TEFAF Maastricht 2024

TEFAF Maastricht 2024

7 - 14 March 2024

Symbolism - New Horizons

Once again we find the uncontroversial evidence that it all started in books ! In 1851 John Ruskin laid the first brick for half a century of a new radical art movement with the publication of the The Stones of Venice in which he concluded that Medievalism was the style to be emulated. These words had a strong impact on then-young artists Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris and became their new credo for the following decades. In 1884 and 1886 two landmark publications had an equally strong impact on French symbolism : Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans (1884) and Jean Moréas’s Symbolist Manifesto (1886) established symbolism as the new intellectual ideal. These writings set the tone for the French and subsequently European decadent movement for the next thirty years. And in 1969, when all had been forgotten, Philippe Jullian became the first writer to describe, analyse and thoroughly re-introduce the notion of symbolism, decadence and ‘fin-de-siècle’ art in his milestone study Esthètes et magiciens : l'art fin-de-siècle, published in English in 1971 under the title Dreamers of Decadence. This book, followed in 1975-1976 by Symbolism in Europe, one of the most important exhibitions on the subject, established symbolism as a major turn-of-the-century art movement.

Over the past twelve months, we have sought to explore new horizons of this fabulous symbolist environnement, by presenting a collection of twenty new masterpieces of painting, sculpture and decorative arts, most of them previously unseen, with a strong focus on two notions, international cross cultural influences and femininities.

It is now widely accepted that art of this period cannot be fully appreciated through the scope of one country alone. Symbolism is no different. Although it undeniably originated in France in the 1860’s, the movement quickly spread across most of Europe and the United States throught the success of World Fairs (London, Paris, Vienna, Philadelphia, Turin), annual exhibitions (Arts and Crafts Society in London, Secession in Vienna, Salon des Beaux-Arts in Paris), but also private endeavours such as Siegfried Bing’s L’Art Nouveau or Julius Meier-Graefe’s La Maison Moderne, and utopian gatherings like the Salon Rose + Croix, L’Art dans Tout and the Groupe des XX in Belgium. Most of these groups promoted equality between major and minor arts as well as the association of all artistic, craft and industrial production. Above all, the development of international travel at the end of the XIXth century proved vital to these exchanges between artists and the evolution of their style. Christopher Dresser’s long journey to Japan in 1876 had a considerable impact on his career and more widely on the introduction of japonism in Europe. In a similar way, several major artists, such as Gustave Moreau, Edward Burne-Jones, Armand Point, Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, Sigrid Af Forselles and Violet Oakley all wrote about their eye-opening voyages to Italy and the inspiration they had found there.

Another key focus of this exhibition is the incredible paradox of an overwhelming feminin iconography in a movement which was so intellectually and socially conservative. Many symbolist artists had in common this passion, obsession and sometimes fear of women. They celebrated their beauty, strength and cruelty, while doing everything they could to exclude female artists from taking an active part in this new aesthetic ideal. The early pioneer Gustave Moreau was adamant that ‘any serious intrusion by women into art would be a disaster with no remedy’. A decade later, Joséphin Peladan, an art critique from Lyon who became a leading figure in the symbolist world and proclaimed himself Sâr after Ancient Babylonian kings, ex- cluded women from his Salon Rose + Croix, forcing them to exhibit under a male pseudonym. Symbolism was undeniably a male movement. Poets and writers who had influenced it, such as Schopenhauer

with a particular focus on international cross cultural influences and femininity, both in artists’ gender but also in the incredible paradox of such an overwhelming feminin iconography in a movement which was so intellectually and socially conservative and Baudelaire, theorized that women represented nature while artists represented the mind, and therefore according to this mindset, a female artist was inconceivable. On the other hand, the subject of women, which had always been dominant in art for centuries, was intensified and took a darker aspect in the final quarter of the XIXth century. In France this coincided with the humiliation and anguish that were felt after the loss of the Franco-Prussian war in 1871, as well as a rapidly growing fear of an overly industrial society which may hinder the human incarnation in art. The idea of ‘decadence’ quickly spread to the rest of Europe. Belgian painter Felicien Rops, a friend of Baudelaire, became interested in Satanic art, and he often sought to portray the idea of a double-threat of Satan and Woman. Others like Gustave Moreau, Rupert Carabin, Jean Dampt, Franz von Stuck, Fernand Khnopff or Boleslas Biegas intensified their portrayal of women through dark and dangerous creatures such as Salomé, Mélusine, Eve, Medusa, Mermaids or even Death itself.

Nevertheless, women were also often portrayed as pure and in a positive light, thanks to artists like Edward Burne-Jones, Maurice Denis, Henry Cros, Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer and Aléxandre Séon who prefered figures of chastity, immortality, dream and motherhood (Virgin Mary, Beatrix, Ophélie...). Several of them based their approach to symbolism partly on their love for the Middle Ages or the Italian Renaissance, which rendered their portrayal of women more innocent, protective and noble. Some modern scholars hoped that this period of art history, which attempted to escape reality and modernity by inventing a new, albeit dark, fantasy world, would also have improved the condition and exposure of female artists.

Unfortunately, despite a surge of incredibly talented women from all across Europe, they were not supported by the establishment and were sometimes silenced by exhibitions and journals. However they eventually benefitted from stronger local art institutions (Glasgow School of Art, Finnish Art Society, Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, Art Students League of New York), more organized guilds and feminist networks, and the support of a few influential male artists and patrons (Auguste Rodin, William Morris, Taxile Doat and Francis Newbery). This is why an important focus of our exhibition at TEFAF this year will be on the careers of a few remarkable female artists : Sigrid af Forselles, Norah O’Kelly and Mary Jane Newill, and will shed new light on their different backgrounds, education and rise to fame, with a little help from us.