Musée d'Orsay: Constant Montald Symbolist Landscape

Constant Montald
Symbolist Landscape

Constant Montald (1862-1944)
Tempera and inset metallic particles on canvas
H. 115.6; W. 104 cm
© DR - RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Paysage symboliste [Symbolist Landscape]

Constant Montald is one of the key figures in Belgian Symbolism. This Symbolist Landscape, almost square, with many verticals, is a perfect illustration of the technique developed by the artist. The limited range of muted colours takes its inspiration from Primitivism and fresco painting, but this painting is enriched with metallic particles illuminating the canvas.

The characters are portrayed in the countryside, in what looks like a Garden of Eden. In the background, two naked men are planting a tree. In the foreground, a classical heroic nude, wearing a crown of golden laurel, appears to break off a branch.
The two groups, in the way they are situated in the space, seem to be taken from the central section of the main decoration by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898) created for the Musée des Beaux-arts de Rouen: Between Art and Nature. Elsewhere, the calm and orderliness of Montald's composition are reminiscent of another piece of work by Puvis de Chavannes: The Benefits of Peace. This iconographic similarity suggests a relationship between this representation and the political situation in Belgium at the time. Symbolist Landscape was an appeal for agreement at the time when the reign of Léopold II (1835-1909) was coming to an end against a background of increasing poverty, social unrest and increasingly violent colonial upheavals.

Symbolist Landscape is the first painting by Montald to enter a French museum. It finds its natural place alongside the paintings of the other Belgian Symbolists of the time, Léon Frédéric (1856-1940) and Jean Delville (1867-1953).