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SYMBOLISM by Michael Gibson published by Taschen (1/2)


Our guest Michael GIBSON, the author of SYMBOLISM, a monograph on this European art movement of the late nineteenth century, will offer some insight into this artistic period. His book published by Taschen was translated in several languages including French, English German and Japanese.

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This precious publication – which may be described as a coffee-table book - presents the Symbolist art movement which came into existence in the second half of the 19th century, and the state of mind illustrated by artists of repute from most European countries.
We might mention for instance, in France Gustave MOREAU, Maurice DENIS, Puvis de CHAVANNES and Odilon REDON; in Belgium Fernand KHNOPHFF and Félicien ROPS.

But also such figures as the Swiss artists Arnold BÖCKLIN and Ferdinand HODLER, the Germans Franz von STÜCK and Max KLINGER, the British Dante Gabriel ROSSETTI and Aubrey BEARDSLEY.
And finally the Austrian, Gustav KLIMT, the Czech, Alphons MUCHA, the Polish painter Stanislaw WYSPIANSKI or the Russian Michail VROUBEL.

A number of them appear to have sunk into obscurity or discredit after the First World War, and interest in their art was only revived some fifty years later, in the seventies.
What is the reason of this sort of fluctuation ?
Symbols have always been present in art throughout all civilisations. So why give the name of Symbolism to an art movement precisely at this period ?

Michael Gibson has some thoughts on the matter .
The status of the symbol had become something of a problem at this time and symbolism points to a crisis of mentalities that has still not been resolved to this day.

As the French historian George Duby said: ”Mentalities are systems of images. They are also systems in motion and consequently objects suitable for study by historians. And while people may not be aware of it, they command their behaviour and their conduct.”
This crisis was brought on partly as a consequence of the Great Upheaval. The title of a painting by Henry de Groux, LE GRAND CHAMBARDEMENT, 1893.

This painting represents men and women, some on horseback, others on foot, leaving a devastated place. A large broken cross lies in the foreground. The fence of the enclosure in which it stood has been cast down and, the ruin of the sur¬rounding land being completed, the inhabitants are impelled to move on. The picture does not represent the kind of exodus made familiar by the two last great wars in Europe, but stands for a purely spiritual "upheaval." An entire society is shown taking leave of a familiar and beloved land and heading off(...)

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