Symbolist prints

12 April – 18 July 2019

Free

Room 90a

 

Recommend this exhibition

Albert Besnard (1849–1934), Morphinomanes. Etching, 1887.

Symbolism began as a literary movement in France in the 1880s. It rejected naturalism, preferring to depict the world through suggested ideas, or ‘symbols’. In 1886 the manifesto of the movement appeared in the newspaper Le Figaro, written by the poet Jean Moréas. In it he singled out fellow poets Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé for their subjective use of the idea over straightforward, realistic description.

From the 1850s onwards, artists such as Rodolphe Bresdin and Gustave Moreau used symbolism in their prints and paintings of mysterious, dream-like subjects. They had great influence on artists drawn to the Symbolist movement, who began to seek subjects from their imagination and emotional life

The Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, whose prints can be seen in our latest special exhibition Edvard Munch: love and angst was also drawn to Symbolism and would have been familiar with many of the artists on show in the display such as Paul Gauguin, Maurice Denis, Max Klinger and Odilon Redon.

Like Munch, these artists made prints as part of their artistic practice and contributed to the plethora of illustrated journals and magazines that began to appear in the latter part of the 19th century, enabling their work to reach a wider audience.

From the languid morphine addicts depicted by Albert Besnard to the disturbing smiling spider in the lithograph by Odilon Redon, all of the prints on display come from the British Museum’s rich collection of graphic work.