Otto Greiner, The Dance, 1896, lithograph in red chine appliqué on wove paper. Purchased 1994. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Photo © NGC

The Symbolist Muse: A Selection of Prints from the National Gallery of Canada

January 20 to March 18, 2012
Opening Reception: Friday, January 27 at 8 p.m.

During the 1880s, some artists in Europe began exploring an inner vision. Their personal, philosophical work marked a staunch opposition to that of the Realist and Impressionist artists of the time, who focused on recording the exterior world. “Mystery,” “suggestion” and “dream” are terms that evoke the strange beauty of Symbolist art. The exhibition includes intriguing works by such renowned and influential artists as Paul Gauguin, Odilon Redon, Edvard Munch, Eugène Carrière and Jan Toorop. The Symbolist Muse consists of some 50 masterpieces from the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

Symbolist artists were inspired by literature, poetry, and music, including the works of American writer Edgar Allen Poe, French poet Charles Baudelaire, and French composer Claude Debussy. References to other art forms and dreamlike imagery — rather than a distinct style — typify Symbolist art.In France, Paul Gauguin encouraged a group of painters known as the Nabis (from the Hebrew for “prophets”) to draw upon the imagination and express their emotional responses to subject matter through colour and form, a style he called “synthetism.” The Norwegian artist Edvard Munch spent time in Paris between 1889 and 1892 developing his distinctive style of “psychic Naturalism,” in which he portrayed allegories of the human condition. In his 1891 essay, “Malerei und Zeichnung” (Painting and Drawing), the German artist Max Klinger advocated an art of the mind to convey individuality. The prints of the Austrian, Karl Moll, and the Czech artist, Max Kurzweil, reflect the decorative Symbolist aesthetic promoted by the Vienna Secession, a group of modernists who split from the more conservative Viennese Artists’ Association (Genossenschaft bildender Künstler Wiens) in 1897.