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


 




 

 

Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) makes everything more explicit. Ernst Junger, writing in the twenties, described his own pre-war work as a prophecy of decline: "The atmosphere which precedes major catastrophes is like a disease which is latent in the limbs before even producing visible symptoms, and which often makes itself known by a warning given in a dream." The metaphor is exact: the artist is, on occasion, a prophet, not through access to supernatural inspiration, but because he or she is exceptionally attentive to the unspoken moods of his age, and is thus led to anticipate the inevitable.
After a painful adolescence marked by terror and depression,
Kubin attempted suicide on his mother's grave. The gun was rusty and did not go off. The despair and anxiety to which that act testifies became the energies that Kubin channeled into art, and the work of Max Klinger was (we have seen) the catalytic agent in this process. Kubin also admired Goya, Munch and Redon. Under Klinger's influence, Kubin devoted himself to drawing, producing an extraordinarily fertile and inventive body of work, especially during the first decade of this century.
A nightmarish terror pervades these works. Monsters of every kind rear up from the bowels of night or the ocean bed; demons, spiders, snakes, and worms batten upon their defenseless victims. Skeletons sneer, human monsters delight in displaying their deformities and above all, with terrifying insistence, the female principle exhibits a dispassionate and malevolent power. This is the message of The Egg or Death Leap and many others. In the first of these, Woman is represented in the shape of an enormous, radiant belly capped with a skeletal torso and a death-white face. The figure stands beside an open grave. In Death Leap a Tom Thumb dives headlong into a colossal vulva.
These are the particularly repellent variants of the femme fatale already encountered in the works of
Gustaves Moreau, and who returns as a less menacing vision in Franz von Stuck's Sin. Sexuality, in Kubin's view, is an arbitrary and perilous power. Whoever succumbs to it is lost.

 

 

 

Alfred Kubin

(see collection)


  
  



Alfred Kubin
Adoration
1901-1902
 

   



Alfred Kubin
Woman,
sequeence of illustrations for Sex and Character
1901-1902

 

 



Alfred Kubin
Our Universal Mother, the Earth
1901-1902

 

 



Alfred Kubin
Lubricity
1901-1902

 

 



Alfred Kubin
The Flame
1900

 

 

 



Alfred Kubin
Death Leap
1901-1902


Clinically insane during his youth, then cured, at least in theory, Kubin remained a solitary individual obsessed with his impersonal, unintelligible sexual destiny. He used his dazzling command of line-drawing to illustrate his literary forebears (Dostoevsky, Poe...) and his own themes. In his metaphor, "Earth-Fertile-Mother" leaves behind her a trail of skulls. The virgin of Lubricity places her hand before her eyes to block out the monstruous priapic ape who sits before her. And in Death Leap, a Tom Thumb plunges toward his destiny: the vulva.

 

 

Yet there is no choice. Beneath the trappings of the cultural superstructure we find the fearful figure of sex as destiny. Kubin is undoubtedly giving expression to his own neurosis, but it would be of merely clinical interest did it not coincide with the "endogenous neurosis of culture" discussed in the introduction. Kubin is not the last (Bruno Schulz's work appeared in the nineteen-twenties), but surely the most fearful and agonised witness of that decomposition of the symbolic substance of his culture which is the central fact of the Symbolist age.
A similar anxiety haunts the work of Edvard Munch (1863-1944), but it is expressed with a formal inventiveness that impinges upon the emotions before we are even aware of the subject; the deeper regions of the psyche are accessible only through the potent agency of rhythm and colour.
Munch's name leads us to the Scandinavian countries, which remained on the fringe of the Symbolist world, not just geographically but because the austere religion of these cultures had no use for decadent fantasy. When Munch began studying art in Christiania (now Oslo), Norwegian artists practised a form of Protestant, populist realism. Munch was, however, from the very start, an innovator. True, be painted genre scenes, but in a spirit all his own. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was five. At fourteeen, he watched his fifteen-year-old sister Sophie succumb to the same disease. When, at twenty-two, he had acquired the technical means to portray it, her death became an obsession to which he returned again and again: the wan face in profile against the pillow, the despairing mother at the bedside, the muted light, the tousled hair, the useless glass of water.
Norway had long been under the influence of German aesthetics.

 

Until 1870, Norwegian artists usually went to Dusseldorf to study and pursue a career. Later they went to Paris, Berlin, Munich and Karlsruhe. But by 1880, Paris had become the centre. And so it was that Munch, in 1885, undertaking his first journey at twenty-two, was led to discover French art and the Symbolist spirit. It was in these circumstances that Munch's personal neurosis, the anxiety which women caused him (although he pursued them incessantly until the great psychological crisis of his forties), entered the ambit of cultural anxiety expressed in Symbolist art.
Munch was chiefly concerned with his own existential drama: "My art," he declared, "is rooted in a single reflection: why am I not as others are? Why was there a curse on my cradle? Why did I come into the world without any choice?", adding: "My art gives meaning to my life." Thus he considered his entire work as a single entity: The Frieze of Life. The frieze was manifestly an expression of anxiety ( for example, in The Scream) but also of tender pathos: of the "dance of life". (This seems to have been a common subject at the time; we find Gustav Mahler alluding to it in reference to the dance-like movements of his symphonies.) Munch, like
Kubin, perceived sex as an ineluctable destiny, and few of his works represent Woman (capitalised as usual) in a favourable light. In Puberty a skinny young girl meditates, sitting naked on her bed beneath the threatening form of her own shadow, while in The Voice a young woman, alone in the woods, attends to some inner whisper; these are the most sensitive representations of woman in Munch's work.
 


 



Edvard Munch
The Voice
 

 



Edvard Munch
Woman

 

 
In another iconic image, the Madonna, of which he painted various versions between 1893 and 1902, overtly offers her ecstatic sexuality and yet remains inaccessible. Why inaccessible? A lithographic version suggests the answer: around the frame which encloses the seductress the straggling spermatozoa wriggle in vain while, in the lower left-hand corner, a pathetic homunculus, a wizened and ageless wide-eyed foetus, lifts its supplicant gaze toward the goddess.
 
Edvard Munch

(see EXPLORATION)

Edvard Munch
Madonna
 
 
Edvard Munch
Madonna

 

 


Munch's lithograph verges on irony, to which he was not averse. Even so, modifying the well-known phrase, we may wish to suggest that "irony is the courtesy of despair". Munch's art represents women in the light of trauma. Seduction itself is a source of anxiety; satisfaction brings remorse (Ashes), and jealousy and separation are experienced as terrifying and depressing events.
The personal aspect of
Munch's work need not concern us in relation to a coherent and authoritative ceuvre whose themes are, as we have seen, common to many other artists of the time. But it should be noted that, at around forty-five, Munch suffered a profound depression and spent eight months in a sanatorium in Denmark. Thereafter he gave up the anxiety-laden subject matter so central to his work and began painting everyday subjects with the same vigorous brushwork and expressionistic colours as before. His motives may have been prophylactic. He later claimed to a friend that he had simultaneously given up women and alcohol, though here again irony is not ruled out.
 

 



Edvard Munch
Ashes

 
   

The Finnish painter Axel Gallen Kallela (1865-1931) gave up the Nordic realist manner in 1893, after a visit from Doctor Adolph Paul, who frequented the same Berlin cabaret as Munch (the "Zum schwar-zen Ferkel" or "Black Piglet"), and began to illustrate scenes from the Kalevala, the great Nordic epic. This resulted in a number of rather stilted paintings such as The Defence of Sampо (1896) or The Death of Lemminkainen (1897)

 
 


Axel Gallen Kallela

(see collection)



Axel Gallen Kallela
The Death of Lemminkainen

1897
 

   
   

Two years after Dr. Paul's visit, Gallén accepted young Hugo Simberg (1873-1917) as a pupil; Simberg lived in his studio from 1895 to 1897. Simberg's admirations included Bocklin and subsequently, after a trip to Britain, Burne-Jones. He produced an engaging body of paintings peopled with trolls and strange beasts; in his most characteristic works, Death, in the form of a skeleton, is discovered gardening, gnawing a tree trunk in an allegory of autumn, or coming to carry off a peasant's child. His The Wounded Angel (1903) gives ironic and pathetic expression to the incompatibility between ideal and reality.

 

Hugo Simberg

(b Hamina, 24 June 1873; d Ähtäri, 12 July 1917).

Finnish painter and printmaker. He first studied at the Finnish Fine Arts Association in Helsinki. His natural inclination towards mysticism led him to seek the instruction of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, with whom he studied in Ruovesi intermittently between 1895 and 1897. Gallen-Kallela’s influence, in particular his Symbolist synthesis of the National Romantic style, is evident in Simberg’s early works, such as Frost and Autumn (both 1895; Helsinki, Athenaeum A. Mus.), which are highly personal expressions of the mysticism of nature. These small allegorical watercolours convey in a deliberately primitive style the despondency of autumn, fusing many of Simberg’s unique, fairy-like motifs.

 

 

Simberg made numerous poetic and sardonic images of Death, which he shows going about various activities, gardening, gnawing the trunk of a tree in an allegory of autumn, or coming to carry off a peasant's child. His Wounded Angel, carried on a stretcher by two helpful but simple little peasant boys, gives ironic and pathetic expression to the incompatibility between too angelic an ideal and the dull, blinkered reality with which that ideal will, inevitably, collide.
 

 



Hugo Simberg
The Wounded Angel
1903

   



Hugo Simberg
The Garden of Death
1896
 

 

 



Hugo Simberg

Haukotteleva kaarme

1899
 

 



Hugo Simberg
Study of a model
 



Hugo Simberg
Model eating

 

Tableaux de Hugo Simberg

 La vieille femme et le chat est une oeuvre d’Akseli Gallen-Kallela de 1885

   

On the Stream of Life

 


Death Listens

 


Halla
 



Ring Dance

 


Satu


Satu

 


Untitled

   


Untitled

   


Untitled

 

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