Van Gogh to Kandinsky | Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910

  • 14th July − 14th October 2012 | Scottish National Gallery | £10 (£7)

Rhythms of Nature

In the nineteenth century, scientific discoveries and theories about the universe both shocked and fascinated people. Old systems of belief, placing man at the centre of the cosmos, were shattered. For intellectuals and an eager public, making sense of this new knowledge was a pressing and engaging problem. For artists, the question was how to find the imagery to match it.

George Frederic Watts took his role as an artist to a high calling, stating: ‘I paint ideas, not things’. For him, landscape provided elements which he could transform to project profound meaning via natural grandeur, as in his large, imposing painting After the Deluge: The Forty-First Day. This simple image – a vast sun hanging over an expanse of calm, unbroken water – is far from a mere sunset; it evokes the cosmic energy of a star.

The sun was a consistently important motif in Symbolist landscape painting and artists of very different kinds responded in a variety of ways. Some used the sun to depict the vastness of nature, others to symbolise the unity of organic matter while some, such as Vincent van Gogh, highlighted the minor role of human endeavour within the eternal transformations of the seasonal cycle.

Next: Towards Abstraction

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