There have been few movements in the history of Western art as strange as that of the Decadents of the last quarter of the 19th Century. While public attention was preoccupied with the Impressionists, many painters were reacting in a totally different...and more imaginative way...to the grim horrors of the new industrial society around them. The roots of the Decadents, as these artists came to call themselves, were to be found in the poetic visions of the English Pre-Raphaelites of the 1850s. Their first great Continental exponent was a brilliant and neglected painter of the fantastic, Gustave Moreau; their most obvious expression was 'Art Nouveau,' a style closely interwoven with sinuous and half-unconscious eroticism.
Philippe Julian takes the reader on a conducted tour through the bizarre symbolism of this half-forgotten world, introducing him to a large number of writers and artists. Many of these artists...Moreau; Toorop, the brilliant half-Balinese, half-Dutch painter and draftsman; the French Odilon Redon, the great master of Symbolist art; the Viennese Klimt; and the Belgian Khnopff...have been known for some time to a few enthusiasts; In this lively study their inventiveness and skill are explored afresh, and their fantastic imaginings and weird symbolism exposed to a sometimes ironic light.
Proud of their romantic appearance, extravagant habits, and outrageous conduct, the artists of the 'mauve nineties' drew on a wide range of writers for their ideas, including not only Poe, Baudelaire, Swinburne, and Wilde, but also less well-known and stranger poets. The book ends with a short anthology of Symbolist themes taken from these writers, and 149 pictures drawn from museums and collection in the Europe and the U.S.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Dreamers of the Decadence covers art from Pre-Rapaelite to the begginings of Art Nouveau. It isn't that broad a topic, but that seems to be the time span. Basically Jullian was trying to define a trend in art at the time - The Decadence. One of the trends that he saw in art that he was dealing with was the interest in magic and arcane subjects. So subject matter was important to his definition of Decadence.
I do recommend looking up this book and skimming it, just to find new art to admire. I found several paintings that I hadn't seen before and went on to find more about the artists and more by them. However, the reproductions in the book are mostly there to give you the gist of what Jullian was saying in the text. Many of them are small black and white reproductions that take up half of an already not too big page. The color reproductions are adquate, but not the best quality. (Please don't take this as negative. This book was published in the 1970's when...
As a reference work, I think this book compares well with the Oxford or Cambridge guides to literature. There are other larger books about the Pre-Raphaelites with probably more colour plates; you can find those with little trouble on your local supermarket shelves. But while many of those are excellent, Philippe Jullian's book, with its numerous two-tone illustrations (many of them pencil sketches anyway), its 'Short Anthology of Symbolist Themes' (from Poe on Angels to Tolstoy on The Enemies of the Dream), poetry, music, photography, sculpture, and anecdotes about the famous and not-so-famous, is for me the more fascinating. The colour plates are there, too (W Holman Hunt's The Lady of Shalott and De Feure's Les Fleurs du Mal to mention only two). And they're not split annoyingly across two pages. It's a book that's more often on my bedside table, within easy reach, than the coffee table. It rarely stays long on a shelf. My only regret about writing this little piece is that...
This book is an amazing study of Symbolism in both art and literature. Through the writer's incredible skill in coupling poetry and prose with visual art from the period, the reader is given access to one of the richest treasure troves in Western civilisation. When I first discovered it, it became one of my favourite books instantly. Years later, I still am affected emotionally, intellectually and spiritually by its magnificence.
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