Normal view MARC view ISBD view

1900 : art at the crossroads / Robert Rosenblum, MaryAnne Stevens, Ann Dumas.

By: Rosenblum, Robert.
Contributor(s): Stevens, Maryanne, 1948- | Dumas, Ann | Royal Academy of Arts (Great Britain) | Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookPublisher: New York : Harry N. Abrams, 2000Description: 445 pages : illustrations (some color), ; 32 cm.Content type: text Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 0810943034 (hbk).Other title: Art at the crossroads | Nineteen hundred, art at the crossroads.Subject(s): Art, Modern -- 19th century -- Themes, motives -- Exhibitions | Art, Modern -- 20th century -- Exhibitions | Art, Modern -- 20th century -- Themes, motivesDDC classification:
Tags from this library: No tags from this library for this title. Log in to add tags.
Item type Current location Collection Call number Copy number Status Date due
Non-Fiction Davis (Central) Library
Non-Fiction 709.034 ROS 1 Available
Unavailable: Gallery & Museum only Sarjeant Gallery Library

Contact the Sarjeant Gallery for more information regarding this title.

Gordon Brown Collection
Gordon Brown Collection Coming Soon

Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

Provides an eye-opening look at artists in this watershed year.

Published on the occasion of an exhibition held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, England, Jan. 16-Apr. 3, 2000 and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, May 18-Sept. 13, 2000.

Includes bibliographical references (p. 440) and index.


Excerpt provided by Syndetics

Chapter One Art in 1900: Twilight or Dawn? ROBERT ROSENBLUM Although reason tells us that there are no connections between the momentous events of history and the turning-points of our calendar, round numbers continue to exert their magic. Inevitably, the zeros of the millennial year, 2000, invite long gazes backwards and forwards. Following one set of numbers, we might well be transported back exactly one hundred years, to the dawn of a new century and the death of an old one. Which artists working in 1900 remain in the canon? One instant answer is a list of giants who defined new signposts of modern art. But another answer demands a different kind of time-travel, an archaeological expedition to the largely buried past of art at the turn of the century, to those countless artists from all over the Western world, from Australia to Russia, who flourished at the same time and usually in the same milieus as the artists we have elevated to our pantheon. How could we give these forgotten figures another chance, a century later, to stake a fresh claim on posterity? How might they look in the shadow of those hallowed in traditional histories of modern art? Are there ways of seeing oil-and-water contemporaries like Bouguereau and Cézanne that might bridge the gulf between them? When we have fresh evidence, should we perhaps reconsider the prevailing patterns of modern art, c. 1900?     Of the many ways to do this, the best, prompted by calendar numbers, seemed to be to focus on the art shown at the biggest international event of the year 1900, the Exposition Universelle, that opened, still incomplete, in Paris on 14 April. From there, expanding the range to include works executed between 1897 and 1903, we would move beyond the fair, exploring a variety of pictorial themes in the hope of finding unexpected company for world-famous artists who had always seemed members of an exclusive club. What might happen, for instance, if nudes by Renoir and Degas were seen next to such official, but contemporary, artists as Carolus-Duran or Chabas? How close or distant might Munch's reinterpretation of the elemental polarity of male and female be to a far more conventional depiction of Adam and Eve by a conservative artist like Hans Thoma? How compatible would the now-beloved Parisian interiors of Bonnard and Vuillard be, if seen with other interiors from countries as far afield as Portugal and Austria? How different would a city scene painted in Tokyo or Melbourne be next to more familiar views of Paris or London?     The chronological core of this book and exhibition, then, is the year 1900, a focus that, in traditional histories of modern art, usually falls between the cracks, belonging neither to the mature flourishing of the Post-Impressionist giants in the 1880s nor to the early twentieth-century sequence of rebellious `isms': Fauvism, Expressionism, and beyond. Another `ism', Symbolism, is often called into play to define this in-between period, but it is clear that by 1900, it had lost considerable steam and that contrary viewpoints -- the dashing, but belated Impressionism, say, of Sorolla, Sargent and Serov, or the unexpected emotional charge of a belated realism as practised by Morbelli, Cottet or Backer -- were powerful enough to demand a reconsideration of what should be kept in or thrown out this time round. If the anthology offered contains good, bad and great art, if the masters we revere take on new dimensions by rubbing shoulders with an unruly crowd of artists who lived on only the foothills of their Olympus, if this confusing diversity makes us want to shuffle the deck of history once more, then we will have achieved our goals.     The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900 was hardly the first of these giant, globe-encompassing spectacles. Other cities had seen world's fairs before 1900, and Paris had had a long and regular sequence of them, offering the public what must have been an exhausting panoply of international artists as well as displays of what seemed to be everything in the world, from French metallurgy to Indonesian gamelan concerts. But the 1900 fair marked the birth of a new progressive era, and had a particularly optimistic ring, felt both inside and outside the fairgrounds that stretched to both sides of the Seine. For this colossal event, many lasting changes were made in the City of Light. The city's first underground line, the Métropolitain (soon shortened to Métro), with its now famously snaky Art Nouveau entrances (fig. 35) designed by Hector Guimard (which Salvador Dalí was later to rediscover as a harbinger of Surrealism, along with the even snakier interior of Maxime's restaurant [fig. 7], built in 1899) united the East-West axis from the Porte Maillot to the Porte de Vincennes. A new railway station, the Gare d'Orsay (since 1986 the Music d'Orsay), was built to accommodate the trains powered by electric engines that helped to bring what turned out to be a record attendance (50,607,307 visitors in seven months!) to the core of the fair. A sumptuous new bridge, the Pont Alexandre III (fig. 8), named after the late, ultra-reactionary tsar, fused the two sides of the Seine on an axis leading to what is now the Avenue Winston Churchill, but was originally named the Avenue Nicolas II, after the young tsar who helped to cement Franco-Russian relations by laying the foundation stone for the new bridge honouring his father. Facing each other across this thoroughfare were two new palaces of art, the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, which, unlike the other fair pavilions, were built to be permanent.     Within these two buildings most of what were thought to be the higher forms of art (painting, sculpture, designs for architecture) could be seen. Even more so than in earlier fairs, the entries spanned the planet, a United Nations of artists who represented every country from Peru and the United States to Portugal and Russia, not to mention the scattered French colonies, from the Congo and Martinique to Tunisia and Indo-China, as well as, for the first time, the Yoga (that is, Westernised) painters of Japan. For the host country, nationalism and retrospection were honoured with a survey of French art divided into two distinct sections, a kind of BC and AD of the nation's history. The first, in the Petit Palais, moved from the Middle Ages to the age of Watteau; the second, in the Grand Palais, embraced nine post-Revolutionary decades, from 1800 to 1889, of French painting and sculpture. In what was called the `Centennale', there were not only such venerated upholders of the academic tradition as David and Ingres and, from later generations, Cabanel and Barrias, but also once-young Turks who, by 1900, had become old masters: Courbet, Daumier, Manet, Monet, Degas, Rodin, even Cézanne and Gauguin. Here, already, was a major collision between permanence and change, summed up in the legendary account of how the arch-conservative, Jean-Léon Gérôme, represented by an `allegory of innocence in the guise of an idealised male and female nude who shyly eye each other's classically ideal bodies (fig. 9), tried to stop Emile Loubet, the newly elected president of the French Republic, from entering the Impressionist galleries, proclaiming that `the shame of French painting is in there'. Contrariwise, the avant-garde critic André Mellerio, famous for his support of new Symbolist tendencies in French painting from Gauguin to Redon, attacked the juries for discriminating against Impressionism.     Architecturally, too, the Grand Palais summed up many of the contradictions of the works exhibited inside, for its `contemporary baroque' exterior, by Charles-Louis Girault with its profusion of bursting, sky-bound sculpture by Georges Récipon, masked huge glass-covered spaces flexible enough to be used as an automobile salon or a hippodrome as well as a showcase for art. It is no surprise that Frantz Jourdain, an architect who embraced the anti-historical language of sinuous, ductile shapes that, under the rubric Art Nouveau, was proselytised at the fair in Siegfried Bing's pavilion of new decorative arts, bewailed the hypocrisy of so many of the confectionery fair buildings that hid rather than revealed the century's innovations in engineering and design.     Such clashes of old and new were the rule in the Grand Palais. The 1890s marked the beginnings of many international art exhibitions, at times dedicated to more rebellious art, such as the Secession groups founded in Munich (1892), Vienna (1897) and Berlin (1898); and at times, to a wider sweep that could embrace older and younger generations, such as the Venice Biennale (1895) and Pittsburgh's Carnegie International (1896). But these events were temporarily eclipsed by the sheer size and global breadth of Paris's exhibition for the new century. Tens of thousands of works of art from all five continents gave rise to many towers of Babel, in which different national accents strove to be heard, young rebels jostled with moribund establishment figures, and a bewildering diversity of styles and subjects kept shifting the viewer's allegiances and attention.     Looking through the endless directory of artists who exhibited there, we may well believe, in Simon Schama's memorable phrase, that `history is a mess'. Gérôme would surely have found some occasional comfort in the torch-bearers of the academic tradition, especially in the French and British sections, whose juries were conspicuously conservative: a Bouguereau or a Bonnat, a Leighton or a Waterhouse. But what would he have made of Rouault and Picasso, of Klimt and Whistler, of Khnopff and Hodler? And outside the fair, there were far more concerted assaults on his values. In a pavilion constructed at the Place de l'Alma, convenient to the fairgrounds, Rodin, represented by only two works in the official French sculpture section, shrewdly organised a major retrospective of 150 works, whose opening on 1 June was attended by everyone from Oscar Wilde to the Minister of Education. And Rodin's almost exact contemporary, the sixty-year-old Monet, who was represented at the fair only by early works in the Centennale, followed his friend's suit. On 22 November, ten days after the fair closed, he opened an exhibition at Durand-Ruel of twenty-six paintings that included his latest canvases in series, such as the nuanced variations on the theme of the Japanese bridge in his Giverny water-gardens, now transformed into sensuous mirages approaching the threshold of an imaginary world, like the mysterious gardens so often conjured up in the music of Debussy, Delius or Falla.     It is telling that the journalist Gustave Geffroy, who could write superbly about anything from politics to Impressionism, had already written a catalogue preface for an earlier Monet series, the Grain Stacks , when these were exhibited, also at Durand-Ruel, in 1891. He compared their colours to gems, fire and blood and saw evocations of mystery and fate, describing a gorgeous, phantasmic immersion that he would re-experience when confronted in 1900 with one of the fair's major themes, the miracle of electricity. At the fair, this magical, disembodied force produced awe and veneration every evening when, at the flick of a finger, 5,700 incandescent bulbs would light up the Palais de l'Electricité (fig. 10), usurper of the technological throne occupied by the Galerie des Machines and the Eiffel Tower at the 1889 fair. In the 1880s, there had been international exhibitions displaying the new world of electricity, whose luminous rays began to replace gaslight in urban centres, and at the 1889 fair, the establishment sculptor, Louis-Ernest Barrias, attempted to capture this new force in an old-fashioned allegory successful enough to be re-exhibited at the 1900 fair (fig. 11). Planet Earth, circled by signs of the zodiac and buoyed up by clouds, is surrounded by a pair of voluptuous nudes, one airborne, one standing, as lightning zigzags past these lofty muses. But the bolt might just as well have been thrown by Zeus, leaving the small electric generator on the ground as the only token of modernity. Such a shift from a clanking, gravity-bound mechanical world to what was symbolised on top of the twinkling Palais de l'Electricité in a figure named La Fée électricité (a scientific fairy Dufy would reinvent in his immense mural for the 1937 Paris world's fair) defined a new drift towards experiences that were invisible and impalpable. Referring to this nightly spectacle as reflected in the Seine, Geffroy saw `an avalanche of diamonds, a sparkling of jewels', and noted how this enchanted new source of energy sent `flashes and glimmers of light that ripple in waves to the most distant, concealed comers of darkness'. This kind of sensuous engulfment, close to the aesthetic that Monet and many Symbolist artists would explore in the 1890s, was complemented by the proliferation of practical uses that the `fairy of electricity' could serve, from the electric chair (first used in 1890) to the telephone, telegraph, phonograph and all the new street lamps and domestic light bulbs that would alter forever public and private life in both city and country. Camille Claudel recorded this fact modestly but audaciously in her intimate sculptural vignette, shown at the fair, of an interior with a woman dreaming by, of all things, a real electric light. And already in 1892, Albert Robida, who wrote and illustrated science fiction in the shadow of Jules Verne, envisioned, in his popular book La Vie électrique , what the world would be like in 1955, when the news, he predicted, would be broadcast by television, when telephone conversations would be seen as well as heard, and when -- hardest of all to believe! -- transportation from one far place to another would be provided in the air. For the last of Robida's prophecies to be fulfilled, readers had only to wait until 1900 for the first Zeppelin flight and 1903 for the miracle at Kitty Hawk.     Comparable wonders were abundant at the fair, enticing visitors to come to Paris for the first time. One of these was the twenty-nine-year-old Futurist-to-be Giacomo Balla. Arriving in Paris from Rome on 2 September, he immediately began his love affair with the modern city. The thrill was evident in his little painting of a night-time view from the Eiffel Tower of the esplanade running down the Champ-de-Mars to the Palais de l'Electricité, a vista that obscures everything but the incandescent tracery of this distant pavilion and the two carousels that flank the view. In the foreground, black silhouettes of urban crowds surge toward these mechanised pleasures (cat. 142). The counterpart of Monet's search for a way to capture the pulsating, organic life of nature, Balla's vision embraces the dynamic forces of artificial light and modern entertainment. It is no surprise that within the next decade Balla would paint the electric bulb of a Roman street light eclipsing the moon or that he would later name his three daughters Luce (light), Elettricità (electricity) and Elica (propeller), muses born with the new century. Balla was undoubtedly thrilled, too, by the fair's display of chronophotography by Etienne-Jules Marey (fig. 12), who had developed a technique of recording the continuous, sequential movement of men and birds on a single plate, photographs, at once scientific and fantastic, that would trigger new explorations of weightless, translucent matter, as if Roentgen's X-rays, also displayed at the fair, had been set in motion. Could Cubism and Futurism be far behind?     Other marvels there helped to launch many more new visions. One could see, for example, some of Georges Méliès's reel-long movies, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood or Bluebeard , with their fairy-tale metamorphoses mixing technology and enchantment in a brand-new medium that would soon become synonymous with the next century's popular entertainment. And one could see, too, in her own Art Nouveau pavilion, the sensational dancer from Illinois, Loïe Fuller, and her `chromo-kinetic' choreography, a fairy-tale vision of veils billowing amidst coloured electric lights, strobes and a transparent stage that created bodiless, iridescent effects reminiscent of the airborne spectres of Symbolist art. Then there was the `Grande Roue', the gigantic Ferris wheel that had been introduced to the world at Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition. Together with the eleven-year-old Eiffel Tower, it altered drastically the skyline of Paris, the two soon becoming for artists like Chagall and Delaunay a paired symbol of modernity on the horizon (fig. 13). Public transportation within the fair itself opened twentieth-century vistas as well, with an electric train touring the grounds in twenty minutes and, running in the opposite direction, a trottoir roulant (moving pavement) over two miles long that permitted visitors to glide past a pageant of pavilions facing the Seine, a parade of nations proclaiming their unique identities with indigenous architectural styles and displays of their best natural scenery and man-made products.     Such would-be harmony between countries that were often warring enemies was a tradition launched at the first world's fair, the 1851 Great Exhibition housed in the Crystal Palace in London's Hyde Park. And, aware as we have become of the late twentieth-century revival of nationalist identity everywhere from Catalonia and French Canada to Belgium and Serbia, we may more readily discern how, against a backdrop of international unity, so much of the art at the 1900 fair intensified these awakenings of local differences. This, indeed, is one of the many subliminal themes that, in retrospect, help to put in some kind of order the daunting diversity of works displayed in the Grand Palais. It can be found, for example, in many Eastern European entries, some of which are virtually manifestoes of cultural identity. Among the 283 paintings from Russia, a typical assertion of a national accent can be found in Andrei Ryabushkin's vignette of indigenous time-travel, A Merchant and His Family in the Seventeenth Century (fig. 14). In this reconstruction of a pre-Europeanised Russia, we are transported to a domestic interior of almost Asian character, with simple rectangular patterns of wooden walls and framed blinds. Seated and standing on a straw-strewn floor, a family group in exotically luxurious clothing poses for us with a startlingly archaic frontality inspired by the stiff poses and masklike faces of Russian icons and dolls (one of which the blonde daughter holds). Amidst many Russian entries that might have been painted in any country, Ryabushkin's canvas waved a flag of national history that, in works by other Russians, could even go back in subject to the Scythians or in style to Byzantium. Ironically, the so-called Russians gathered for the fair included many rebellious Finns who, only eleven years before, at the 1889 Paris fair, had exhibited independently. But with the aggressive Russianising of Finland that reached a bitter peak on 15 February 1899, when Nicolas II, the last of the tsars, placed Finland under Russian legislative rule, Finnish nationalism surged to new heights that are still remembered in Jean Sibelius's orchestral manifesto Finlandia , composed at exactly this painful time. This nationalist conflict was made even more acute by the separate Finnish pavilion at the fair, designed by Eliel Saarinen (fig. 41) and decorated by such artists as Akseli Gallén-Kallela, who was obliged, however, to exhibit his easel paintings in the fair's Russian section (cat. 28). In these, he proclaimed the distinctive character of his oppressed country, submitting Lemminkäinen's Mother (fig. 15), a subject taken from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala , whose Wagnerian hero also inspired Sibelius. Gallén-Kallela's painting reawakened the power of this lengthy archaic epic by translating, as it were, a Christian Pietà into a mythic Finnish language that would reincarnate the mysteries of the Kalevala' s fairy-tale legends. In much the same way, although with less political relevance, the late Sir Edward Burne-Jones was represented with a scene from a British legend, Lancelot at the Chapel of the Holy Grail (cat. 29), which, bathed in a magical somnolence hospitable even to an angel, transports us to the world of King Arthur. Typically for the stylistic collisions of the period, Burne-Jones's gloomy vision seems to shift back and forth from scrupulous, material details (the armour or the masonry) to a dreamlike ambience in which solid flesh might melt. Similarly, Gallén-Kallela's use of tempera (a medium that would reinforce the flat spaces and precise contours of a remote, folkloric art) produces a strange mix of reality and symbol, with figures that still smack of the anatomical knowledge gleaned in an art academy next to more arbitrary patterns of black waters, gilded sunbeams and a decorative carpet of pebbles and rocks tilted at a steep angle. Many other artists at the fair juggled these antagonistic modes of three-dimensional realist description and two-dimensional abstract fantasy, as if the nascent twentieth-century goals of an art that transcended the earthbound limitations of the visible world were still tethered to the materialist foundations of a nineteenth-century art education.     A seething cauldron of similar contradictions married to nationalist ambitions can be found in a large canvas, Melancholia (fig. 16), by the Polish artist Jacek Malczewski. Malczewski had already shown this amazing painting in international exhibitions in Munich and Berlin before submitting it to the Paris fair, where it received a silver medal, a commonplace reward for so uncommon an achievement. The same ironic destiny of imperial oppression that befell Gallén-Kallela marked this work, too, for Malczewski meant his painting to be, among other things, a manifesto of rebellion against the nations (Prussia, Russia and Austria) that had ruled Poland since 1795, yet it was, in fact, exhibited in the Austrian section. (Other Polish artists at the fair were, like the Finns, exhibited under the aegis of Russia.) A maelstrom of airborne figures seems to have burst from the unfinished canvas at the upper left facing the slumping, melancholic artist who unleashes an allegory of Poland's cruel fate. Incorporating references to three failed nineteenth-century insurrections, Malczewski spews forth a more universal allegory of the cycle of life, from infancy to the threshold of death, symbolised exclusively by male figures. At the lower right, the artist is represented a second time, recording, paintbrush in hand, this torrent of humanity and history. But the volcanic outburst seems doomed: a black-robed female figure sits at the window, evoking not only death, but a grieving symbol of Polonia, the mother country. Characteristic of the changes of subject at the end of the century, this is a private invention of an artist who, like many of his more famous contemporaries, would try to come to grips with the invisible forces, whether biological, spiritual or, in the case of Malczewski's canvas, political, that shape human destiny. And here, too, Malczewski battles with the recurrent fin-de-siècle problem of translating what is essentially a realist vocabulary inherited from the nineteenth century into a language that would depict the febrile images that obsessed him. How, indeed, could the turbulent world of the unconscious, which, in 1899, Freud was to make so famous in his Interpretation of Dreams as the irrational bedrock of human behaviour, be represented within the confines of a realist style? Looked at individually, Malczewski's figures, with their firm volumes and descriptive details of historical costume and weapons, might pass muster in a provincial art academy, and his perspective illusions are similarly based on traditional training. But these components are stretched to breakingpoint, with palpable figures now defying gravity in their collective tornado of passion and gloom and with the ledge of the window rushing from near to far at a vertiginous speed and tilt that create, with still-rational tools, a space for dreams and nightmares.     In the welling search for ways to depict an invisible world of both supernatural mystery and elemental emotions, the late nineteenth century witnessed a virtual revival of religious painting, as if Nietzsche's famous proclamation in 1882 that `God is dead' demanded fresh responses. Religion could be mixed with the patriotic fervour that marked so much art at the fair; and, in the name of Christianity, the traditional conflicts between France and Germany could be rekindled. As for France, one of its most rhetorical submissions was the huge and popular painting by Jean-Joseph Weerts, whose very title, Pour l'Humanité! Pour la Patrie , married church and state (fig. 17). A crucifixion, rendered in the hyper-realist style familiar to many academic painters of the period, has also become a symbol of patriotic devotion; for the martyrdom at the foot of the cross is culled not from the usual ranks of Christian iconography but from the French military who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. And with memories of Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People , a tricolor palette pervades Weerts's familiar clash between earthbound fact and airborne allegory. On the other side of the Rhine, the Munich painter Ludwig Herterich submitted to the German section his nationalist homage to Ulrich von Hutten, the short-lived sixteenth-century humanist who, for the Romantic generation of Caspar David Friedrich, had come to symbolise the German roots of religious reform as well as knightly patriotism and learning (cat. 237). Standing in front of another life-size crucifixion, taken from the world of his great contemporary, the sculptor Veit Stoss, Ulrich von Hutten, in gleaming armour, reawakens myths of the noble German knight, a myth that flourished in German art and would even be used later to create allegorical portraits of a net-medieval Hitler.     These strange mutations of traditional religious painting took on many forms in the late nineteenth century, a spectrum that included, outside the precincts of the fair, such haunting inventions as Munch's hellish vision of Golgotha as almost a modern lynching amidst a brutal sea of humanity that includes both demonic assailants and agonised mourners (cat. 236); Henry Ossawa Tanner's The Annunciation , with its mixture of the supernatural radiance of Gabriel's message and the ethnographic facts that the artist gleaned from a trip to the Holy Land (cat. 246); and Gauguin's daring fusions of Christian and Polynesian religious iconography, works that seem to belong more to the new science of anthropology, with its studies of comparative religions, than to any concepts of Western religious art in which Christianity remains unique and unchallenged.     At the fair, too, these re-creations of Christian themes appeared in amazing diversity. There were the monochrome vapours of Carrière's Crucifixion (cat. 235) that would take us to the threshold of an impalpable world of a kind also dreamed of by Rouault, who, in his Christ Among the Doctors (fig. 18), tried to fuse the luxurious Near Eastern interiors of his teacher Gustave Moreau with the golden-brown chiaroscuro of Rembrandt. There was the growingly familiar theme of Christ in the present tense, suddenly appearing to the rural or even the urban populations of Europe: Jean Béraud's staging of the Crucifixion on the heights of Montmartre in contemporary Paris; Fritz von Uhde's Holy Night , a Nativity as it might take place in a German peasant's barnyard (cat. 284); and Léon Lhermitte's Supper at Emmaus , relocated to a French farmhouse (cat. 24). These manifestations of a persistent faith in Christianity, resurrected even after the assaults of Darwin and Marx, could also be found at the fair in completely secular depictions of the Church's benevolence. Of these, the most original is surely Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida's Sad Inheritance (cat. 122), originally titled The Children of Pleasure . At first, we seem transported to a cheerful, sun-shot Mediterranean beach near Valencia, described with the bravura mix of Impressionism and Velázquez that, around 1900, was to become a symbol embracing both modernity and tradition. But beneath this smiling façade, a sad story unfolds. A Spanish priest is seen supervising a group of naked, handicapped boys bathing, the victims, presumably, of their parents' venereal sins. With its ambiguous mixture of contemporary social problems and a more abiding faith in Christian charity, the painting's covert theme, the scourge of syphilis, which, like AIDS, associated sex with death, was also to be recognised more bluntly in much literature and art of the period, from Ibsen's Ghosts and Munch's Inheritance (cat. 123) to Picasso's lethal whores. In this context, the femme fatale , that mythical temptress who could be reincarnated in many guises in the late nineteenth century -- Salome, Delilah, a vampire, a mermaid -- had her deadly roots in medical reality.     An awareness of modern social problems, in fact, abounded at the fair in both painting and, less frequently, sculpture. As for the latter, the vast vaulted spaces of the Grand Palais might have seemed the last bastion of traditional historical themes, where one could still find tons of marble and bronze Psyches, naiads, Dianas, Joans of Arc or Judiths, generally rendered with mechanical skills. Occasionally, however, as in Bourdelle's re-creation of Aphrodite through the use of translucent porcelain (cat. 60), the sculptor's originality in technique, if not in theme, was conspicuous enough to convince even so conservative a jury to award him a prize. The rumblings of contemporary reality could be heard even in this universe of remote mythology and history. Perhaps the most inventive of these intrusions was a marble by Eugène Robert titled The Awakening of the Abandoned Child (cat. 121), which had already been a success at the Paris Salon of 1894 before being re-exhibited in the sculpture galleries at the 1900 fair. There, visitors wandering through the 640 sculptures and medallions in the French section would suddenly find at their very feet this sweet, Christ-like infant, awakening in front of the fragment of a church portal to an undoubtedly miserable future. It was a heartbreaking reminder that outside the fair, Parisian pedestrians would often come upon an unwanted baby deposited for adoption in a church doorway by a desperate mother who might otherwise have violated Christian morality by abortion or infanticide. (Appropriately, Robert's infant ended up in Paris's Museum of Public Welfare.) And in two dimensions, one could find countless depictions of the miseries of both rural and urban labour, whether focused on communal workers or lonely individuals.     In France, Jules Adler, a pupil of Bouguereau (whose idea of poverty was an unshod, but immaculately clean and rounded peasant girl descended from one of Raphael's holy children), took on the plight of the urban poor in The Weary (cat. 126), a typical example of the work of artists who, with homage to Victor Hugo, were occasionally dubbed `Misérabilistes'. Here, the well-heeled visitors to the fair were forced to confront a dismal slice of Parisian life, the opposite side of the familiar Impressionist coin of cheerful, leisurely pedestrians still depicted by Pissarro (cat. 129). Against the regular, urban beat of leafless tress along a boulevard wet with rain, a downtrodden population of three generations of tattered, unsmiling workers is spewed forth at the beginning of their long day. With its abrupt cropping and asymmetries, Adler's painting may recall many of Degas's innovations, but it also suggests the frightening potential of strikes and mob rule, subjects Adler also treated in the heyday of international anarchism.     Such images, which document not only the unrelieved hardship of city workers but also that of their rural counterparts in countries as far apart as Portugal and Russia, must have left their mark on the young Picasso. Just before his nineteenth birthday, he visited the fair and saw not only his own painting of a deathbed scene, Last Moments , which had been selected by the Spanish jury for the fair (a canvas he later painted over with his enigmatic allegory La Vie [1903]), but also these pictorial reminders of the lowest depths of contemporary society. He would soon transform this subject into a more universal language of the saintlike suffering of anonymous beggars, prostitutes, workers and destitute families painted in melancholic blues and greys, a monochromaticism common to much Symbolist art of the period. And in far more literal, earthbound terms, the plight of the modern worker could even be discovered in a domestic interior, as in Albert Rutherston's The Song of the Shirt (cat. 159), its title inspired by Thomas Hood's popular poem (1843). Here the doomed life of a seamstress has been pictorially modernised in 1902 to reflect the anti-Victorian aesthetic traditions of Whistler. Exclusively feminine labour had even reached the opera house: the sweatshop scene of Gustave Charpentier's opera Louise , with its chorus of seamstresses, shocked Parisian audiences at the 1900 première. Such public exposures of the daily miseries of most of the population coincided, not surprisingly, with the global rise of the Socialist movement, which held an international meeting in Paris in 1900. That spirit of Utopian rebellion was thrillingly pinpointed in Pellizza's The Fourth Estate (cat. 216), planned for the fair, but not completed until 1901. With its orderly, forward march, this vast army of workers feels like an operatic chorus that might be singing `Workers of the world unite!'.     Pessimism about modern humanity was summed up in Thomas Hardy's poem, `The Darkling Thrush', written on 31 December 1900 (by literal calendar count, the last day of the nineteenth century, rather than 31 December 1899). The poem was dedicated to what Hardy called the `century's corpse', and recounts his surprise at hearing the ecstatic warbling of a gaunt old thrush, a foolishly irrational voice of hope in an epoch when so many were struggling for their daily bread. Such retrospection can be observed in the extraordinarily melancholy portrait of Queen Victoria by Benjamin Constant (fig. 19) which, exhibited in the French section of the fair, paid homage to the eighty-one-year-old ruler of the British Empire, enthroned in lonely silence as if contemplating the era that would come to an end the year after the fair, 1901, with her death.     This aura of gloom could be balanced by a spirit of regeneration that at times reached cosmic dimensions. Such was the case in The Stream , a triptych by Léon Fréderic (cat. I), a Belgian painter who had often chronicled the grim lives of contemporary workers in the fields and in the mines. Here, however, a new world is born. Partly inspired, so the artist claimed, by the primal, unpolluted nature evoked in Beethoven's `Pastoral' Symphony, this modern altarpiece becomes a nativity appropriate to a century that had embraced Darwin's evolutionary theories as well as Henri Bergson's concept of élan vital , a mysterious organic energy that, like Freud's concept of the unconscious, underlies and finally dominates the artificial complexities of our repressed, civilised lives. In Fréderic's enchanted forest, the watery womb of a running stream provides the procreative force for a gargantuan abundance of infant flesh, a response perhaps to the problems of underpopulation in late nineteenth-century Belgium (the counter-fruits of the rise of planned parenthood), but also one that embraces an awesome vision of nature's powers of fertility and rebirth. With his cornucopia of naked, plump and ruddy infant bodies, Fréderic conjures up his national pictorial heritage, resurrecting for a new age Rubens's and Jordaens's robust ideals of physical well-being; and with his penchant for megalomaniac bombast and universal meaning, he parallels the many post-Wagnerian ambitions of turn-of-the-century composers. Typically titanic goals and achievements could be found in Mahler's Third Symphony (1893-1902), with its cosmic reaches from primal nature to Christian divinity; Scriabin's First Symphony (1899), whose six movements include a final chorus extolling art, set to the composer's own words; Schoenberg's Gurrelieder (1900-01), whose colossal orchestration demanded a specially printed enlargement of a musical score; and Delius's A Mass of Life (1904-05), constructed as a vast symphonic and choral triptych (with texts by Nietzsche) that would fuse the progression of morning, noon and night with the human life cycle of childhood, maturity and old age.     For Fréderic and his contemporaries, polyptychs in general and triptychs in particular were especially suitable for such universal visions, reviving traditional structures of religious faith that could translate even the most earthbound themes into permanent truths. It may have been predictable enough, for example, that Fritz yon Uhde's Holy Night (cat. 284) was presented as a tripartite altarpiece, but this sacred message could also be secularised. Count Leopold yon Kalckreuth, Uhde's Munich contemporary, transformed the three-part cycle of an anonymous Bavarian peasant-woman's life -- virgin innocence, decades of back-breaking labour, and, finally, her confrontation with imminent death -- into an abiding statement (cat. 283) that encompasses not only the doomed lives of modern farmworkers, but also the more familiar, universal motif of the three stages of life which obsessed Munch in the 1890s in his post-Darwinian meditations on biological survival as enacted by women.     The search for fundamental truths about human experience recreated as modern heraldic structures helped to revive compositions of static, timeless symmetry. The Swiss painter Hodler actually developed a theory of parallelism that would strip landscape and its inhabitants to frozen emblems. It was an ambition first fully defined in Night (fig. 20), the earliest (1890) of the three paintings he showed at the fair and one whose evocation of the universal mysteries of sleep and death was complemented there by the even more rigorously symmetrical Day , completed in 1900. At a time when human sexuality was being daringly explored, whether scientifically, as in Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) and Freud's early studies of the sexual origins of hysteria, or in literary form, as in such then-shocking dramas as Frank Wedekind's The Awakening of Spring (1891), it was expected that artists, too, would approach the theme of sexual desire. Often, this biological necessity would be reduced to a simple male-female polarity that would offer modern translations of Adam and Eve. Hodler's Spring (cat. 78) re-creates this archetype in an Alpine meadow, blossoming with yellow flowers. With a throbbing, angular body language, foreshadowing the primal motions and emotions of modern dance, this pubescent couple look magnetised, drawn to one another in postures of sexual awakening in the girl and partial but useless resistance in the boy. These basic truths were also unveiled by Munch, both in terms of a nude pair, symmetrically disposed on either side of a tree, or in the contemporary translation of a rural husband and wife, in a similar setting, who embody the timeless mysteries of fertility (cat. 81). Less convincingly, other artists at the turn of the century attempted the re-creation of the Garden of Eden itself, as in Thoma's Adam and Eve (cat. 82), in which the mother and father of us all and the ultimate source of sexual temptation look like studio models posed symmetrically on either side of the Tree of Knowledge. Characteristically for a period obsessed with the cycles of life, Thoma, with iconographic originality, included the symbol of death, a skeleton uncomfortably close to those found in art-school anatomy classes, here ominously surrounding the wiry, muscular couple with a shroud.     This elemental theme, of course, was subject to countless variations. There was Henri Rousseau's eccentrically childlike Happy Quartet (cat. 83), a fairy-tale excursion to an Arcadian forest, where a new version of Adam and Eve, inspired by Gérôme's academic allegory of Innocence (shown at the Centennale, fig. 9) live in a peaceable kingdom with a Cupid-like infant and a baying hound; or, at the opposite extreme Bonnard's Man and Woman (fig. 21), a monumental vignette that presents almost a keyhole view of a contemporary Parisian couple, naked in their bedroom and divided symmetrically by a folded screen. In the Swede Richard Bergh's Nordic Summer Evening (cat. 80), the Adam and Eve motif is recast in contemporary clothing, with a modern couple poised in perfect symmetry at a balcony overlooking a beckoning, mysterious landscape. They might be characters from a play by Ibsen, suggesting both private reveries and a complex psychological dialogue as yet to unfold. More frequently, though, this motif reached such elemental depths that it was conveyed in timeless, allegorical form as a passionately embracing pair of nudes, familiar to Munch's stripping of human behaviour down to its biological roots (the ids, one might say, of Bergh's superegos) and most famously incarnated in Rodin's over-life-sized Kiss (cat. 30), whose overt sexuality was so shocking when it arrived in Chicago for the 1893 fair that it had to be sequestered in a separate room. In Paris, it was a huge success at the Salon of 1898 and then again at the 1900 fair, when it was exhibited with only one other work by the master, a bust. It is worth recalling that one of the most innovative works of twentieth-century sculpture, Brancusi's The Kiss (fig. 22), stems from this milieu of primal myth and sexual truth.     The fusion of the sexes, which reaches ethereal, Wagnerian union in the Belgian Jean Delville's The Love of the Souls , shown at the fair (cat. 76), and their opposition (in the case of Strindberg's dramas, one can even speak of the war between the sexes) were obsessive topics at the end of the century. They were subject to such perverse variations as the Viennese Otto Weininger's pseudo-scientific and internationally influential Sex and Character (1903), which, in an evolutionary fantasy theorised that, unlike men, who soared to intellectual and spiritual heights, women were animal, procreative creatures.     These extremes were opposed by the counter-myth of women as reincarnations of the Virgin herself, holy, chaste, maternal, and even supernatural. A contemporary translation of such persistent pictorial venerations of the Madonna and Child was offered by Bouguereau at the fair in Regina Angelorum (cat. 239), the kind of painting that would bolster wavering faith, still clung to in pious rural populations, where women, more than men, followed Christian ritual. At the fair, this devotion was shown in such folkloric images of steadfast Lutheran worship as the Swede Carl Wilhelmsen's scene of fishermen's wives returning from church (cat. 242). The iconic authority of Bouguereau's work, including a celestial radiance of almost electric luminosity, made it virtually a manifesto, against the painter's youthful enemies, of an abiding faith in Christianity as well as in its noblest pictorial ancestry, the lucid symmetries and supernaturally ideal figures of Raphael. But it is worth noting that this icon of purity and motherhood was countered by another work by Bouguereau at the fair, Admiration (cat. 26), that told a different story. Again culled from a faith in Raphaelesque beauty, this quintet of symmetrically disposed maidens, as harmoniously graceful as in a classical ballet, surrounds a puckish Cupid in a no-less-artificial woods, their sexual curiosity aroused. In a way, Bouguereau is depicting the same universal theme of pubescent sexuality being explored by Hodler and Munch, but the quantum leap between their imaginations is so staggering that we can sense a violent rupture between a nineteenth-century past and a twentieth-century present and future.     The message of the holiness of motherhood in Bouguereau's hierarchic Madonna (cat. 239), reigning from a cloud-filled heaven and protected by an oval of cloud-borne angels, was one of the dominant themes of the turn of the century. It was a sacred Christian image frequently brought to earth in secular guise, with many subtle mutations. Often set by such Swiss artists as Segantini (cat. 8) and Amiet in the most pristine, Alpine landscapes, they tend to be centralised in a recurrent structure that would turn fact into symbol. Typical is The Communicant , by the American Gari Melchers (cat. 250), in which we are confronted by a contemporary girl, immersed in a virginal, lily-white ambience, at the moment of her religious initiation into the sacred precincts of womanhood. Again and again, women and mothers are set upon holy thrones. But there were, of course, more earthbound variations on this theme, including Picasso's many depictions of nomadic, poverty-stricken modern mothers and children wandering through the melancholy blues of generalised cityscapes, as if the Madonna and Child had become pariahs. Women artists were usually drawn to the more prosaic realities of maternity. Mary Cassatt, although childless herself, managed to capture the most intensely candid and intimate glimpses of the physical, almost erotic, pleasures of mothers adoring and cuddling their infants (cat. 254). Cecilia Beaux, another American, exhibited at the fair two memorable society portraits of mothers and teenage children, one with a daughter, the other with a son (cat. 101). Like the novels of Henry James and Edith Wharton, these portraits explore the subtlest psychological give-and-take between parents and children posing in a wealthy world of mannered appearances. And in keeping with the universality of the mother-and-child theme, there were countless other variations, often reaching down to primal emotions, such as Munch's shocking Inheritance (cat. 123), with its blasphemous inversion of the Madonna and Child as a modern mother of the 1890s who holds a syphilitic infant in her lap, or Paula Modersohn-Becker's forceful close-up of a simple peasant (cat. 253), breast-feeding a child who stares at us with a ferocious, animal energy. Here is the primitive side of Cassatt's glimpses of wealthy American and French mothers communing with their children during their many hours of elegant leisure.     The sinister complement to these both heavenly and terrestrial images of maternity was the more familiar category of the femme fatale . She haunted many male imaginations, embodying a Pandora's box of sexual demons who violated woman's role as wife and mother and incarnated the inevitably destructive temptation to transgress the social order of fidelity and family. Beginning with Gustave Moreau's depictions of the biblical archetype depraved by lust, embellished by Joris-Karol Huysmans in his novel A Rebours , Salome loomed ever larger as the century drew to a close. Her legend inspired Wilde to write (in French) his hothouse drama of sexual desire and the decapitation of a chaste holy man, St John the Baptist (1893), and Richard Strauss, in turn, to transform it into a sensational one-act opera of uninterrupted passion and horror (1905). Of the many femmes fatales , Salome was probably the evil temptress most frequently chosen by artists, the vile counterpart to the biblical heroine Judith, who saved the Jewish people from an enemy, Holofernes, whom she decapitated in an intrigue of seduction and drunkenness. It is telling that Gustav Klimt, the Viennese master of the femme fatale , painted exotically clad, head-bearing women whose identities -- Salome or Judith? -- could easily be, and in fact have been, confused. Treating all his mythical women as voluptuous and dangerous creatures, Klimt could unmask even the noble Judith as a menace to male virility. (Continues...) Copyright © 2000 Royal Academy of Arts, London. All rights reserved.

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Library Journal Review

An exhibition organized by The Royal Academy of Arts, London, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1900: Art at the Crossroads examines the diverse range of artworks produced during this period. While artists such as C‚zanne, Degas, Rodin, and Klimt were well known by the turn of the century, lesser-known artists were making art that equally reflected the stylistic and social concerns of this epoch. In his essay, the Guggenheim's Rosenblum explores various related themes that are woven within the paintings and sculpture. These include subjects such as fantasy vs. reality, the representation of women, and the new psychological probity. The Royal Academy's Stevens shows how the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris and the issue of nationalism as well as the genesis of international styles in the art of this period foreshadowed developments and the rest of the 20th century. The catalog portion of this book is illustrated with color plates of all the works in the exhibition and divided by theme, such as the city, landscape, portraits, bathers and nudes, and religion. This handsome volume is recommended for general art collections as well as academic and art libraries.--Sandra Rothenberg, Framingham State Coll., MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Typical of its genre, the Paris Exposition of 1900 was the gigantic smorgasbord of the technological, scientific, and cultural specimens that the public had come to expect of such enterprises. The present publication catalogs an exhibition recalling the artistic milieu of the day, updated to include some notable omissions from the offerings at the fair. In his essay, Rosenblum (New York Univ.) reflects on the unsettling tensions and contradictions of the era, which even a century later remain unresolved. Stevens (Royal Academy of Arts, London) reconstructs the setting of the fair and recalls its special attractions. Dumas catalogs the contents of the current exhibition in a series of shorter reviews, comparing and contrasting the approaches of contemporaneous artists to such traditional subjects as landscape, portraiture, social scenes, and religious imagery. Biographies and other helpful documentary material follow. All this is copiously illustrated with images of superior quality. Some of the juxtapositions are rather surprising and stimulating. But Rosenblum's question as to whether the viewer of 1900 was confronted with an intelligible vision of either "Twilight or Dawn" perhaps remains moot. Naive assumptions about "progress" in the arts are, once again, tested. All levels. ; emeritus, Amherst College

Booklist Review

Held in 1900, the Paris Exposition Universelle was an immense gathering of artwork from Western Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, the U.S., and places as far away as Japan and Australia. For Rosenblum, professor of fine arts at New York University, and his coauthors, curator Maryanne Stevens and art historian Ann Dumas, the show serves as a wellspring for a fresh analysis of the clash between the old and the new that shaped the art of that transitional era. They define a number of pictorial themes to bring order to a dazzling array of powerful, all-but-forgotten paintings and sculptures, some 300 in number; they then discuss the ways in which political upheaval, industrialization, and a new awareness of the nature of the unconscious, thanks to Freud, inspired such dramatic images and styles. These innovative interpretations and the brief but insightful artist biographies that follow are enlightening, and the reproductions, many published for the first time, are glorious. This unique and eye-opening volume greatly expands commonly held assumptions about the art of the turn of the nineteenth century, delineates the symbiotic relationship between artists and society, and reveals how art transcends ethnicity and nationalism to express universal feelings and concerns. --Donna Seaman