The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2019

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MAY 2019 Issue

The Symbolist Vision

E. Schlüter, Vanitas. Skull with Candle and Watch, 1851. Oil on canvas, 16 1/2 x 21 inches. Courtesy Shepherd Gallery, New York.

New York
Shepherd W & K Galleries
March 5 – April 20, 2019

“Symbolists are visionaries who reveal alternate realities and seek out the inner mystique otherwise obscured by the mundane,” says the opening statement for the catalog The Symbolist Vision, edited by Stephanie Hackett.

Simeon Solomon, Angel, c. 1888. Graphite on off-white wove paper, 16 1/2 x 10 1/4 inches. Courtesy Shepherd Gallery, New York.

Yes, indeed, and there is nothing at all mundane in this exhibition of strangely-oriented faces and staring eyes. I was mesmerized by two totally new-to-me pieces: one by Schlüter, of the Austrian school, with a whopping skull, a candle, a watch, two books (whose titles are, of course, indecipherable), and a few other tools/signs weighted with symbolic mood. (De la Tour’s Madeleines with their Vigil Lamps is not far away, but surely it is more mysterious.) The other is by Lévy-Dhurmer, where the title Essais de Montaigne is placed in front of a shelf of more indecipherable titles, with the volumes slightly askant, and features the profile of an intense blue-cravatted man staring at something beyond the book.

We know that face. I kept thinking, ah yes, Mahler a bit, but someone else—rabid and musing on something or other. His crinkly hair as he leans slightly forward. And then, Clairin’s waterscape with narrative hints of Sick Women Being Removed from Venice in a gondola, whose ferryman is just a golden trace above the lagoon.

Christ and Magdalene by Fidus (Hugo Höppener of the German School) has a young savior treading on a cloud, pointing vaguely up at the cross, while a Simeon Solomon-like angel is just about the most gorgeously delicate creature imaginable, with wings trailing voluptuously and one knee bent, as if kneeling into some soft surface.

What a show—with staring eyes and ghostly apparitions and a bit of erotic delectation. 


Mary Ann Caws

is the Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature, English, and French at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. Her many areas of interest in twentieth-century avant-garde literature and art include Surrealism, poets René Char and André Breton, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group, and artists Robert Motherwell, Joseph Cornell, and Pablo Picasso. Conceptually, one of her primary themes has been the relationship between image and text.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2019

All Issues