“The Symbolist movement coalesced during the second half of the nineteenth century amidst the era’s artistic emphasis on representing objective reality. Writers in France and Belgium sought a new form of art—one that invoked the visible world purely as symbols that correlate to the ineffable world of ideas and states of mind. They emphasized subjectivity above all, expressed through a nuanced language of reverie, delirium, mysticism, and ecstasy. For the Symbolists, literature was akin to music: it suggests meaning rather than defines it and is realized through the memories, involuntary associations, and emotions provoked by the text, peculiar to each individual reader.
The Symbolists’ revolt against naturalism and their emphasis on suggestiveness and self-expression resonated with contemporary painters, who translated these ideas to visual art. Collaborations with Symbolist writers in publications presented artists with a paradox—to create imagery, fixed in print, for works deliberately detached from explicit meaning or concrete reality. Their disparate attempts to meet this challenge helped to liberate illustration from its purely representational role, introducing in its place a parallelism or dialogue between text and image and inviting readers to take more active roles in making meaning. These developments informed the evolution of the modern livre d’artiste and reverberate in the art of the book today.” — Introductory Wall Text
Charles Baudelaire (French, 1821–1867), Édouard Manet (French, 1832–1883), Les fleurs du mal, Portrait, Paris: Poulet-Malassis et de Broise, 1857. The Morgan Library & Museum.
Félicien Rops, artist (Belgian, 1833–1898), Charles Baudelaire (French, 1821–1867), Les épaves, Amsterdam [i.e., Brussels: Poulet-Malassis], 1866. The Morgan Library & Museum.
Odilon Redon, artist (French, 1840–1916), Iwan Gilkin (Belgian, 1858–1924), Ténèbres, Brussels: Edmond Deman, 1892. The Morgan Library & Museum.
Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Centaure lisant, 19th century, Charcoal on light brown paper. The Morgan Library & Museum, Thaw Collection.
Maurice Denis, artist (French, 1870–1943), André Gide (French, 1869–1951), Le voyage d’Urien, Paris: Librairie de l’art indépendant, 1893. The Morgan Library & Museum.
Alfred Jarry (French, 1873–1907), César antechrist, Paris: Édition du Mercure de France, 1895. The Morgan Library & Museum.
Félix Vallotton (Swiss, 1865–1925), Portrait of Paul Verlaine, 1891, In L’Art et l’Idée (Paris: Quantin, 1892). The Morgan Library & Museum.
Théo van Rysselberghe, artist (Belgian, 1862–1926), Emile Verhaeren (Belgian, 1855–1916), Les villes tentaculaires, Brussels: Deman, 1895. The Morgan Library & Museum.
Georges de Feure, artist (French, 1868– 1943), Marcel Schwob (French, 1867– 1905), La porte des rêves, Paris: Pour les Bibliophiles indépendants chez Henry Floury [Octave Uzanne], 1899. The Morgan Library & Museum.
Carlos Schwabe, artist (Swiss, 1866– 1926), Olive Schreiner (South African, 1855–1920), Rêves, Paris: Flammarion, 1912. The Morgan Library & Museum.
Henry Van de Velde, artist (Belgian, 1863–1957), Max Elskamp (Belgian, 1862–1931), Dominical, Anvers: [s.n.], 1892. The Morgan Library & Museum.
József Rippl-Rónai, artist (Hungarian, 1861–1927), Georges Rodenbach (Belgian, 1855–1898), Les vierges, Paris: Siegfried Bing, 1895. The Morgan Library & Museum.
József Rippl-Rónai, cover artist (Hungarian, 1861–1927), Georges Rodenbach (Belgian, 1855–1898), Les tombeaux, illustrated by James Pitcairn-Knowles, Paris: S. Bing, 1895. The Morgan Library & Museum.
Pierre Bonnard, artist (French, 1867–1947), Paul Verlaine (French, 1844–1896), Parallelèment, Paris: Ambroise Vollard, 1900. The Morgan Library & Museum.
This exhibition is organized by Sheelagh Bevan, Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Curator in the Morgan’s Department of Printed Books & Bindings.
Images courtesy The Morgan Library & Museum.