Past

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

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

Arcadia

In a period of industrial development and materialism, Symbolism provided an antidote by rejecting the real world in favour of an alternative land of dreams and visions.

As enormous changes, and accompanying anxieties, swept through Europe in the nineteenth century, artists used the imagery of Arcadia, the mythic land of peace and plenty, as an escape. Some drew on the landscape of the Mediterranean, evoking a timeless concord between man and nature. Others, such as Paul Gauguin, sought an earthly paradise in far-flung locations such as Martinique, Tahiti and the Marquesas islands.

However, the idea of Arcadia was also used to express the uncertainty that came with great social and technological changes. By using imagery from the classical past, artists drew on the idea of the fragility of culture and the passing of civilisations. The landscapes and myths of antiquity could be subverted to show the menace and unpredictability of modernity. Paintings such as Emile-René Ménard’s Ancient Land, showing a ruined Greek temple below a gathering storm, suggest melancholy and nostalgia for the transitory nature of even the greatest civilisations.

Next: Moods of Nature

 

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