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

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

Silent Cities

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, cities such as London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels enjoyed rapid economic and industrial growth. It was a period of wealth for much of Europe, but industrialisation led to a significant increase in the urban population. To many Symbolist artists the modern city was overcrowded, dirty, disease-ridden and potentially threatening; it signified joylessness, claustrophobia and anonymity.

Some artists responded by transforming the city into a hazy, dreamlike landscape, rendering the familiar mysterious and enigmatic. The combination of a reduced palette, unorthodox compositional devices and a lack of human presence created a series of eerie and dislocated spaces.

The earliest use of these transformative, atmospheric effects can be found in Whistler’s Nocturnes. As London was overcrowded with people and the city itself noisy and dirty, Whistler preferred to paint from memory and in silence. He also encouraged other artists to capture the moment, ‘When the evening mist clothes the riverside with poetry, as with a veil, and the poor buildings lose themselves in the dim sky...and the whole city hangs in the heavens, and the fairyland is before us.’

Next: Rhythms of Nature



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