Redefining European Symbolism


Lucien Levy-Dhurmer 
 Portrait de Georges Rodenbach [Portrait of Georges Rodenbach]
 Circa 1895
 Pastel on paper
 H. 36; W. 55 cm
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay, gift of Mrs Rodenbach, the model's widow, 1899
Lucien Levy-DhurmerPortrait of Georges Rodenbach© DR - RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
In many respects, Symbolism is the poor relation of Modern art movements. Caught between the Naturalism and Impressionism of the late 19th century and the aesthetic upheavals of Expressionism and Cubism in the early 20th century, Symbolism might seem to lack a well-defined identity. Was it a genuinely coherent movement or a series of cultural trends brought together for practical reasons? Whatever the case, Symbolism –with its fascination for emotion and suggestion – was a pan-European phenomenon that appeared in the visual arts as well as in literature, theatre and music. It may be that it was precisely this national, geographical and formal diversity that made Symbolism into a complex grouping that was considerably more interesting than it appeared at first glance.
When contemporary researchers started to reconsider Symbolism in the 1970s, their approach, which resuscitated a dying academic movement, now seems conservative. More recently, researchers have begun to look at Symbolism from different angles. What do we understand by Symbolism? Why and how did Symbolism come to an end? As indicated by the title, this symposium aims to revisit our received ideas about Symbolism, while taking advantage of the exhibitions at the Musée d'Orsay and Musée de l'Orangerie (Akseli-Gallen-Kallela, A Passion for Finland et Debussy, Music and the Arts).

"Redefining European Symbolism" has been awarded an international network grant by the Leverhulme Trust. Its partners are: the University of Edinburgh, the Musée d'Orsay, the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art in Paris (INHA) and the University of Geneva.

13 - 14 April 2012
Musée d'Orsay

Auditorium, level -2

Free access entrance C
1 rue de la Légion d'Honneur

*: presentations in English
No simultaneous translation

Correspondences: Literature, Theatre, Music

Chaired by: Jean-Michel Nectoux, general heritage curator and musicologist, CNRS.

  • 9.30 am: Symbolism faced with the challenge of Wagner
    Paul Lang, chief curator, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
  • 10.15am: Hair and Crimson: from Mallarmé to the Erotic Symbolist.
    Sébastien Mullier, researcher, Paris
  • Break
  • 11.30am: Bruges as anti-Paris: Rodenbach's dead cities*
    Patrick McGuinness, Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Oxford University
  • 12.15pm: Symbolism and Theatricality: Dramatic Modification
    Pierre-Henri Frangne, Professor of the Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics, University of Rennes 2 
Fri 13 April 2012 - 09h30
Musée d'Orsay

Auditorium, level -2

Arts and Identities: Individualism and Nationalism

Chaired by: Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, director, INHA, Paris.

  • 2.30pm: Material Bodies and Chiastic Gestures: Auguste Rodin’s Gates of Hell beyond Individualism and Nationalism?*
    Dominik Brabant, research assistant, Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt
  • 3.15pm: Emile Gallé and Germanic Culture.
    Philippe Thiébaut, general curator, Musée d'Orsay
  • Break
  • 4.30pm: Between Melancholy and Frenzy: Polish Symbolism and Proto-Expressionism.*
    Irena Kossowska, Professor of Art History at the Copernicus University in Torun
  • 5.15pm: Symbolism and Imperial Modernism in Fin-de-Siècle Belgium: Some Congo Forms and Fantasies in the Arts of Henry Van de Velde, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Emile Verhaeren*
    Debora Silverman, Professor of History and Art History at UCLA 
Fri 13 April 2012 - 14h30
Musée d'Orsay

Auditorium, level -2

Contradictions: Science and Spirituality

Chaired by: Rodolphe Rapetti, general heritage curator, associate researcher, INHA, Paris.

  • 9.30am: 'From Naturalism's remains': Insight and the Spiritual in Huysmans's 'Primitifs'*
    Juliet Simpson, Professor and Personal Chair in Art History and Visual Culture at Buckinghamshire New University
  • 10.15am: Darwinism and the Creator's Divine Breath: The Evolutionary Landscape of the Spiritual in Symbolism*
    Barbara Larson, Professor of Art History at the University of West Florida
  • Break
  • 11.30am: Charles Filiger and the Abstract Figures of the Androgyne.
    Damien Delille, assistant researcher, INHA, Paris
  • 12.15pm: Gestures of Imbalance. Hysteria and its "Wrong" Bodies around 1900
    Céline Eidenbenz, researcher, University of Lausanne 
Sat 14 April 2012 - 09h30
Musée d'Orsay

Auditorium, level -2

Redefining European Symbolism

Chaired by: Richard Thomson, Watson Gordon Professor of Fine Art, Edinburgh University.

  • 2.30pm: Imaginations: Symbolism and psycho-physiological research.
    Michael F. Zimmermann, Professor of Art History, Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt
  • 3.15pm: The End of Symbolism.
    Rodolphe Rapetti, general heritage curator, associate researcher, INHA, Paris
  • Break
  • 4.30pm-5.30pm: Discussion 
Sat 14 April 2012 - 14h30
Musée d'Orsay

Auditorium, level -2

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