Thursday, March 17, 2016

Talks on "Dreams, Magic and Desire" at The Met: Part 2

Sir Edward Burne-Jones: 
The Beguiling of Merlin (1872-77)
Lady Lever Art Gallery

This morning, I attended "The British Invasion," the second of Alison Hokanson's excellent presentations on Dreams, Magic and Desire at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her talk, this time, focused on Britain's Pre-Raphaelites--exemplified by painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir Edward Burne-Jones--and their direct influence on the later Symbolist movement. (See my post from last week's talk about Belgium Symbolist Fernand Khnopff.)

Again, Hokanson led us through the factors that gave rise to Symbolism in many European nations--primarily the intensely nationalistic urge to break from the dominance of France-centric academic art, realism and Impressionism, and the desire to explore inner worlds and mystical realms. Symbolism, she said, was not a specific technique but "a range of principles," "a state of mind" valuing individual expression.

As the Symbolists took inspiration from the earnest, elaborately symbol-laden work of the Pre-Raphaelites, that movement looked even further back to paintings of the medieval and early Renaissance eras, citing their "immediacy, purity, authenticity" all that was "full of life and heartfelt." Burne-Jones belonged to the second wave of Pre-Raphaelites, artists devoted to an even more idealized depiction of nature, humanity, myth and mind.

Beauty of form grew in value for these artists, but beauty as "a way to guide the spirit" in a world lately upended by industrialization, commercialization, scientific discovery and political upheaval. The movement also embraced the decorative arts in furnishings, book illustration and objects of everyday use.

"The British Invasion"

Taking as a starting point the Met’s masterpiece The Love Song by Edward Burne-Jones, this talk highlights the appeal that the work of the Pre-Raphaelites in England had for the Symbolist generation in Northern and Central Europe. From Brussels to Munich and Vienna, artists drew on British models to develop modern styles that differed radically from the French trends that dominated the art world. Their work, as one critic put it, “rendered the profundity of life and a melancholy attitude of beauty.”

Sir Edward Burne-Jones:
The Love Song (1868-77)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hokanson's talk centered on The Love Song--the romantic, atmospheric Burne-Jones masterpiece in the Met's collection--tracing its influences back to Botticelli, Giorgione and Titian. A gifted communicator, she made her feelings for this work most clear by adding a recorded chanson to our visual experience of this painting's overtly depicted and subliminal music. It was a sublime moment.

File:Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones Flamma Vestalis.jpg
Sir Edward Burne-Jones:
Flamma Vestalis (1896)

Hokanson ended her discussion by noting the trauma of World War I and its sweeping effect on the arts in Europe. The Symbolist movement fell away, supplanted by emerging forms for a brutally altered world.


For information on future art talks at the Met, click here. To learn about all other special programming at the Met, click here.


Special note for dance fans:

David Dorfman Dance will take part in tomorrow's lineup celebrating the official opening of The Met Breuer with performances all day long, free with museum admission or membership. Click here for information.

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