In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poes birth, The Baltimore Museum of Art
presents a dramatic exhibition of prints, drawings and illustrated books inspired by the master of the macabre. Edgar Allan Poe: A Baltimore Icon, on view October 4, 2009-January 17, 2010, features the works of renowned French artists Paul Gauguin, Édouard Manet, and Odilon Redon, as well as surrealist René Magritte and abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell all paying tribute to Poes genius. Curated by BMA Director Doreen Bolger, the exhibition includes 35 prints, five drawings, and more than 40 illustrated books drawn primarily from the BMAs world-renowned collection of works on paper and supplemented with important loans from the Art Institute of Chicago, Dedalus Foundation, The Johns Hopkins University Libraries, and Enoch Pratt Free Libraries.
During the late 19th century translations of Poes horrifying tales by French writers Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé brought the American writer fame and a following throughout Europe. Many artists living in France became fascinated by his suspenseful storytellingso much so that they turned their spectacular talents to illustrating the writers famous characters. Henri Matisse and Felix Vallotton are among the artists that created portraits of Poe, as well as images of Baudelaire and Mallarmé.
"The French artists were as much drawn to Poes personality as his writing," said Bolger. "They saw him as a kindred spirit; a visionary who explored a frightening side of life with subjects who had unbalanced minds. Poe captured peoples deepest fearsboth of what they feared about themselves and what they feared about others. He wrote for those of us who still look under our beds before we sleep."
In addition to a selection of portraits of Poe, the exhibition highlights the following artistic and literary themes:
Love and Loss
highlights Poes melancholic poem, "The Raven," with works by Manet, Redon, and other artists who embraced Poes epic expression of sorrow with images of the raven and the narrators beloved Lenore set amidst gloomy shadows and haunted figures.
Fear and Terror
is Poes most broadly explored theme. He captured peoples deepest fearsboth what they fear about themselves and what they fear about others. Vivid examples are Alphonse Legros and Alfred Kubins sinister prints and illustrations for The Pit and the Pendulum, Poes excruciating tale of torture set during the Spanish Inquisition. Arthur Rackham and Redon highlighted other thrillers such as Descent into the Maelstrom and Poes onomatopoeic poem "The Bells." Motherwell captured the terrifying spirit of Poes work with large-scale expressionist prints.
Madness and Obsession
focuses on Poes depictions of insanity. The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and Berenice each culminate in horrific acts of violence caused by the narrators inexplicable fixations. Ominous illustrations of eyes, cats, and the victims of murderous obsessions by Legros, Redon, and Rackham enrich Poes dark stories.
Edgar Allan Poe
Born to Elizabeth Arnold Poe and David Poe on January 19, 1809, Poes father abandoned the family and his mothers untimely death in 1811 left Edgar in the care of a wealthy English merchant, John Allan, and his wife. Allan provided for Poes education until he dropped out of the University of Virginia in 1827 due to his debts from gambling. Poe enlisted in the army and wrote his first collection of poetry before his debts once again caught up with him. He lived in Baltimore with his aunt between 1831 and 1935 and married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, in 1836. During this time, Poe began writing prose fiction and expanded his editorial and publishing career with increased success. Credited with creating the detective story and perfecting the psychological thriller, Poe utilized satire and irony and his work was structured and calculated. In 1845, Poe published his renowned poem, "The Raven." The next year, the death of his young wife amplified his tendency towards alcoholism. Little is known of the downward spiral of his last years. Poe was discovered unconscious on a Baltimore street on October 3, 1849, and after falling into delirium, died mysteriously on October 7 in a Baltimore hospital.