From September 28, 2013 through January 6, 2014 the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
presents The Avant-gardes of Fin-de-Siècle Paris: Signac, Bonnard, Redon, and their Contemporaries curated by Vivien Greene, Curator, 19th- and Early 20th-Century Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. About 100 paintings, drawings and a significant number of prints, drawn from notable private collections, focus on the French avant-gardes of the late nineteenth century, with special attention paid to the Neo-Impressionist, Nabi, and Symbolist movements.
The fin de siècle in Paris was a time of political upheaval and cultural transformation during which economic crisis and social problems spurred the rise of radical left-wing groups and an attendant backlash of conservatism. In 1894 alone, President Sadi Carnot fell victim to an anarchist assassination while the nationally divisive Dreyfus Affair began with the unlawful conviction for treason of Alfred Dreyfus, an officer of Alsatian and Jewish descent. Such events laid bare the poles of France: bourgeois and bohemian; conservative and radical; Catholic and anticlerical; anti-republican and anarchist.
Mirroring the many facets of an anxious, unsettled era, this period saw a spectrum of artistic movements. By the late 1880s, a generation of artists had emerged that included Neo-Impressionists, the Nabis, and Symbolists. Their subject matter remained largely the same as that of their still-active Impressionist antecedents: landscapes, the modern city, leisure-time activities, although these were joined by introspective scenes and fantastical visions. However, the treatment of these familiar subjects shifted. The avant-garde ambition to spontaneously capture a fleeting moment of contemporary life gave way to the pursuit of carefully crafted works that were anti-naturalistic in both form and execution and sought to elicit emotions, sensations, and psychic changes in the viewer.
Anchored in scientific theories of color and perception, the left-leaning Neo-Impressionists orchestrated complementary colors and mellifluous forms to render a unified whole in their works. The Nabis, a loosely connected brotherhood whose art was influenced by Paul Gauguins Synthetism and by Japanese prints, with their abrupt cropping and two-dimensional compositions, adopted flat planes of color and, renouncing traditional easel painting, embraced the decorative. The Symbolists aversion to materialism and their loss of faith in science (which had failed to alleviate the ills of modern society) led them to probe spiritualism and interior states of mind in allusive and often transcendent images. Yet, despite their sometimes contradictory stances, these artists shared the collective goal of creating art with universal resonance.
Opening with a selection of Impressionist paintings to contextualize the artistic environment preceding the Neo-Impressionists, the Nabis, and the Symbolists, The Avant-Gardes of Fin-de-Siècle Paris then focuses on the activities of these movements in the 1890s. Certain artists are explored in depth: Neo-Impressionists Paul Signac and Maximilien Luce; Nabis Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Félix Vallotton; Symbolist Odilon Redon. Surveyed together, the idioms of this tumultuous decade map a complex terrain of divergent aesthetic and philosophical theories on the cusp of two centuries. This presentation and publication will offer Italian audiences a rare opportunity to view and study a cohesive arc of primarily French works from this time period.