Art market Magazine May 2013

 
THE MAGAZINE 
 
EXHIBITIONS 
 
The Angel of the Odd…
THE MAGAZINE

EXHIBITIONS

The Angel of the Odd
he term "Dark Romanticism" designates an aesthetic that began developing in literature and the fine arts during the 1760s
and 1770s. In contrast to the Enlightenment, it advocated a different sort of freedom from the kind promoted by the French Revolution: that of giving free rein to the occult worlds

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© Musée d’Orsay, distr. RMN/Patrice Schmidt

within man. Long before the myths of the visionary poet and the accursed artist that flourished in the 19th century, a creative rebellion deployed a cohort of shadowy angels lauding the dark, the grotesque and the cruel. The exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay entitled "The Angel of the Odd", presented last year at Frankfurt's Städel Museum, splendidly demonstrates the extraordinary exaltation produced through feeling, capturing and transcribing the depths of a soul subjected to overwhelming supernatural forces. Both thematic and chronological, the circuit covers this motif and its variations from Spain to Russia by way of France, Britain, Belgium and the Germanic countries. Two hundred paintings, prints and sculptures from the end of the 17th to the beginning of the 20th century illustrate the shadowy realms buried deep within man, which Dark Romanticism strove to bring to light. Excerpts from interwar films adapted from key works in literature, such as "Nosferatu", "Faust" and "Frankenstein", show that cinema also drank deep at this fountain. For Annie Le Brun, a writer and co-author of the catalogue, the starting point is Horace Walpole's Gothic novel "Le Château d’Otrante” (The Castle of Otranto), which was published in 1764, and was written after a strange dream: "The extraordinary thing is that this dwelling is gradually recognised as theirs by those who for the last decade or so have been vaguely aware that the

Adolphe William Bouguereau (1825-1905), "Dante et Virgile aux Enfers", 1850, oil on canvas, 281 x 225 cm. Paris, Musée d’Orsay, acceptance in lieu, 2010.

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EXHIBITIONS

THE MAGAZINE

light of the Enlightenment is threatened by the darkness they carry within them." These literary references establish a link between the inspiration
of Füssli and Blake, drawn from Milton and Shakespeare, and that of Delacroix and Bouguereau, taken from Dante. Secret evil forces predominate, like those of the empire of witches, Satan and Hell. Confronting suffering and pleasure in a provocative, unbridled imaginary world, another theme runs through the whole exhibition: that of the woman. Prey or temptress, virtuous or demonic, she is the subject of every fantasy, from Goya's "Vol des Sorcières" (Flight of the Witches) to Hans Bellmer's "La Poupée" (The doll). A fatal beauty in Gustave Moreau's "L’Apparition", a hideous Medusa for Böcklin and a Sphinx for Franz von Stuck, the female figure is a bottomless well that draws man like a magnet, but may cause his downfall. She may even be Death itself, as with Carlos Schwabe. As to views of architecture, these pass from stability to ruin, as in the lurid "Veille de l’Apocalypse" (Edge of Doom) by Samuel Colman, or become places of silence and solitude, as with Khnopff. With Hugo and Spilliaert, shadow and light seek each other in enigmatic landscapes, while those of Friedrich create a feeling of vertigo and the infinite. Barriers break down between the real and the fantastical, the logical and the absurd. This mystery and the creative spirit it inspires appealed to the Symbolists, who, in the 1870s, rejected positivism and conventions to explore what lay behind appearances. They revisited Dark Romanticism by broadening their sources of inspiration to classical and Norse mythologies, and to the Old Testament. Odilon Redon, Jean Delville and Félicien Rops thus joined the ranks of the artists of terror. The "disturbing strangeness" theorised by Freud can be felt in the characters of James Ensor, the scenes of Edvard Munch and the unsettling painting by Pierre Bonnard, "L’Indolente", where shadows, creases and folds form figures that observe the dozing beauty. The power of the imagination so dear to Walpole can be found again in the importance given to dreams by psychoanalysis. After the calamity of the First World War, Surrealism gave a large share of the creative process over to the dream, and to chance, and the movement wrote a fertile new chapter in Dark Roman-

Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741-1825), "La Folie de Kate (Mad Kate)", 1806-1807, oil on canvas, 91.8 x 71.5 cm. Frankfurt-am-Main, Frankfurter Goethe-Haus – Freies Deutsches Hochstift.

HD

© Ursula Edelmann – ARTOTHEK

ticism. In their own way, Magritte, Dalí, Paul Klee and André Masson all interpreted the precept of Breton, who wished to see the union of "dreams and reality in a kind of absolute reality: surreality […]".

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"The Angel of the Odd. Dark Romanticism from Goya to Max Ernst", Musée d’Orsay, 1 Rue de la Légion-d’honneur, Paris 75006, www.musee-orsay.fr - Until 9 June. www.musee-orsay.fr

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