colours a relief from the mediocre Impressionism he had practiced; Raoul Dufy developed a carefree ornamental version of the bold style; and Georges Braque created a definite sense of rhythm and structure out of small spots of colour, foreshadowing his development of Cubism. Albert Marquet, Matisse's fellow student at the Йcole des Beaux-Arts in the 1890s, also participated in Fauvism, as did the Dutchman Kees van Dongen, who applied the style todepictions of fashionable Parisian society. Other painters associated with the Fauves were Georges Rouault, Henri Manguin, Charles Camoin, and Jean Puy.

For most of these artists, Fauvism was a transitional, learning stage. By 1908 a revived interest in Paul Cйzanne's vision of the order and structure of nature had led many of them to reject the turbulent emotionalism of Fauvism in favour of the logic of Cubism. Matisse alone pursued the course he had pioneered, achieving a sophisticated balance between his own emotions and the world he painted.

Encyclopædia Britannica

Andre Derain
The Surprise
The work of some of the Nabis  and Pont-Aven artists (Emile Bernard, Felix Vallotton, Charles Filiger) was also exhibited.

 Peladan, obeying the peculiar logic of his public persona, in due course adopted the title of "Sar" and replaced his given name, Josephin, by the more resonantly Babylonian first name "Merodak". 

 And it was in the guise of an oriental magus that he was portrayed by Alexandre Seon  in 1891. 
 With Peladan and Antoine de la Rochefoucauld, Seon was one of the founders of the Rose+Croix Salon, where he often exhibited to considerable critical praise from the Symbolist critics. 

Though the portrait genre was proscribed by the Rose+Croix, this exception was reclassified as an honneur iconique and thus became acceptable.


Alexandre Seon
Orpheus Laments

Edmond Aman-Jean
Young Girl with Peacock 

Lucien Levy-Dhurmer
The Gust of Wind

Armand Point

Edgar Maxence
Profile with Peacock

Alphonce Osbert
Evening in Antiquity

Henri Fantin-Latour
Standing outside trends and movements, Odilon Redon  (1840-1916), a native of Bordeaux, produced a rich and enigmatic corpus: "Like music," he declared, "my drawings transport us to the ambiguous world of the indeterminate." In contrast withGoya's monsters and Kubin's nightmare visions, his work is imbued with a melancholy passivity. While origins of this disposition must be sought in the artist's experience, the overall effect is entirely consistent with the moods of Symbolism that we have defined: nocturnal, autumnal, and lunar rather than solar. During the early part of Redon's career, the nocturnal did indeed predominate. Only later did he admit the light of day. His mature production began around 1875 when Redon entered the shadowy world of charcoal and the lithographer's stone. This period yielded sequences such as In Dream (1879), and Origins (1883). Redon made it clear that they had been inspired by his dreams, and they inspire in the spectator a conviction like that of dreams.

It was only in the 1890s that he begin to use the luminous, musical tones of pastel and oils. These became the dominant media of the last fifteen years of his life. Redon's art was always commanded by his dreams, but the thematic content of his work over his last twenty years is more densely mythical, brimming with newfound hope and light which rose quite unexpectedly out of the depths of the artist's personality. This is particularly apparent in the various canvases depicting the chariot of Apollo, the god of the sun.


Gustave Adolphe Mossa
Woman of Fashion and Jockey

Louis Welden Hawkins
The Haloes

Redon Odilon
The Cyclops.
Great Britain and the United States
An art with obvious affinities to Symbolism had appeared in England in the 1850s - ten years before the Symbolist phase of Gustave Moreau and thirty years before Moreas' manifesto. The ideological context was, of course, very different. In France, the secular and scientistic overtones of realism found their ideological justification in hostility to the Catholic Church. In England, as we have seen, the influential theoretician John Ruskin  (1819-1900) regarded the imitation of nature as a pious tribute to the Creator. As a painter, Ruskin used a cyanometer to measure the intensity of the sky's blue; the greater the precision with which an artist depicted nature, the more perfect the tribute paid to God.

 Ruskin concerns us here because he took up the cudgels on behalf of the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of young artists which included John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Both displayed highly precocious talents: Millais was ten when he entered Sass's School (which prepared pupils for the Royal Academy), and was admitted to the Academy at eleven. Rossettiwas admitted to Sass's at thirteen, and entered the Academy four years later. The two young men met in 1848 (aged 19 and 20 respectively) through William Holman Hunt, whose Eve of Saint Agnes, based on the poem by Keats, was much admired by Rossetti.

 The three shared an antipathy to the tradition of chiaroscuro and "tobacco juice" hues favoured by the Academy since the days of its first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds (whom the three young men dubbed "Sir Sloshua"). They announced that, in the interests of naturalism and of truth, they would use only bright colours and unified lighting, turning for inspiration to Italian painters of the centuries before Raphael, in particular to Orcagna and Benozzo Gozzoli. The three of them therefore established the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which eventually came to include four further members. As a token of membership, they pledged to sign their paintings P.R.B. but kept the significance of the acronym to themselves. Enquiries elicited various suggestions such as "Please Ring Bell"; Rossetti's version, as Timothy Hilton notes in his book on the Pre-Raphaelites (London/New York 1970), was "Penis Rather Better".


John William Waterhouse

John Everett Millais
Autumn Leaves.

Arthur Hughes
April Love
Nothing in their early style connects them with Symbolism. The critics were predictably hostile to their innovations, mounting a vigorous attack. In 1851, at the height of this onslaught, one of the new members appealed to Ruskin, who wrote a letter to the Times on their behalf. "I have no acquaintance with any of these artists and only a very imperfect sympathy with them," he stated. But he went on to commend Charles Allston Collins' painting Convent Thoughts: "I happen to have a special acquaintance with the water plant Alisma Plantago and never saw it so thoroughly or so well drawn."

 Inapposite as Ruskin's defence seems, it had the desired effect, and the young Pre-Raphaelites wrote to him to express their gratitude. On the day on which he received their letter, Ruskin and his young wife paid an unexpected visit to Millais. Ruskin was ten years older than Millais and began to hope that, under his guidance, the younger artist would become the Turner of his day. The upshot was unexpected: during a holiday together in Scotland Millaispainted Ruskin's portrait and Effie Ruskin fell in love with Millais. Two years later she leftRuskin, her marriage was annulled, and she married Millais.

 Of course, realism was not the sole criterion in English art of this period. The public was greatly enamoured of the country's medieval heritage, which had survived better than that of France. It also favoured fairy tales and stories of witchcraft and magic derived from Celtic legends. Germany was the principal foreign influence. Albert, the Prince Consort (1819-1861), was German, and through him the public became acquainted with the German Nazarenemovement, which sought to combine exact observation of nature with a form of romantic archaism.

 The precocious John Everett Millais (1829-1896) did his best work before he was thirty. At the age of twenty-three he painted his famous Ophelia drifting downstream with her scattered nosegay; four years later, in 1856, he painted Autumn Leaves, an affecting symbolic work in which four young girls are seen burning leaves under a beautiful evening sky. The work is a melancholy momento mori, a very English and very 19th century equivalent to Herrick's celebrated imperative "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may".

 That same year he completed The Blind Girl, in which, with ostentatious virtuosity, he depicted the blind girl surrounded by the beauties of a nature that she cannot see. The following year came a somewhat enigmatic work in Arthurian vein, Sir humbras at the Ford. A grey-haired knight on horseback fords the river; he carries a barefoot girl and boy across the ford with him. The painting became so famous that Sir John Tenniel parodied it in the figure of the White Knight in Lewis Caroll's Through the Looking Glass. Millais, at the age of twenty-eight, now drops out of our story. Henceforth he devoted himself to portraits and history painting, which earned him fame, wealth and ultimately a knighthood.


John Tenniel
White Knight for Lewis Caroll's 
Through the Looking Glass

John Everett Millais
Sir humbras at the Ford

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Beata Beatrix
John Everett Millais

Thomas Cooper Gotch
The Message
William Dyce
The Choristers - Design 
For A Stained Glass Window 
In Ely Cathedral

Things went otherwise with his friend Rossetti (1828-1882). The son of an Italian political refugee, he was not only a painter but a poet; he wrote The Blessed Damozel, set by Claude Debussy as the cantata La Demoiselle Elue. His strongest works have intimate connections with his own life and the women in it.

 In 1850, a young member of the Brotherhood accompanied his mother to her milliner. Elizabeth Siddal, the salesgirl, dazzled him. He made friends with her and she soon became the favourite model of the young artists. Two years later, Rossetti and Elizabeth were living together. In 1855 they were married. There was no happy ending to the story; Rossetti was unfaithful and Elizabeth committed suicide in 1862 by taking an overdose of laudanum.

 Rossetti was shattered. At the age of thirty-four, he suddenly aged and grew fat. He left the house where Elizabeth had died and moved to Chelsea where he surrounded himself with an exotic menagerie: "owls, rabbits, doormice, wombats, woodchucks, wallabies, a raccoon, parrots, peacocks, lizards, salamanders, a laughing jackass and a Brahmin bull," in Timothy Hilton's inventory.

A year later, Rossetti painted Beata Beatrix as a last tribute to Elizabeth. The work represents the Beatrice of Rossetti's namesake, Dante, with whom he strongly identified. Beatrice bears the features of Elizabeth Siddal and is shown in a state of ecstatic receptivity at the instant of death. A flame-red bird, the Holy Ghost, swoops down to place a poppy in her hands (the flower is doubtless a symbol of oblivion, but one should also note that laudanum is derived from opium). It is thought that the two figures in the background represent Eros (in red) and Dante (by analogy, Rossetti himself) in darker clothes.


Photograph of Jane Burden (Morris)
  Another woman was soon to enter the artist's life. Five years before Elizabeth's death, Rossetti and Burne-Jones had been much taken by the sculptural beauty of Jane Burden. They had met her at the theatre in Oxford during the summer of 1857. The purpose of their visit was to fresco the Oxford Union Debating Hall, but they were so ignorant of fresco technique that the works began to fade six months after completion. Jane was immediately recruited as a model and soon after married another member of the Brotherhood, William Morris (1834-1896), who established an influential interior-decorating firm producing wallpaper, curtains, tapestries and furniture.

 Some time after Elizabeth's death, Jane Burden left Morris and went to live with Rossetti. She was the model for such paintings as Venus Verticordia(1864-1868), La Ghirlandaia (1873) and the impressive Astarte Syriaca (1877). In each of these paintings, Rossetti foregrounds Jane's highly characteristic features, endowing them with a fetishized sensuality of undoubted fascination. In 1872, ten years after Elizabeth's death, Rossetti himself took an overdose of laudanum, but survived.

 Rossetti was the most "Symbolist" of the Pre-Raphaelites; the others were, for the most part, painstaking realists. The distinction had little resonance in England. In France, when Gauguin painted The Vision after the Sermon, his old friend Pissarro aspersed Gauguin's sincerity. England escaped this ideological storm.


Ford Madox Brown
King Rene's Honeymoon

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Astarte Syriaca 

The model for this painting was Jane Burden, who lived with Rossetti after the death of Elizabeth Siddal and the break-up of her own marriage with William Morris
Another member of the Brotherhood, William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), carried his obsession with realism to the point of sailing to the Holy Land, in the hope that his religious paintings would acquire greater authenticity. For his painting The Scapegoat, Hunt tethered a billy-goat in the desert near the Dead Sea. Appropriately enough, the animal died.

 Hunt's most celebrated work is probably The Light of the World. A preoccupied Christ, wearing a threefold crown of light, gold and thorns, holds a lantern in his hand; benighted, he knocks at a door. As the tall weeds growing on the threshold evince, the door has long been closed. It is, of course, the door of the soul. Lithographic reproductions of the work were once to be found in Christian schools the world over. The edifying message of the painting conformed to public expectations of the time. Oscar Wilde's observation that "All art is quite useless" should probably be understood as a provocation directed towards those who believed that all art must be socially and morally useful rather than his last word on the subject.

 Rossetti did not possess the technical mastery of Millais. Millais' realism, notably in hisOphelia, is as obsessive as Hunt's; Rossetti was less concerned with detail than cither Hunt orMillais. He turned to his own advantage the difficulty he experienced with perspective, creating paintings whose lack of depth suggests a timeless world distinct from that of everyday life, His painting is more allusive than that of the other Pre-Raphaelites - perhaps in compensation - ana as a result his work is both more evocative and more moving.

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) was reading theology at Oxford when, with WilliamMorris, he discovered Rossetti's work. When Rossetti delivered a lecture at the Working Man's College, Burne-Jones approached him, soon becoming a disciple, though Rossetti was only five years his senior. Burne-Jones' women are derived from the Renaissance figures he had had occasion to study in the course of several journeys to Italy. Mild, pale and ethereal, they appear in paintings dealing with Greek mythology and Celtic legends. Burne-Jones' paintings, like Rossetti's, lack real depth, and this, along with their narrative or allegorical content, lends his work a Symbolist quality.

William Holman Hunt
The Light of the World

Edward Coley Burne-Jones
The Wedding of Psyche
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

group of young British painters who banded together in 1848 in reaction against what they conceived to be the unimaginative and artificial historical painting of the Royal Academy and who purportedly sought to express a new moral seriousness and sincerity in their works. They were inspired by Italian art of the 14th and 15th centuries, and their adoption of the name Pre-Raphaelite expressed their admiration for what they saw as the direct and uncomplicated depiction of nature typical of Italian painting before the High Renaissance and, particularly, before the time of Raphael. Although the Brotherhood's active life lasted not quite five years, its influence on painting in Britain, and ultimately on the decorative arts and interior design, was profound.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in 1848 by three Royal Academy students: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was a gifted poet as well as a painter, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais, all under 25 years of age. The painter James Collinson, the painter and critic F.G. Stephens, the sculptor Thomas Woolner, and the critic William Michael Rossetti (Dante Gabriel's brother) joined them by invitation. The painters William Dyce and Ford Madox Brown, who acted in part as mentors to the younger men, came to adapt their own work to the Pre-Raphaelite style.

The Brotherhood immediately began to produce highly convincing and significant works. Their pictures of religious and medieval subjects strove to revive the deep religious feeling and naive, unadorned directness of 15th-century Florentine and Sienese painting. The style that Hunt and Millais evolved featured sharp and brilliant lighting, a clear atmosphere, and a near-photographic reproduction of minute details. They also frequently introduced a private poetic symbolism into their representations of biblical subjects and medieval literary themes. Rossetti's work differed from that of the others in its more arcane aesthetic and in the artist's general lack of interest in copying the precise appearance of objects in nature. Vitality and freshness of vision are the most admirable qualities of the seearly Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Some of the founding members exhibited their first works anonymously, signing their paintings with the monogram PRB. When their identity and youth were discovered in 1850, their work was harshly criticized by the novelist Charles Dickens, among others, not only for its disregard of academic ideals of beauty but also for its apparent irreverence in treating religious themes with an uncompromising realism. Nevertheless, the leading art critic of the day, John Ruskin, stoutly defended Pre-Raphaelite art, and the members of the group were never without patrons.

By 1854 the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had gone their individual ways, but their style had a wide influence and gained many followers during the 1850s and early '60s. In the late 1850s Dante Gabriel Rossetti became associated with the younger painters Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris and moved closer to a sensual and almost mystical romanticism.Millais, the most technically gifted painter of the group, went on to become an academic success. Hunt alone pursued the same style throughout most of his career and remained true to Pre-Raphaelite principles. Pre-Raphaelitism in its later stage is epitomized by the paintings of Burne-Jones, characterized by a jewel-toned palette, elegantly attenuated figures, and highlyimaginative subjects and settings.

Encyclopædia Britannica


William Holman Hunt
The Lady of Shalott
Illustrations for Poems by Alfred Tennyson
Robert Burns
Natura naturans

Walter Crane
The Horses of Neptune
Other British artists of this period were active in other circles. George Frederick Watts, forinstance, favoured a more "continental" manner - his "soft focus" is reminiscent of Levy-Dhurme or of the more Symbolist works of Fantin-Latour. "I paint ideas, not things," he declared. "My intention is less to paint works that are pleasing to the eye than to suggest great thoughts which will speak to the imagination and the heart and will arouse all that is noblest and best in man." To which one may retort, with Odilon Redon : "There is a literary idea wherever plastic invention is lacking." From today's perspective, Redon's dictum is the aptest criterion for evaluating works of the Symbolist period. Not all Symbolist painters attained such power.

George Frederick Watts
As the spokesman of innovative aesthetic theory, Oscar Wilde (1854— 1900) deserves our further attention. He personified the figure of the dandy а laRobert de Montesquiou though with greater wit and more manifest humanity. His comedies, laced with delightful paradoxes, deride the prejudices and snobbism of the Victorian society he knew so well. His essays present his conception of art in a certain whimsical disorder. As a public figure he was the embodiment of the fin de siecle aesthete. It is thought that Bunthorne, in Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience (1881), was originally conceived as a caricature of Rossetti, but the British public assumed it was a portrait of Wilde, who had already made himself famous at the age of twenty-seven by his inspired posturing. Bunthorne is a highly affected fellow who readily acknowledges in private that he has no use for the aesthetic oddities he publicly pretends to enjoy. The satire was amusing and reassured a public disconcerted by the aesthetic preferences of Wilde or of artists like Rossettiand Whistler. The aphorism cited above comes early in Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is the last of a scries that deserves to be quoted in full:

"All art is at once surface and symbol. 
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. 
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
(...) All art is quite useless."

 Some of these aphorisms are rather modern in tone, though the portentous notion of a hidden "peril" has dated badly. Wilde gives concise expression to some essential truths about art: art is indeed both surface and symbol, both delectation and communication, an intimate fusion of what is represented and of the means by which it is represented. It is at once an "aesthetic arrangement", in Whistler's famous phrase, and an evocation of an aspect of experience which cannot be signified by any other means.


James McNeill Whistler
Old Battersea Brige

George Frederick Watts
The Minotaur

William Blake
Happy Day - The Dance of Albion
Thomas Cole (1801-1848) may be described as a precursor of Symbolist art in the same sense as Goya, Fuseli or Blake. British by birth, he made his career in the United States, to where his parents emigrated when he was eighteen. His allegorical work, an outgrowth of the Romantic spirit, possesses irresistible charm. The sequence of paintings entitled The Voyage of Life is reminiscent of allegories of human life in the English tradition of edifying literature, of which Pilgrim's Progress is perhaps the most perfect example. By contrast, The Titan's Goblet, which dominates a vast landscape, is born of the same imaginative vein as Goya's Panic. Partly because Coledied relatively young, at 47, the more imaginative part of his њuvre had little influence on the next generation of artists, though he did contribute to the founding of the Hudson River School of landscape painting.

 His The Voyage of Life and The Course of Empire have a clearly didactic purpose, yet Cole's treatment possesses a colouristic charm enhanced by his vision of wide-open spaces. This poetic reverie delighted his public, which also found comfort in the idea that it was being instructed and elevated.


Thomas Cole 
The Voyage of Life: Youth
Though there had always been a taste for imaginative painting in Protestant America, the country was not receptive to the Symbolist aesthetic. Decadence had emerged in Europe in opposition to the scientific world viewand the religion of progress; it had little appeal in the New World, where these were founding tenets. Like the Romans confronted with the art of the Greeks, the popular classes in America, with their pragmatic outlook and fundamentalist religion, were suspicious of any notion that artists had access to a "superior reality". The populist and mercantile mentality, so pervasive in the United States, inclined to see in a taste for the arts a foolish affectation.

 The poet W. H. Auden went so far as to suggest that, when Oscar Wilde was sentenced to jail in 1895 for homosexuality, it reinforced the assumption, already well entrenched in the United States, that art and poetry were pastimes attractive only to women and effeminates. Wilde had enjoyed tremendous success with the media during a lecture tour in the United States when he was only twenty-seven. On that occasion he had displayed great virtuosity in provocation, and the public he had successfully shocked felt thoroughly vindicated by his condemnation fourteen years later.
 The dominant trend in America was a form of realism whose romantic overtones were particularly prominent in the representation of nature. Symbolist works were relatively rare, but occasionally appeared in the production of artists practising other genres. Most of those today classified as Symbolists received their artistic training in Europe. This was the case with John White Alexander (1866-1915), and Elihu Vedder (1836-1923).Vedder came to fame through his illustrations for the Ru-baiyat of Omar Khayyam. He was taught the rudiments of his art by a genre painter, Т.Н. Matteson, and went to Europe for the first time in 1856. He never considered studying in England: it was Paris and above all Florence that attracted him. In 1867 he settled in Rome, though he frequently returned to the United States. He also painted landscapes in a romantic vein, but we are concerned here with his fantastical or allegorical works such as The Cup of Death.

 A self-taught painter, Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917) also came to Europe, traversing the Atlantic four times between 1877 and 1896. In the 1880s he began to treat sombre, expressive subjects drawn from the operas of Wagner (Siegfried and The Flying Dutchman, and the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. His Death on a Pale Horse is an expressive conjunction of the imaginary and the real; the apocalyptic figure of Death is shown galloping around an ordinary racecourse.


John White Alexander
Isabel and the Pot of Basil

Elihu Vedder
The Cup of Death

Albert Pinkham Ryder
Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens
Arthur Bowen Davies (1862-1928) played a historic role in American art: as President of the Society of Independent Artists, he contributed to the organisation of the famous Armory Show, which brought the American public into contact with modern art. Critics of the day considered him a Romantic artist, but the label is somewhat uninformative. A work like The Unicorns(1906) stands at the crossroads between Romanticism, Symbolism, and even Surrealism.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) went to Europe when his father, an engineer, was put in charge of the construction of a railway between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. He studied at the Beaux-Arts in Paris, where his classmates included Fantin-Latour and Alphonse Legros. Together they created the Society of Three (Societe des Trois), an amiable fiction which allowed Whistler, who settled in London, to maintain hiscontacts with artistic and literary circles in Paris; his friend Stйphane Mallarme translated his famous Ten O'Clock Lecture into French. Whistlerwas no Symbolist in his subject matter, though he had in common with the Symbolists a resolve to dissociate art from the utilitarian. This, of course, he shared with Wilde. In 1885, six years before Wilde published the views quoted above, Whistler declared: "Art is a goddess of dainty thought - reticent of habit, abjuring all obtrusiveness, purposing in no way to better others. She is, withal, selfishly occupied with her own perfection only - having no desire to teach." (Ten O'Clock Lecture).


Arthur Bowen Davies
Ten Nudes by a Waterfall
Alphonse Legros

(b Dijon, 8 May 1837; d Watford, 8 Dec 1911). 

British etcher, painter, sculptor and teacher of French birth. He is said to have been apprenticed at the age of 11 to a sign-painter, at which time he may also have attended classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Dijon. He was employed as assistant on a decorative scheme in Lyon Cathedral before moving in 1851 to Paris, where he worked initially for the theatre decorator C. A. Cambon (1802–75). He soon became a pupil of Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, whose methodical instruction and liberality in fostering individual talent proved of lasting benefit to Legros. In 1855 he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, attending irregularly until 1857. During this period Legros had a taste for early Netherlandish art and for French Romanticism, which was later superseded by his admiration for Claude, Poussin and Michelangelo. However, his devotion to Holbein proved constant and was apparent as early as his first Salon painting, Portrait of the Artist’s Father (1857; Tours, Mus. B.-A.).


Alphonse Legros

Alphonse Legros

Alphonse Legros
A May Service for Young Women

Alphonse Legros
The Confession

Albert Pinkham Ryder