1882, just before his death,
Manet was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French
government. This event marks the turn of the tide: Impressionism had
gained wide acceptance among artists and the publicbut
by the same token it was no longer a pioneering movement. When the
Impressionists held their last group show four years later, the future
already belonged to the "Post-Impressionists." Taken literally, this
colorless label applies to all painters of significance in the 1880s and
1890s. In a more specific sense, it designates a group of artists who
passed through an Impressionist phase but became dissatisfied with the
limitations of the style and pursued a variety of directions. Because
they did not share one common goal, we have no more descriptive term for
them than Post-Impressionists. In any event, they were not
"anti-Impressionists." Far from trying to undo the effects of the "Manet
Revolution," they wanted to carry it further. Thus Post-Impressionism is
in essence just a later stage, though a very important one, of the
development that had begun in the 1860s with such pictures as Manet's
Luncheon on the Grass.
the oldest of the Post-Impressionists, was born in
Aix-en-Provence, near the Mediterranean coast, where he formed a close
friendship with the writer Emile Zola, later a champion of the
Impressionists. A man of intensely emotional temperament, he came to
Paris in 1861 imbued with
enthusiasm for the Romantics. Delacroix was his first love among
painters, and he never lost his admiration for him. Cezanne, however,
quickly grasped the nature of the "Manet Revolution," but utterly
transformed it. A Modern Olympia (fig.
983) was painted in response to an
by Manet featuring a prostitute whose frank nakedness scandalized the art world. As in Luncheon on the Grass, executed by Manet the
same year as the Olympia, Cezanne's nude is in the company of a
man wearing contemporary garb; his features are plainly those of Cezanne
himself (see fig. 984).
Like many of his early works, A Modern Olympia is sexually
charged, albeit in a curiously ambivalent way that suggests why he never
formed a durable relationship. While the setting is a boudoir, the
picture is one of the first to treat what was to become one of the
recurring themes in modern art: the artist and his model, a subject
often fraught with erotic overtones. He sits in mute adoration of the
young woman, whose sumptuous surroundings suggest that she is indeed a
modern goddess. Yet the juxtaposition of the two figures is strange
indeed. Although separated in space, they are placed so near each other
on the picture plane that she seems almost to recoil from his dark
presence! Equally disturbing is the brushwork, which communicates the
turbulent passion repressed by the seemingly impassive artist. Never
before have we seen such brusqueness, not even in Cezanne's ideal,
Delacroix. The subtitle The Pasha pays homage to the Orientalism
of Delacroix, whose Odalisque (fig.
nevertheless has a sensuousness absent from
Cezanne's Olympia. This artist-as-potentate can admire, but not
possess, his "harem girl."
After passing through this Neo-Baroque phase, Cezanne began to paint
bright outdoor scenes with Pissarro, but he never shared his fellow
Impressionists' interest in "slice-of-life" subjects, in movement and
change. About 1879, when
he painted the Self-Portrait in figure
984, he had decided "to make of Impressionism
something solid and durable, like the art of the museums." His Romantic
impulsiveness of the 1860s has now given way to a patient, disciplined
search for harmony of form and color. Every brushstroke is like a building block,
firmly placed within the pictorial architecture, which creates a subtle
balance of "two-D" and "three-D." (Note how the pattern of wallpaper in
the background frames the rounded shape of the head.) The colors, too,
are deliberately controlled so as to produce "chords" of warm and cool
tones that reverberate throughout the canvas.
In Cezanne's still lifes, such as Still Life with Apples (fig.
985), this quest for the
"solid and durable" can be seen even more clearly. Not since Chardin
have simple everyday objects assumed such importance in a painter's eye.
Again the ornamental backdrop is integrated with the three-dimensional
shapes, and the brushstrokes have a rhythmic pattern that gives the
canvas its shimmering texture. We also notice aspects of Cezanne's
mature style that are more conspicuous here than in the Self-Portrait
and may puzzle us at first. The forms are deliberately simplified
and outlined with dark contours, and the perspective is "incorrect" for
both the fruit bowl and the horizontal surfaces, which seem to tilt
upward. The longer we study the picture, the more we realize the
Tightness of these apparently arbitrary distortions. When Cezanne took
these liberties with reality, his purpose was to uncover the permanent
qualities beneath the accidents of appearance. All forms in nature, he believed, are based on the cone, the sphere, and the
cylinder. This order underlying the external world was the true subject
of his pictures, but he had to interpret it to fit the separate, closed
world of the canvas.
To apply this method to landscape became the greatest challenge of
Cezanne's career. From 1882
on, he lived in isolation near his hometown of
Aix-en-Provence, exploring its environs as Claude Lorraine and Corot had
explored the Roman countryside. One feature, the distinctive shape of a
mountain called Mont Sainte-Victoire, seemed almost to obsess him. Its
craggy profile looming against the blue Mediterranean sky appears in a
long series of compositions, such as the monumental late work in figure
986. There are no hints of
human presence herehouses
and roads would only disturb the lonely grandeur of this view. Above the
wall of rocky cliffs that bar our way like a chain of fortifications,
the mountain rises in triumphant clarity, infinitely remote yet as solid
and palpable as the shapes in the foreground. For all its architectural
stability, the scene is alive with movement; but the forces at work here
have been brought into equilibrium, subdued by the greater power of the
artist's will. This disciplined energy, distilled from the trials of a
stormy youth, gives the mature style of Cezanne its enduring strength.
shared Cezanne's aim to make Impressionism "solid and
durable," but he went about it very differently. His goal, he once
stated, was to make "modern people, in their essential traits, move
about as if on friezes, and place them on canvases organized by
harmonies of color, by directions of the tones in harmony with the
lines, and by the directions of the lines." Seurat's career was as brief
as those of Masaccio, Giorgione, and Gericault, and his achievement just
as astonishing. Although he participated in the last Impressionist show,
it is an indication of the Post-Impressionist revolution that thereafter
he exhibited with an entirely new-group, the Society of Independents.
Modern Olympia (The Pasha).
Still-Life with Apples.
Seurat devoted his main efforts to a few very large paintings,
spending a year or more on each of them and making endless series of
preliminary studies before he felt sure enough to tackle the definitive
version. A Sunday on La Grande Jatte
I884 (fig. 987),
greatest masterpiece, had its genesis in this painstaking method. The
subject is of the sort that had long been popular among Impressionist
painters. Impressionist, too, are the brilliant colors and the effect of
intense sunlight. Otherwise, however, the picture is the very opposite
of a quick "impression." The firm, simple contours and the relaxed,
immobile figures give the scene a stability that recalls Piero della Francesca (see
and shows a clear awareness of Puvis de Chavannes.
In the Grande Jatte, modeling and foreshortening are reduced
to a minimum, and the figures appear mostly in either strict profile or
frontal views, as if Seurat had adopted the rules of ancient Egyptian
Moreover, he has fitted them within the composition as tightly as the
pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. So exactly are they fixed in relation to each
other that not a single one could be moved by even a millimeter. Frozen
in time and space, they act out their roles with ritualized gravity, in
contrast to the joyous abandon of the relaxed crowd in Renoir's he
Moulin de la Colette (fig. 951),
who are free to move about in the open air. Thus despite
the period costumes, we read this cross section of Parisian society as
timeless. Small wonder the picture remains so spellbinding more than a
century after it was painted.
Even the brushwork demonstrates Seurat's passion for order and
permanence. The canvas surface is covered with systematic, impersonal
"flicks" that make Cezanne's architectural brushstrokes seem
temperamental and dynamic by comparison. These tiny dots of brilliant
color were supposed to merge in the beholder's eye and produce
intermediary tints more luminous than those obtainable from pigments
mixed on the palette. This procedure was variously known as
Neo-Impressionism, Pointillism, or Divisionism (the term preferred by
Seurat). The actual result, however, did not conform to the theory.
Looking at the Grande Jatte from a comfortable distance (seven to
ten feet from the original), we find that the mixing of colors in the
eye remains incomplete; the dots do not disappear, but are as clearly
visible as the tesserae of a mosaic (compare figs.
324). Seurat himself must have liked this
unexpected effect, which gives the canvas the quality of a shimmering,
translucent screen. Otherwise he would have reduced the size of the
The painting has a dignity and simplicity suggesting a new
classicism, but it is a distinctly modern classicism based on scientific
theory. Seurat adapted the laws of color discovered by Eugene Chevreul,
O. N. Rood, and David
Sutter, as part of a comprehensive approach to art. Like Degas, he had
studied with a follower of Ingres, and his theoretical interests grew
out of this experience. He came to believe that art must be based on a
system. With the help of his friend Charles Henry (who was, like Rood
and Sutter, an American), he formulated a series of artistic "laws"
based on early experiments in the psychology of visual perception. These
principles helped him to control every aesthetic and expressive aspect
of his paintings. But, as with all artists of genius, Seurat's theories
do not really explain his pictures. It is the pictures, rather, that
explain the theories.
Strange as it may seem, color was an adjunct to form in Seurat's workthe
very opposite of the Impressionists' technique. Most of his output
consists of drawings done in conte crayon, made of graphite and clay,
which provides rich, velvety blacks (fig.
These have a haunting mystery all their own, in
contrast to the festive colors of his paintings. In sheets such as ours,
Seurat's forms achieve a machinelike quality through rigorous
abstraction. This is the first expression of a peculiarly modern outlook
leading to Futurism.
Seurat's systematic approach to art has the internal
logic of modern engineering, which he and his followers hoped would
transform society for the better. This social consciousness was allied
to a form of anarchism descended from Courbet's friend Proudhon, and
contrasts with the general political indifference of the Impressionists.
The fact that Seurat shares the same subject matter as the
Impressionists serves only to emphasize further the fundamental
difference in attitude.
Toward the end of his brief career, Seurat's paintings acquired a
new liveliness, seen in Chahut (fig.
True, everything is held very precisely in place
by a system of vertical and horizontal coordinates that defines the
canvas as a self-contained rectilinear field. Only in the work of
Vermeer have we encountered a similar "area-consciousness" (compare
804). But while these
dancers move in lockstep, the decorative arabesques within the flat
design possess an unexpected energy. Consciously or unconsciously,
Seurat here moves close to the world of commercial art. The speckled
surface resembles the cheap offset printing then coming into use. The
subject and composition, too, directly anticipate the posters of Henri
in the marvelous wit and insight with which the facial expressions are
Georges Seurat. A Sunday on La Grande Jatte
Georges Seurat. The Couple.
Georges Seurat. Chahut.
TOULOUSE-LAUTREC. (1864-1901) was an artist
of superb talent who led a dissolute life in the night spots and brothels of Paris and
died of alcoholism. He was a great admirer of Degas, and his At the
Moulin Rouge (fig. 990)
recalls the zigzag pattern of Degas'
The Glass of Absinthe
953). Yet this view of the well-known nightclub
is no Impressionist "slice of life." Toulouse-Lautrec sees through the
gay surface of the scene, viewing performers and customers with a
pitilessly sharp eye for their characterincluding
his own: he is the tiny bearded man next to the very tall one in the
back of the room. The large areas of flat color, however, and the
emphatic, smoothly curving outlines, reflect the influence of Gauguin
(compare fig. 995). The
Moulin Rouge that Toulouse-Lautrec shows here has an atmosphere so
joyless and oppressive that we have to wonder if the artist did not
regard it as a place of evil.
Physically a dwarf,
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
If his paintings inevitably bring to mind Degas and Gauguin,
Toulouse-Lautrec is without precedent as a graphic artist. His posters,
done in a distinctive style of his own invention, are ideally suited to
inexpensive lithography, which enforces an equal economy of form and color. His first poster, La
Goulue (fig. 991),
which established his fame, lends this seedy demimonde an air of glamour
that is at once captivating and mysterious. As advertising it sets a
standard that has rarely been matched. The design is wed to the text so
seamlessly that they cannot live without each other.
(1853-1890) pursued the opposite direction. He
believed that Impressionism did not provide the artist with enough
freedom to express his emotions. Since this was his main concern, he is
sometimes called an Expressionist, although the term ought to be
reserved for certain later painters. Van Gogh, the first great Dutch master
since the seventeenth century, did not become an artist until
1880; as he died only ten years
later, his career was even briefer than Seurat's. His early interests
were in literature and religion. Proroundly dissatisfied with the values of industrial society and imbued
with a strong sense of mission, he worked for a while as a lay preacher
among poverty-stricken coal miners in Belgium. This same intense feeling
for the poor dominates the paintings of his pre-Impressionist period,
1880-85. In The Potato
Eaters (fig. 992), the
last and most ambitious work of those years, there remains a naive
clumsiness that comes from his lack of conventional training, but this
only adds to the expressive power of his style. We are reminded of Daumier
and Millet (see figs. 892
and 897), and of Rembrandt
and Le Nain (see figs. 795
For this peasant family, the evening meal has the solemn importance of a
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. At the
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. La Goulue.
While Cezanne and Seurat were converting Impressionism into a more
severe, classical style,
Vincent Van Gogh
When he painted The Potato Eaters, Van Gogh had not yet
discovered the importance of color. A year later in Paris, where his
brother Theo had a gallery devoted to modern art, he met Degas, Seurat,
and other leading French artists. Their effect on him was electrifying.
His pictures now blazed with color, and he even experimented briefly
with the Divisionist technique of Seurat. This Impressionist phase, however, lasted less than two
years. Although it was vitally important for his development, he had to
integrate it with the style of his earlier years before his genius could
fully unfold. Paris had opened his eyes to the sensuous beauty of the
visible world and had taught him the pictorial language of the color
patch, but painting continued to be nevertheless a vessel for his
personal emotions. To investigate this spiritual reality with the new
means at his command, he went to Aries, in the south of France. It was
there, between 1888 and
1890, that he produced his
Like Cezanne, Van Gogh now devoted his main energies to landscape
painting, but the sun-drenched Mediterranean countryside evoked a very
different response in him: he saw it filled with ecstatic movement, not
architectural stability and permanence. In Wheat Field and Cypress
Trees (fig. 993), both
earth and sky pulsate with an overpowering turbulence. The wheat field
resembles a stormy sea, the trees spring flamelike from the ground, and
the hills and clouds heave with the same undulant motion. The dynamism
contained in every brushstroke makes of each one not merely a deposit of
color, but an incisive graphic gesture. The artist's personal
"handwriting" is here an
even more dominant factor than in the canvases of Daumier (compare figs.
893). Yet to Van Gogh himself it
was the color, not the form, that determined the expressive content of
his pictures. The letters he wrote to his brother include many eloquent
descriptions of his choice of hues and the emotional meanings he
attached to them. He had learned about Impressionist color from
Pissarro, but his personal color symbolism probably stemmed from
discussions with Paul Gauguin, who stayed with Van Gogh at Aries for several months.
(Yellow, for example, meant faith or triumph or love to Van Gogh, while
carmine was a spiritual color, cobalt a divine one; red and green, on
the other hand, stood for the terrible human passions.) Although he
acknowledged that his desire "to exaggerate the essential and to leave
the obvious vague" made his colors look arbitrary by Impressionist
standards, he nevertheless remained deeply committed to the visible
Compared to Monet's The River (see fig.
948), the colors of Wheat
Field and Cypress Trees are stronger, simpler, and more vibrant, but
in no sense "unnatural." They speak to us of that "kingdom of light" Van
Gogh had found in the South, and of his mystic faith in a creative force
animating all forms of lifea
faith no less ardent than the sectarian Christianity of his early years.
His Self-Portrait (fig. 994)
will remind us of Durer's (fig.
714), and with good reason: the missionary had
now become a prophet. His emaciated, luminous head with its burning eyes
is set off against a whirlpool of darkness. "I want to paint men and
women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to
symbolize," Van Gogh had written, groping to define for his brother the
human essence that was his aim in pictures such as this. At the time of
the Self-Portrait, he had already begun to suffer fits of a
mental illness that made painting increasingly difficult for him.
Despairing of a cure, he committed suicide a year later, for he felt
very deeply that art alone made his life worth living.
Vincent Van Gogh. The Potato Eaters.
Vincent Van Gogh. Wheat
Cypress Trees. 1889.
Vincent Van Gogh. Self-Portrait.
The quest for religious experience also played an important
part in the work, if not in the life, of another great
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903).
He began as a prosperous stockbroker in Paris and
an amateur painter and collector of modern pictures. At the age of
35, however, he became
convinced that he must devote himself entirely to art. He abandoned his
business career, separated from his family, and by
1889 was the central figure of a
new movement called Synthetism or Symbolism.
Gauguin started out as a follower of Cezanne and once owned one of
his still lifes. He then developed a style that, though less intensely
personal than Van Gogh's, was in some ways an even bolder advance beyond
Impressionism. Gauguin believed that Western civilization was "out of
joint," that industrial society had forced people into an incomplete
life dedicated to material gain, while their emotions lay neglected. To
rediscover for himself this hidden world of feeling, Gauguin left Paris
in 1886 to live among the
peasants of Brittany at Pont Aven in western France. There two years
later he met the painters Emile Bernard
(1868-1941) and Louis Anquetin
1932), who had rejected Impressionism and began
to evolve a new style which they called Cloissonism (after an enamel
technique), for its strong outlines. Gauguin incorporated their approach
into his own, and emerged as the most forceful member of the Pont-Aven
group, which quickly came to center on him.
The Pont-Aven style was first developed fully in the works Gauguin
and Bernard painted at Pont Aven during the summer of
1888. Gauguin noticed
particularly that religion was still part of the everyday life of the
country people, and in pictures such as The Vision After the Sermon
(Jacob Wrestling with the Angel) (fig.
he tried to depict their simple, direct faith.
Here at last is what no Romantic artist had achieved: a style based on pre-Renaissance sources. Modeling and perspective have
given way to flat, simplified shapes outlined heavily in black, and the
brilliant colors are equally "unnatural." This style, inspired by folk
art and medieval stained glass, is meant to re-create both the imagined
reality of the vision and the trancelike rapture of the peasant women.
The painting fulfills the goal of Synthetism: by treating the canvas in
this decorative manner, the artist has turned it from a representation
of the external world into an aesthetic object that projects an internal
idea without using narrative or literal symbols. Yet we sense that
although he tried to share this experience, Gauguin remains an outsider.
He could paint pictures about faith, but not from faith.
Paul Gauguin. The Vision After the
(Jacob Wrestling with the Angel).
Two years later, Gauguin's search for the unspoiled life led him even
farther afield. He went to Tahitihe
had already visited Martinique in 1887as
a sort of "missionary in reverse," to learn from the natives instead of
teaching them. Although he spent the rest of his life in the South
Pacific (he returned home only once, from 1893
he never found the virgin Eden he was seeking. Indeed,
he often had to rely on the writings and photographs of those who had
recorded its culture before him. Nonetheless his Tahitian canvases
conjure up an ideal world filled with the beauty and meaning he sought
so futilely in real life.
His masterpiece in this vein is Where Do We Come From? What Are
We? Where Are We Going? (fig.
painted as a summation of his art shortly before he was
driven by despair to attempt suicide. Even without the suggestive title,
we would recognize the painting's allegorical purpose from its
monumental scale, the carefully thought out poses and placement of the
figures within the tapestrylike landscape, and their pensive air.
Although Gauguin intended the surface to be the sole conveyer of
meaning, we know from his letters that the huge canvas represents an epic cycle of life. The scene unfolds from right to
left, beginning with the sleeping girl, continuing with the beautiful
young woman (a Tahitian Eve) in the center picking fruit, and ending
with "an old woman approaching death who seems reconciled and resigned
to her thoughts." In effect, the picture constitutes a variation on the
Three Ages of Man found in Death and the Maiden by Hans Baldung
Grien (see fig. 721). The
enigmatic Maori god overseeing everything acts as a counterpart to the
figure of Death in Baldung Grien's painting. Gauguin has cast the answer
to his title in distinctly Western terms. Moreover, he painted the
composition in response to Puvis de Chavannes' classical allegories,
such as those in the Lyons museumespecially
The Sacred Grove (fig. 999). In this primitive Eden, Gauguin tell us, lies the
real secret to the central mystery of life, not in some mythical past.
Paul Gauguin. Where Do We Come
What Are We? Where Are We Going?
The works that come closest in flavor to Tahitian culture are
Gauguin's woodcuts. Offerings of Gratitude (fig.
997), like the Vision,
presents the theme of religious worship, but the image of a local god
replaces the biblical subject. In its frankly "carved" look and its bold
white-on-black pattern, we can feel the influences of the native art of
the South Seas and of other non-European styles. The renewal of Western
art and civilization as a whole, Gauguin believed, must come from "the
Primitives." He advised other Symbolists to shun the Greek tradition and
to turn instead to Persia, the Far East, and ancient Egypt.
The idea of primitivism itself was not new. It stems from the
Romantic myth of the Noble Savage, propagated by the thinkers of the
Enlightenment more than a century before, and its ultimate source is the
age-old tradition of an earthly paradise where human societies once
dwelledand might perhaps
live againin a state of
nature and innocence. But no one before Gauguin had gone as far to put the doctrine of primitivism
into practice. His pilgrimage to the South Pacific had more than a
purely private meaning. It symbolizes the end of the
400 years of colonial expansion
which had brought almost the entire globe under Western domination. The
"white man's burden," once so cheerfully and ruthlessly shouldered by
the empire builders, was becoming unbearable.
Paul Gauguin. Offerings of Gratitude.
Van Gogh's and Gauguin's discontent with the spiritual ills of
Western civilization was part of a sentiment widely shared at the end of
the nineteenth century. It reflected an intellectual and moral upheaval
that rejected the modern world and its materialism in favor of
irrational states of mind. A self-conscious preoccupation with
decadence, evil, and darkness pervaded the artistic and literary
climate. Even those who saw no escape analyzed their predicament in
fascinated horror. Yet, somewhat paradoxically, this very awareness
proved to be a source of strength, for it gave rise to the remarkable
movement known as Symbolism. (The truly decadent, we may assume, are
unable to realize their plight.)
Symbolism in art was at first an outgrowth of the literary movement
that arose in 1885-86,
with Jean Moreas and Gustave Kahn at its helm. Reacting against the
Naturalism of the novelist Emile Zola, they reasserted the primacy of
subjective ideas and championed the poetes maudits (the doomed
poets) Stephane Mallarme and Paul Verlaine. There was a natural sympathy
between the Pont-Aven painters and the Symbolist poets, and in a long
article defining Symbolism published in April
1892, the writer G. Albert Aurier insisted on
Gauguin's leadership. Nevertheless, unlike Post-Impressionism, which was a
stylistic tendency, Symbolism was a general outlook, one that allowed
for a wide variety of styleswhatever
would embody its peculiar frame of mind.
before being a war horse, a female nude, or some anecdote
essentially a flat surface covered with colors in a particular order."
He added that "every work of art is a transposition, a caricature, the
passionate equivalent of a received sensation." The theory of
equivalents gave the Nabis their independence from Gauguin. "We
supplemented the rudimentary teaching of Gauguin by substituting for his
over-simplified idea of pure colors the idea of beautiful harmonies,
infinitely varied like nature; we adapted all the resources of the
palette to all the states of our sensibility; and the sights which
caused them became to us so many signs of our own subjectivity. We
sought equivalents, but equivalents in beauty!"
Gauguin's Symbolist followers, who called themselves
(from the Hebrew word for "prophet"), were less remarkable for creative
talent than for their ability to spell out and justify the aims of
Post-Impressionism in theoretical form. One of them, Maurice Denis,
coined the statement that was to become the First Article of Faith for
modernist painters of the twentieth century: "A picture
982), participate in the late
nineteenth century's retreat into a world of beauty. The pictures of the
the most gifted member of the Nabis, share this quality.
They consist mainly of domestic scenes, small in scale and intimate in effect, like the
Interior at l'Etang-la-Ville (fig.
These combine into a remarkable new entity the
flat planes and emphatic contours of Gauguin (fig.
995) with the shimmering
Divisionist "color mosaic" and the geometric surface organization of
Seurat (see fig. 989).
This seemingly casual view of his mother's corset-shop workroom has a
delicate balance of "two-D" and "three-D" effects. Indeed, Vuillard
probably derived his flat patterns from the fabrics themselves. The
picture's quiet magic makes us think of Vermeer and Chardin (compare
figs. 804 and
836), whose subject matter, too,
was the snug life of the middle class. In both subject and treatment,
the painting has counterparts as well in Symbolist literature and
theater: the poetry of Paul Verlaine, the novels of Stephane Mallarme,
and the productions of Aurelien Lugne-ΠξΈ,
for whom Vuillard designed stage sets. It evokes
a host of feelings through purely formal means that could never be
conveyed by naturalism alone. The Nabis established an important
precedent for Matisse a decade later (see fig.
1037). By then, however, the movement had
disintegrated as its members became more conservative. Vuillard himself
turned more to naturalism, and he never recaptured the delicacy and
daring of his early canvases.
We can now understand why paintings by the Nabis soon came
to look so different from Gauguin's. They became involved with
decorative projects which, like Whistler's Peacock Room (see fig.
(1824-1898), a follower of Ingres who succeeded in becoming the leading muralist of his day. Rejecting
academic conventions, he sought a radical simplification of style, which
at first seemed anachronistic but was soon hailed by the critics and
artists of all persuasions. The effectiveness of the murals he executed
in the 1880s for the museum at Lyons (fig.
depends in large part on Puvis' formal devicesthe
compressed space, schematic forms, and restricted palette, which
imitates in oil the chalky surface of old frescoes. The antinaturalism
of his style emphasizes the allegorical character of the scene, lending
it a gravity and mystery absent from other decorative paintings by his
contemporaries. Anecdotal interest is replaced by nostalgia for an
idealized, mythical past. The stiff, ritualistic poses serve both to
freeze time and to convey a poetry that is at once elegiac and serene.
Puvis' economy of means was intended to present his ideas with maximum
clarity, but it has just the opposite effect: it heightens their
suggestiveness. His popularity resulted precisely from this ambiguity,
which permitted a wide variety of interpretation. Symbolists from
Gauguin through the young Picasso could thus claim him as one of their
own; nevertheless, he vehemently protested any association with the
Symbolist movement, although he reciprocated an admiration with the
English Pre-Raphaelite Burne-Jones.
Interior at l'Etang-la-Ville
(The Suitor). 1893.
PUVIS DE CHAVANNES.
The Symbolists discovered that there were some older artists,
descendants of the Romantics, whose work, like their own, placed inner
vision above the observation of nature. Many of them, as well as other
Post-Impressionists, took their inspiration from the classicism of
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
(1826-1898), a recluse who admired Delacroix,
created a world of personal fantasy that has much in common with the
medieval reveries of some of the English Pre-Raphaelites. The
Apparition (fig. 1000)
shows one of his favorite themes: the head of John the Baptist, in a blinding radiance of light, appears to the
dancing Salome. Her odalisquelike sensuousness, the stream of blood
pouring from the severed head, the vast, mysterious space of the setting
suggestive of an exotic temple rather than of Herod's palace, all these
summon up the dreams of Oriental splendor and cruelty so dear to the
Romantic imagination, combined with an insistence on the reality of the
supernatural. Only late in life did Moreau achieve a measure of
recognition. Suddenly, his art was in tune with the times. During his
last six years, he even held a professorship at the conservative Ecole
des Beaux-Arts, the successor of the official art academy that had been
founded under Louis XIV.
There he attracted the most gifted students, among them
such future modernists as Matisse and Rouault.
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.
The Sacred Grove. c. 1883-84;
Vision of Antiquity. c. 1888-89;
and Christian Inspiration. c. 1888-89.
One of the Symbolists,
young Englishman whose elegantly "decadent" black-and-white drawings were the very epitome of that taste. They include a Salome
that might well be the final scene of the drama depicted
by Moreau: Salome has taken up John's severed head and triumphantly
kissed it. Whereas Beardsley's erotic meaning is plainSalome
is passionately in love with John and has asked for his head because she
could not have him in any other wayMoreau's
remains ambiguous. Nevertheless, the parallel is striking, and there are
formal similarities as well, such as the "stem" of trickling blood from
which John's head rises like a flower. Yet Beardsley's Salome
cannot be said to derive from Moreau's. The sources of his style are
Englishthe graphic art of
the Pre-Raphaelites (see fig. 981)
a strong mixture of Japanese influence.
How prophetic Moreau's work was of the taste prevailing at the end of
the century is evident from a comparison with
Aubrey Beardsley. Salome.
Another solitary artist whom the Symbolists discovered and
claimed as one of their own was
(1840-1916). Like Moreau, he had a haunted
imagination, but his imagery was even more personal and disturbing. A
master of etching and lithography, he drew inspiration from the
fantastic visions of Goya (see fig. 877)
as well as Romantic literature. The lithograph shown in
figure 1002 is one of a
set he issued in 1882 and
dedicated to Edgar Allan Πξε.
The American poet had been dead for
33 years; but his tormented life
and his equally tortured imagination made him the very model of the
poete maudit, and his works, excellently translated by Baudelaire
and Mallarme, were greatly admired in France. Redon's lithographs do not
illustrate Πξε. They are,
rather, "visual poems" in their own right, evoking the macabre,
hallucinatory world of Poe's imagination. In our example, the artist has
revived an ancient device, the single eye representing the all-seeing
mind of God. But, in contrast to the traditional form of the symbol,
Redon shows the whole eyeball removed from its socket and converted into
a balloon that drifts aimlessly in the sky.
1900 did his outlook
give way to a new serenity laden with spiritual overtones. In the art of
the Belgian painter
James Ensor (1860-1949),
a cynical view of the human condition reaches
obsessive intensity, and for much the same reason. In Christ's Entry
into Brussels in 1889
the demon-ridden world of Bosch and Schongauer has come
to life again in modern guise (compare figs.
The painting, showing the Second Coming of Christ in
contemporary Belgium, is a grotesque parody of a subject familiar to us
since the Late Gothic (compare figs. 518
Here Christ is virtually lost in a sea of leering faces, which are
treated as the epitome of evil. As we scrutinize these masks we become
aware that they are the crowd's true faces, revealing the depravity
ordinarily hidden behind the facade of everyday appearances. At the
time, Ensor identified with Christ, whose suffering he felt paralleled
his own at the hands of hostile critics and an indifferent public.
Later, when his art began to gain wide acceptance, he abandoned this
The Eye like a strange ballon mounts
The disquieting visual paradoxes in Redon's lithographs
express the pessimism of a troubled mind struggling to find itself; only
James Ensor. Christ's Entry
into Brussels in 1889.(1863-1944),
a far more gifted artist who came to Paris from Norway
in 1889 and based his starkly expressive style on Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, and Gauguin.
The Scream (fig. 1004)
shows the influences of all three. It is an image of
fear, the terrifying, unreasoned fear we feel in a nightmare. Unlike
Goya and Fuseli (see figs. 877
Munch visualizes this experience without the aid of frightening
apparitions, and his achievement is the more persuasive for that very
reason. The rhythm of the long, wavy lines seems to carry the echo of
the scream into every corner of the picture, making of earth and sky one
great sounding board of fear.
Something of the same macabre quality pervades the early work
that a number of young radicals broke from the artists
association and formed the Berlin Secession, which took its name from a
similar group that had been founded in Munich earlier that year. The
Secession quickly became a loosely allied international movement. In
1897 it spread to Austria,
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)
established the Vienna Secession with the purpose of
raising the level of the arts and crafts in Austria through close ties
to Art Nouveau.
by Klimt expresses a different kind of anxiety
from Munch's The Scream. The image will remind us of Beardsley's
Salome (fig. 1001),
but here the barely suppressed eroticism has burst into
desire. Engulfed in mosaiclike robes that create an illusion of rich
beauty, the angular figures steal a moment of passion whose brevity
emphasizes their joyless existence.
The Scream. 1893
Munch's works generated such controversy when they were
exhibited in Berlin in
(1881-1974) felt the spell of the
same artistic atmosphere that had generated the style of Munch. His
so-called Blue Period (the term refers to the prevailing color of his
canvases as well as to their mood) consists almost exclusively of
pictures of beggars and derelicts, such as The Old Guitarist
(fig. 1006). These
outcasts or victims of society have a pathos that reflects the artist's
own sense of isolation. Yet they convey poetic melancholy more than
outright despair. The aged musician accepts his fate with a resignation
that seems almost saintly, and the attenuated grace of his limbs reminds
us of El Greco (compare fig. 687).
The Old Guitarist is a strange amalgam of
Mannerism and of the art of Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec (note the
smoothly curved contours), imbued with the personal gloom of a
Gustav Klimt. The Kiss.1907
PICASSO'S BLUE PERIOD.
When he came to Paris from his native Spain in
(1844-1910), a retired customs collector who had
started to paint in his middle age without training of any sort. His
he never achievedwas the
arid academic style of the followers of Ingres. Rousseau is that
paradox, a folk artist of genius. How else could he have done a picture
like The Dream (fig. 1007)?
What goes on in the enchanted world of this canvas needs no explanation, because none is
possible. Perhaps for that very reason its magic becomes believably real
to us. Rousseau himself described the scene in a little poem:
The Old Guitarist.
A few years later, Picasso and his friends discovered a
painter who until then had attracted no attention, although he had been
exhibiting his work since
Yadwigha, peacefully asleep
Enjoys a lovely dream:
She hears a kind snake charmer
Playing upon his reed.
On stream and foliage glisten
The silvery beams of the moon.
And savage serpents listen
To the gay, entrancing tune.
Here at last was an innocent directness of feeling that Cauguin
thought was so necessary for the age. Picasso and his friends were the
first to recognize this quality in Rousseau's work. They revered him as
the godfather of twentieth-century painting.
(1876-1907) in the village of
Worpswede, near her family home in Bremen, Germany. Among the artists
and writers who congregated there was the Symbolist lyric poet Rainer
Maria Rilke, Rodin's friend and briefly his personal secretary. Rilke
had visited Russia and been deeply impressed with what he viewed as the
purity of Russian peasant lite. His influence on the colony at Worpswede affected Modersohn-Becker,
whose last works are direct precursors of modern art. Her gentle but
powerful Self-Portrait (fig. 1008),
painted the year before her early death, presents a
transition from the Symbolism of Gauguin and his followers, which she
absorbed during several stays in Paris, to Expressionism. The color has
the intensity of Matisse and the Fauves. At the same time, her
deliberately simplified treatment of forms parallels the experiments of
Picasso, which were to culminate in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
The inspiration of primitivism that Gauguin had traveled so far to find
was discovered by