My child, my sister, dream How sweet all things would seem Were we in that kind land to live together
Kai Althoff, Austé, Daniel Burkhart, Rodolphe Bresdin, Edward Burne-Jones, Judith Bernstein, Julia Margaret Cameron, Dan Colen, F. Holland Day, Robert Demachy, Louis Eilshemius, Emile Fabry, Agustin Fernandez, Circle of Henry Fuseli, E’wao Kagoshima, Max Klinger, Jutta Koether, Ottokar Landwehr, Louis Legrand, John Martin, Danny McDonald, George Minne, Carlo Mollino, Gustave Moreau, Paul P., Elizabeth Peyton, Émile Constant Puyo, Odilon Redon, Felicien Rops, Fumi Sasabuchi, Anita Steckel, Florine Stettheimer, Emily Sundblad, Betty Tompkins, Iris Van Dongen, Jean-Luc Verna, David Wojnarowicz, Katherina Wulff
History is a lens through which we see the present. But what history defines which present?
Algus Greenspon presents an exhibition of Romantic, Symbolist and Pre-Raphaelite painting, drawing, photography and sculpture set alongside work by contemporary artists. These 19th Century art and literary movements are the cauldron from which Modernity comes. Radical and reactionary, they dispose a consuming sensibility, rendering the prosaic sentient and marvelous.
Included among the 19th Century work is an early landscape (1875) by Odilon Redon (1840–1916)–a scene near his family’s farm in the Medoc village of Peyrelebade–completed just prior to his Noirs, the first group of fantastical works limited to shades of black; it was not until the late 1890s that Redon would return to color and landscape. Also shown are several visionary lithographs, including one from The Temptation of St. Anthony (1888) and another recounting a scene from The Apocalypse of St. John (1899).
Reminiscence (1889) by Emile Fabry (1862–1966) is a major work by this Belgian painter depicting three figures whose silent, unflinching mystery goes to the core of a Northern Symbolist sensibility. A follower of Maurice Maeterlinck and a member of Les XX and Rose+Croix, Fabry places his enigmatic figures in evocative aural environments expressing a beguiling anguish that anticipates Munch.
Edward Burne-Jones’ (1833–1898) drawing of a beautiful young man, eyes closed and head wreathed by laurel, is the essence of Pre-Raphaelite notions of male beauty; it’s timeless radiance an obvious precursor the youthful romantic beauty depicted by contemporary painters like Elizabeth Peyton.
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824–1898) is, with Gustave Moureau and Rodolphe Bresdin, a forebear of French Symbolism. His deeply empathetic classicism resonates throughout the art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As seen in his study of a seated female nude, Puvis was a particularly influential figure to artists as varied as Aristide Maillol, Gauguin and especially Picasso.
The lapidary extravagance of Gustave Moreau’s (1826–1898) paintings is unmatched in French art of the 19th Century. A favorite of the Surrealists, and later the Abstract Expressionists, Moreau is ripe for reconsideration. Here the beautiful Apollon Receiving Gifts from the Shepherd (1885) shows the radiant androgynous god in one of the artist’s abstract landscapes that appeared so prescient in New York in the 1950s.
The great print maker Rodolphe Bresdin (1822–1885) was the master who taught Odilon Redon. His visionary works were inspirational not only to the visual artists of his time but to the Symbolist poets, and later to Andre Breton and the Surrealists. The print shown here, La Comédie de la Mort (1854), is his best known work and one of only six or seven impressions from the first printing.
George Minne’s (1866–1941) sculptures are strikingly contemporary. Youth with a water sack (1897) exemplifies the anxious adolescent sexuality that was Minne’s specialty and a particular fascination of the Belgian Symbolists. In its taut, angular composition, Minne’s figure displays a mastery of sculptural modeling rarely seen in contemporary work.
Max Klinger’s (1857–1920) etching Tote Mutter (Dead Mother), 1898, from a series of prints contemplating death, shows an imploring infant seated atop his mother’s corpse. The print is a powerful example of Klinger’s dark, emotionally complicated, comedy.
The audacious sexuality of Felicien Rops’ (1833–1898) art is startling even today. Yet the Belgian Rops’ work was not intended to shock. Rather it was Epicurean, made for a small, knowledgeable and highly refined audience. Included here are the original drawings for a number of Rops’ best known editions.
Louis Legrand (1863–1951), a student of Felicien Rops, is a French artist best remembered for his satiric scenes of Parisian life. Here, Legrand’s drawing for the cover of Poems a L’Eau-Forte, a 1914 volume of poetry by Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud and Mallarmé attests to Symbolism’s enduring significance in the early years of the 20th Century.
John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) is the gospel of English Romanticism and Henry Fuseli (1741–1825) and John Martin (1789–1854) are, along with William Blake, its pillars. It is these Romantics that set the stage for the Pre-Raphaelites and Symbolists. Shown here is a large, complex drawing from the Circle of Henry Fuseli depicting The Fall of the Rebel Angels, and two mezzotints by John Martin also taking their subjects from Paradise Lost, one depicting The Creation of Light, and the other, a rare oversize print of Pandemonium, showing Satan marshalling his armies before the Capitol of Hell.
Louis Eilshemius (1864–1941), the insider’s outsider, adopted Symbolist tropes in his paintings during the early years of the 20th Century. Included here is a major work from 1917, Christ intervening with the dragon of war, that may have been one of the paintings seen by Marcel Duchamp in the Armory Show of that year leading to his mischievous conclusion that Eilshemius was the great American artist of his day.
The rise of Symbolism in the nineteenth century coincided with the development of photography, and many pioneers of the new medium were attracted to a sensibility that paralleled that movement. Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879), perhaps the first great female photographer was close to John Ruskin and moved within Pre-Raphaelite circles. Two French photographers, Emile Constant Puyo (1857–1933) and Robert Demachy (1859–1936), were embraced early on by Edward Steichen becoming important in that impresario’s definition of Pictorialist aesthetics in the 1890s. Included here is an extraordinary large bromoil transfer print, Apparition, by Puyo and two 1890s photogravures printed in early issues of Steichen’s Camera Notes; The image by Demachy is a remarkably abstract sepia portrait in the photographer’s highly manipulated painterly style, while that by F. Holland Day (1864–1933), Ebony and Ivory, showing a nude black man holding a small alabaster figure is a classic Pictorialist study in black, grey and white, but with a twist. Working in Boston and Maine Holland Day was unusual for the faintly disguised homoeroticism of his subject matter–he was an important patron of Aubrey Beardsley and a commanding influence in the development Robert Mapplethorpe’s art. Holland Day’s work is also rare; over two thousand prints were destroyed in a studio fire in 1904, while Stieglitz who came to view him as a threatening rival actively undermined his legacy. The photographer produced little photographic work in the last three decades of his life.