of the various ways in which Dark Romanticism found expression in European visual art from the 18th to the 20th century. Today's entertainment industry draws heavily on this dark realm, with its ghosts, vampires, castles and sorcerers, which have now become clichés of "dark fantasy". We should not forget, however, that this all forms part of a more complex heritage, dating back, paradoxically, to the Age of the Enlightenment – a tradition of sensual, disturbing and cruel imagery, expressed without restraint in ways whih our exhibition documents.
Dark Romanticism is not a style, but an aesthetic trend in western art, inspired by the fears and anxieties of turbulent times, and embodying an imaginative response to them. It first appeared in the revolutionary turmoil of the late 18th century, and was later revived, first by some of the late 19th-century Symbolists and again, after the First World War, by the Surrealists.
Ostensibly promising escape to a dark and irrational world, this "evil" art consistently rejected ideology, defied conventional morality and challenged the oppressive power of two religions – Church and Progress.
Our exhibition focuses on three stages in the story of Dark Romanticism: its emergece (1770-1850), its liberating transformation by the Symbolists (1860-1900) and its rediscovery by the Surrealists (1920-1940).
It includes clipsfrom films acclaimed for transmitting that tradition with superlative fidelity and inventiveness – and making it part of our culture today.
Opening forbidden doors, readers also peer into themselves, exploring the unfathomable abyss of their own obsessions, fears and secret desires. More than night itself, it is the ever-present threat of the void, and the lure of absolute freedom and unbridled eroticism, which make these stories so indelibly dark.
The Gothic novel is the most intriguing feature of a century when everything was in flux – when people were both dissolute and superstitious, revolutionary and nostalgic, free-thinking and frightened by their own audacity. This exhibition includes very few illustrations of scenes from Gothic novels, which the great 18th and 19th century artists thought beneath their notice. Nonetheless, they, too, were trying to create a new and similar kind of beauty – even though they found their inspiration elsewhere.