Developments in the 19th Century



 




Art Styles in 19th century - Art Map


 




SYMBOLISM

in

German - speaking

Countries and Scandinavia





(Between Romanticism and Expressionism)



 

 




 

 


C o n t e n t s:
 
The Great Upheaval
France
Great Britain and the United States
Belgium and the Netherlands
German - speaking Countries and Scandinavia
The Slav Countries
The Mediterranean Countries
Post-Symbolism
 

 

 

collections:
Arnold Bocklin
Ferdinand Hodler
Max Klinger
Julius Klinger
Otto Greiner
Franz von Stuck
Carlos Schwabe
Gustav Klimt
Alfred Kubin
Axel Gallen Kallela
Hugo Simberg
 
 





German - speaking

Countries and Scandinavia




 


A day will come when the memory of a tremendous event will attach itself to my name - the memory of a crisis unprecedented in the history of the earth, of the most profound collision of consciences, of a decree issued against everything that had been believed, required and hallowed until our time...

                                                                           Friedrich Nietzsche




 


 
 

In the German-speaking world, the "crisis unprecedented in the history of the earth" - the great social and cultural debate which Symbolist art so closely echoes - produced three giant protagonists: Richard Wagner (1813-1883), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886). Wagner and Nietzsche cast an imposing shadow over subsequent generations. Not content with transforming harmony, vocal style and the staging of opera, Wagner strove, through the hypnotic music of his tetralogy, to express a fundamental aspect of the crisis then shaking the mytho-cultural system of the West. The great operatic cycle based on the Nibelungen legend relates (in a form which was later to influence cinema) the mythical events leading to the twilight of the Nordic gods.
More than any other philosopher of his time, Nietzsche (who admired and defended Wagner before launching a violent polemic against him) was keenly aware of the consequences that followed from the collapse of traditional structures of thought and values. "I am, quite as much as Wagner," he declared, "a child of my time, I mean a decadent; the only difference is that I have been aware of this and have resisted it with all my power."
A man of delicate constitution, he was emotionally and psychologically vulnerable and subject to a variety of ills: eye-trouble, intestinal disorders and frequent migraines. He lived through this ordeal as might a tragic hero - until the ultimate collapse of his intellect. He saw it as his role in life to formulate the conditions of an existence worthy of man in a world which had survived its gods.
As we have seen, the strong sense of decadence in Europe at this time coincided with the zenith of European power. Nietzsche, with his impassioned and wilful sensibility, realized that the old ideas and philosophical categories had been irrevocably damaged by the theoretical and scientific criticism of the previous two centuries and their allies, the scientific discoveries and economic and social mutations of the day. They had therefore to be swept aside to make room for the new; this was his undertaking.

 

Wagner is the preeminent Symbolist composer; others include Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), and Claude Debussy - who was in no sense the "Impressionist" he has often been thought. Nietzsche remains the only Symbolist philosopher, above all in the poetic and image-laden language of his Zarathustra; the mordant philosopher of a theory of decay and rebirth. This makes it particularly apposite to quote his evaluation of the spiritual climate prevailing in Germany, one which, in many parts of the country, made Symbolism's uneasy religiosity extremely alien. "In Germany," he writes, "among those who live outside religion today, I find (...) a majority of men in whom the habit of work has, from generation to generation, destroyed the religious instincts." And he goes on - he, the uncompromising atheist - to speak with bitter irony of the naivete of the scientist of his day who believes in his own superiority and "instinctively regards the religious man as an inferior individual". Here, in a nutshell, is the whole issue of Symbolism - and an explanation of why it and the problematic that it expresses have been an object of repression throughout the the 20th century.
As to King Ludwig of Bavaria, Wagner's patron, he embodied in tragic form the spirit of the Symbolist age. For, like des Esseintes, he lived withdrawn into a world of dreams. Unlike des Esseintes, he had at his disposal the budget of a state and could satisfy his whims on an incomparably grander scale. Royal palaces, which had in the past been in some degree functional, became no more than a stage set on which his delusions were enacted. No necessity of state, no symbolism of power commanded the construction of Neuschwanstein. It was as though the king, sensing the divorce between what he was supposed to embody and the actual drift of the world, resolved the contradiction by ignoring reality. And so his palaces survive, freighted with fantasy and unreality, as perfect examples of "decadent" architecture.
Men and ideas moved about Germany in relative freedom. Emperor William II had his own, absurdly narrow views on art, and sought to impose them; yet from Bern and Vienna to Oslo and Stockholm, new ideas in art were propagated and discussed. The Copenhagen Academy might close down a Gauguin exhibition in 1885, the Berlin Academy an exhibition of paintings by Munch in 1892, but change had begun. It took institutional form in the founding of the Sezession in Munich (1892), Vienna (1897) and Berlin (1899). Artists were "seceding" from the control of the academies and from the sclerotic conventions of style that the academies imposed.

 
Arnold Bocklin

born Oct. 16, 1827, Basel, Switz.
died Jan. 16, 1901, Fiesole, Italy

painter whose moody landscapes and sinister allegories greatly influenced late 19th-century German artists and presaged the symbolism of the 20th-century Metaphysical and Surrealistic artists.
Although he studied and worked throughout much of northern Europe—Düsseldorf, Antwerp, Brussels, and Paris—Bocklin found his real inspiration in the landscape of Italy, where he returned from time to time and where the last years of his life were spent.
Bocklin first won a reputation with the large mural “Pan in the Bulrushes” (c. 1857), which brought him the patronage of the king of Bavaria. From 1858 to 1861, he taught at the Weimar Art School, but his nostalgia for the Italian landscapepursued him. After an interval during which he completed his mythological frescoes for the decoration of the Public Art Collection (Öffentliche Kunstsammlung), Basel, he settled in Italy and only occasionally returned to Germany, and then to experiment with flying machines. During his last two decades, Böcklin's work became increasingly subjective, often showing fabulous creatures or being based on dark allegorical themes, as in “Island of the Dead” (1880), which provided the inspiration for the symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead by the Russian composer Sergey Rachmaninoff. Such spectral scenes as his “Odysseus and Calypso” (1883) and “The Pest” (1898) reveal the morbid symbolism that anticipated the so-called Freudian imagery of much 20th-century art.

 
Arnold Bocklin

(see collection)

Arnold Bocklin
Venus Genitrix
1895



 
Ferdinand Hodler

born March 14, 1853, near Bern
died May 20, 1918, Geneva

one of the most important Swiss painters of the late 19th and early 20th century.
He was orphaned at the age of 12 and studied first at Thun under an artist who painted landscapes for tourists. After 1872, however, he worked in a more congenial atmosphere at Geneva, under Barthélémy Menn. By 1879, when Hodler settled in Geneva, he was producing massive, simplified portraits owing something to the French realist painter Gustave Courbet. By the mid-1880s, however, a tendency to self-conscious linear stylization was visible in his subjectpictures, which dealt increasingly with the symbolism of youth and age, solitude, and contemplation, in such works as “Die Nacht” (1890; “The Night,” Kunstmuseum, Bern), which brought him acclaim throughout Europe. From this time his serious work can be divided between landscapes, portraits, and monumental figural compositions. The latter works present firmly drawn nudes who express Hodler's mystical philosophy through grave, ritualized gestures. These pictures are notable for their strong linear and compositional rhythms and their clear, flat, decorative presentation.

 
Ferdinand Hodler

(see collection)

Ferdinand Hodler
Communion with the Infinite
 

There was thus a constant ferment of ideas, to which new currents were added from throughout the German-speaking world: Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Artists influenced by Symbolism appeared in both Catholic Bavaria and Protestant Prussia. Neither the religious cleavage which bred distinct cultural attitudes in Belgium and the Netherlands, nor the struggle between Church and secular republic which made such a deep mark on France at the turn of the century, had any real equivalent in Germany.

German artists ventured beyond their frontiers. We note that
Hans von Marees (1837-1887) who had trained in Berlin, and Max Klinger (1857-1920), a native of Leipzig, met the Basle-born artist Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901) in Italy. They felt drawn at first to the mythological tradition of antiquity, and this in due course lent them affinities with the Symbolists.
Bocklin, the doyen of the artists cited in this chapter, was an energetic figure devoid of the languid melancholy of "decadence". Italy's light and aura of antiquity were decisive in his early development; his paintings quickly came to be populated with mythological figures, with centaurs and naiads. Not until his fiftieth year did he begin to paint the powerfully atmospheric works associated with his name today.
Among the most famous of these is the painting known as The Isle of the Dead (1880, which
Bocklin himself entitled "a tranquil place". It was clearly important to him; he made five different versions of the composition. The new title was suggested by the white-draped coffin on the boat, the funerary presence of the cypresses, and the overwhelming impression of immobility and silence. The white figure vividly lit by a setting sun is contrasted with the dark, vertical forms of the trees, impervious to the slanting rays of the sun. Like a dream, the painting condenses a number of contradictory sensations and emotions.
Bocklin's choice of imagery is not coincidental. A young widow had asked him for an "image to dream by", and the funereal serenity perhaps echoes something of the artist's own emotions about death. At the age of twenty-five, during one of his stays in Rome, he had married the daughter of a pontifical guard who bore him eleven children between 1855 and 1876; five of them died in infancy, and the Bocklin family was twice (in 1855 and 1873) forced to flee cholera epidemics.
Bocklin's art reveals a robust temperament. He showed no reticence towards the new technologies then sweeping the continent. He devoted time to the invention of a flying machine, negotiating with businessmen for its manufacture. His Germanic feeling for nature was expressed, in canonic Romantic fashion, in such paintings as The Sacred Wood (1882), but its most striking expression is The Silence of the Forest (1885) in which a bizarre unicorn, part cow, part camel, emerges from a forest, bearing an equally enigmatic woman on its back.

 

Arnold Bocklin

(see collection)



Arnold Bocklin
The Isle of the Dead
1880

   

Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918), the son of a modest family of the canton of Bern, lost his parents and all his siblings to tuberculosis before his fifteenth year. He painted works by turn Symbolist, patriotic and intimiste, which elicited the enthusiasm of Guillaume Apollinaire. Though not in the Symbolist vein, his poignant series of quasi-expres-sionistic canvases devoted to the death of his companion Valentine Godé-Darel deserves to be mentioned. When she gave birth to Hodler's daughter in 1913, she was already suffering from the cancer which caused her death.

Hodler was commissioned to decorate numerous public buildings both in Germany and in Switzerland. The patriotic message of these large paintings is expressed in the unambiguous and heroic terms typical of such work.
Paintings such as Day I (1899-1900) and Night (1890) are characteristic of
Hodler's Symbolist vein. The first of these is allegorical, and only certain formal traits, the repetitive sinuosity of line and the mannered symmetry of the gestures, remove it from the academic style. Night, however, with its central figure waking in terror under the weight of a black-draped form, is the more fascinating for the imprecision of the fear it records. Something similar may be said of Autumn Evening (1892-1893), in which the perspectival view and fron-tality of the path seems to draw the spectator into the painting, symbolically evoking the efforts and expectations of an entire life.

 
 

Ferdinand Hodler

(see collection)

 



Ferdinand Hodler
Day
1898

 



Ferdinand Hodler
Night
1890

 




Ferdinand Hodler
Truth II
1903

 
 


Klinger practised a broad range of artistic forms: sculpture, painting and etching. His graphic work was complex, sombre and richly imaginative; it took the form of series of etchings, of which the first began to appear in 1878. They include Eve and the Future (1881), Dramas (1 881— 1883), A Life (1881-1884), A Love (1879-1887) and the most famous of them all, his Paraphrase on the Discovery of a Glove (1881).
This sequence begins in realist manner with a man picking up a woman's glove on a roller-skating arena. It continues in imaginary vein with the tributes paid to the fetishized object. In the extraordinary penultimate print the glove is carried off by a sardonic pterodactyl flying out of the window in a crash of broken glass. The man's arms reach through the broken panes in a futile attempt to restrain the animal.
But unreality appears from the outset, even in the ostensibly realistic prints. One easily overlooks the tiny wheels of the roller-skates on the feet of these dignified men and women; the slant of the bodies in the second print then seems enigmatic and even surrealist. The dream-like nature of the sequence is subtly hinted at: in the penultimate print the pterodactyl cannot, it seems, have emerged from the unbroken frame of the window. Were the panes then broken by the outflung arms?

"Modern" as Klinger seems in his prints, his painting and sculptures (not least his famous monument to Beethoven), display a grandiloquence at poles from the manner of his graphic work - though entirely typical of the period.

Otto Greiner (1869-1916), an admirer of
Klinger's (to whom he dedicated a sequence of prints), was also an able craftsman. His Devil Showing Woman to the People, though highly competent in execution, is utterly devoid of the ambiguity encountered in Klinger's work; it leaves no room to the imagination and merely echoes the cruder stereotypes of the day. As much may be said of Julius Klinger's coloured zincograph of Salome (1907). Salome is shown triumphantly carrying off not the severed head of St John but severed genitals. Julius Klinger's work nonetheless has the merit of self-mockery which, one suspects, is lacking in Greiner's print.








Julius Klinger
Salome
1909


Julius Klinger (1876-1942), austrian painter, draftsman,
illustrator, graphic artist.

 

 
   



Otto Greiner
Devil Showing Woman to the People

Otto Greiner

(b Leipzig, 16 Dec 1869; d Munich, 24 Sept 1916).

German painter and printmaker. He started a lithography apprenticeship in Leipzig in 1884 and also took drawing lessons. Between 1888 and 1891 he studied at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich under Sándor Liezen-Mayer. In the autumn of 1891 he made his first journey to Italy, visiting Florence and Rome, where he met and befriended Max Klinger. From 1892 to 1898 he lived in Munich and Leipzig. In 1898 he moved to Rome, where he used Klinger’s former studio, and where he remained until 1915, when he was forced to leave because of Italy’s affiliation with the Allies. Greiner’s work is based on careful graphic preparation and in particular on accurate life drawing. The nude was central to his interests: like Klinger he saw it as the epitome of beauty in nature and believed it should serve as a basis for all stylistic formation. This is apparent from such paintings as Odysseus and the Sirens (1902; Leipzig, Mus. Bild. Kst.) as well as from his prints. Among his recurrent interests, along with portraiture, were antique and fantastic subjects, which are represented in the majority of his 112 paintings. His only cycle, On Woman (1895), the eroticism of which is typical of the last decade of the 19th century, is his best-known work.

 

 

 



Otto Greiner
Devil Showing Woman to the People

 


 



Otto Greiner

Ulysses and the Sirens

 

 




Otto Greiner
Fin de Siècle

 

 




Otto Greiner
Study for etching "Ganymed"

 
 

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