Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910
Extraordinary exploration of Symbolism and landscape painting
This article is from 2012.
There is something timely and relevant about a major exhibition of paintings created during a time of economic change and uncertainty in society, and against a backdrop of modern living that engendered feelings of fear, alienation and disillusionment with materialism.
With Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910, the National Galleries of Scotland have brought together more than 70 diverse works from across Europe; an extraordinary exploration of the development of painting during this period from representation towards abstraction and surrealism via the broad movement of Symbolism – artists of every discipline including poets, writer and composers who aimed to imagine and suggest rather than purely describe, focusing on content to convey a feeling or mood rather than represent a visual reality.
The range of work and the variety of landscape in the exhibition, which is divided into six themed rooms, is almost as broad as the Symbolist movement itself, and the emotive effect of landscape and nature is clearly illustrated. Themes range from a room of contrived utopian visions of an earthly Arcadia to an intriguing room of desolate and melancholy ‘silent’ cities, devoid of human life. These latter works highlight the loneliness, solitude and anonymity of modern living: the bleak monochrome of Fernand Khnopff’s ‘The Lac d’Amour, Bruges’ – a quiet and nostalgic image – is based not only on the artist’s own memories, but also fantasy, and inspired by literature concerned with grief and withdrawal. Also explored in depth and curated with sensitivity are themes and motifs including dreams, the subconscious, the physical world and death.
The final, colourful sixth room explores the connection of painting to music and the psychology of colour, as well as the search for spirituality. Works by Mondrian and Charles Filiger alongside Kandinsky’s ‘Cossacks’ and ‘Murnau with Church II’ illustrate a further removal from pure representation – providing not only a satisfying conclusion to an exploration of Symbolist landscape, but also a fine introduction to what followed, and the development of abstract art.
National Galleries of Scotland, 624 6200, until 14 Oct, £10 (£7).