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

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

Towards Abstraction

Some of the most important innovations in European painting between the 1870s and the First World War were stimulated by the subject of landscape, in particular the growing momentum towards non-representational works. Landscape offered scope for improvisation and self expression, while absorption in nature was identified with poetry, purification and enhanced states of emotion.

While some landscape painters allied themselves with the material progress of modern society, others used landscape to evoke parallels with less materialistic forms of expression such as music and spiritualism, expressed through specific choices of colour and motifs.

Whistler, for example, created harmonious, poetic works which went beyond mere description. He gave his paintings musical titles such as ‘symphony’ and ‘Nocturne’, evoking the music of Chopin. Following Whistler’s example, Charles Angrand referred to his work, The Seine at Dawn (Mist) as a ‘grey symphony’ and Paul Signac exhibited a group of five works as a ‘symphonic’ sequence.

By the early twentieth century, experimental artists such as Kandinsky, Trachsel and the Lithuanian composer Čiurlionis, inspired by spiritual concepts such as Theosophy, achieved almost transcendental effects through the imaginative treatment of form and colour.



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