The Decadents

There is much to be said about the contribution of the Decadents to art in general.  Instead I’m going to document what I have found trully inspiring about this small group of artists whose work was often scorned as horrifying and as mere “decoration”.

The Chimera

“These chimeras were lsitend to by poets and painters and some thought that they could tame them, in that fin de siècle which seemed to them to be dominated by the machine”.

Philippe Jullian in his book “Dreamers of Decadence” describes these chimeras as subjects of the Decadents, referring to them as legendary, exotic and mystical among other things. In a world that was being overcome by reason, these artists felt the need to escape it by dreaming of different and stranger times.

The curious creatures and beings portrayed in the following pieces, set in an often alien and dream-like landscape is what I find most inspiring. These artists have managed to capture the essence of other-worldliness, the metaphysical and the apocrypha, all of which relate perfectly to what I’m trying to create. Additionaly, iconic religious figures here don’t follow a specific doctrine: when it comes to their portrayal, it is entirely the artist’s interpretation.

Frantisek Kupka: Resistance-The Black Idol (1903)

The contrasts and scale here help create a trully dramatic effect. The lines guide the viewer to this statue/creature which leaves only speculation as to its proportions. While perspective is used, we have nothing to compare it against and therefore it helps create this other-worldliness mentioned above.

Jan Toorop: Fatalism (around 1890)

The lines in this piece have a sort of narrative to them, leading the viewer through the drawing. The figures are both hideous and beautiful and presented in with strong and simple lines, resulting in them looking strange and alien. It is not exactly clear what is going on but we are given the impression that we are privy to some secret forbidden ritual.

Jan Toorop: The Sphinx (1897)

This drawing has the same qualities that the previous one does, but it also takes them to extremes. The geometry used here is non-Euclidean which contributes to the presentation of the metaphysical. The use of color is also interesting. The dull colors bring out something ethereal to the figures. The brightest object, the Sphinx, is also the title of the drawing, a strong example of the use of Chimeras by the Decadents.

Frantisek Kupka: The Conqueror Worm (1900)

Frantisek Kupka: The Beginning of Life (around 1900)

Victor Prouvé: L’ Automne

Paul Gaugin: Figure de Spectre

Max Klinger: Dead Mother (1898)

Jean Delville: Portrait of Madame Stuart Merrill (1892)

Jean Delville: Orpheus (1893)

Jean Delville: Trésor de Satan



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2 Responses to The Decadents

  1. mitchell says:

    Thanks for this blog! I bought “Dreamers of Decadence” as a 19 year old college student in 1971, and have loved it ever since.
    BTW, the late Philippe Jullian spelt his surname with two “l”‘s.

  2. xx3nilxx says:

    You’re welcome, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for pointing that out, it’s been corrected.

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