Beyond the Stars - The Mystical Landscape from Monet to Kandinsky - A Special Exhibition at the Musee D'Orsay - Paris, May 2017
Wenzel Hablik "Starry Night" 1909
Au-dela des Etoiles - Le Paysage Mystique de Monet a Kandinsky
"Seeking an order beyond physical appearances, going beyond physical realities to come closer to the mysteries of existence, experimenting with the suppression of the self in an indissoluble union with the cosmos… It was the mystical experience above all else that inspired the Symbolist artists of the late 19th century who, reacting against the cult of science and naturalism, chose to evoke emotion and mystery. The landscape, therefore, seemed to these artists to offer the best setting for their quest, the perfect place for contemplation and the expression of inner feelings.
Thus the exhibition, organised in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, explores the genre of landscape principally through the works of Paul Gauguin, Maurice Denis, Ferdinand Hodler and Vincent Van Gogh, but also presents North American painters such as Giorgia O'Keeffe and Emily Carr, who are less well known in France. Contemplation, the ordeal of the night or of war, the fusion of the individual with the cosmos, and the experience of the transcendental forces of nature, are stages in a mystical journey the exhibition invites you to take."
Landscape received scant mention in Symbolist circles although the Impressionists had embraced it as a subject and invented a new style of painting focusing on the tangible world.
However, some artists chose to address their spiritual inquiries by depicting landscapes.
Against the backdrop of the rise of Positivism, which prioritised scientific experimentation, and in a world experiencing significant change, artists were pervaded by a form of idealism and began to question their own origins, religious culture and the relationship between man and nature. Nature became the locus for soul-searching, culminating in mystical experiences.
Mysticism was widespread in the late 19th century and this phenomenon is a feature of all religions and beliefs, offering a means of accessing the mysteries of existence through oneness with nature. This exhibition aims to analyse how mysticism influenced landscape painting at the dawn of the 20th century, paving the way for the birth of abstraction.
The sections of the exhibition reveal works by artists from diverse cultures who are exploring the transcendence and immanence of nature. The first section, which is underpinned by Monet’s aesthetic experiments, introduces visitors to the work of art as an aid to contemplation.
However, many artists use the motif of the landscape as a starting point to express their aspiration to mystical experience, including the Nabis, who found the theme of the sacred wood conducive to meditation. The second section explores the notion of the divine in nature in greater depth through works belonging to the Synthesist, Symbolist and Divisionist movements. Their iconography draws on Christian and Pantheist tropes.
In the third section, vivid and original paintings by Canadian artists from the period 1910-1930 tell the story of the North in pictures influenced by the natural world of Scandinavia. Landscape also reflects actual or internalised night in the fourth section, which is luminous in the case of Van Gogh, or melancholic and tragic when evil makes its presence felt.
By contrast, the mystical painter Dulac paves the way for the universal. The final section addresses the forces which transcend man and draw him to the realm of the stars: the cosmos and its interstellar light. This visit aims to reflect what Kandinsky describes as “those seeking for the internal in the external”.