Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mystical Landscapes @ the AGO

Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles, 1888

How many of us have been so struck by the profound beauty of nature that we might describe it as a spiritual experience? Certainly, many artists have been inspired by "the sublime" and have attempted to share their sense of awe and wonder.

Eugene Jansson, Dawn Over Riddarfjarden, 1899

Until January 29, 2017, the Art Gallery of Ontario hosts Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh & more. The show was organized in collaboration with the musée d'Orsay in Paris, and features 90 extraordinary paintings from the period 1880 - 1930. The 37 painters from 14 countries included in this exhibition reacted to the rampant materialism and rapid urbanization of their age, and to the horrors of war, by seeking the divine in a sunrise, a birch forest, or a starry sky.

Edvard Munch, The Sun, 1910-1913

I had the good fortune to visit the show last month, and was pleased to be introduced to several painters whose work was a revelation to me, including Sweden's Eugene Jansson and France's Henri Le Sidaner. Canadians Emily CarrLawren Harris and Tom Thomson are also included.

The CBC radio program Tapestry has produced a 54-minute podcast that includes an interview with the co-curator of Mystical Landscapes, Katharine Lochnan, who explains how our view of art from this period has been secularized. Of the show, she says, "It's a wonderful way of bringing theology together with art history. And looking at art in a way that gives these artists back their spiritual voices."

Émile Bernard, Madeleine in the Bois d'Amour, 1888

To quote from the website of the musée d'Orsay:
"Connecting with an order beyond physical appearances, going deeper than material realities to come closer to the mysteries of existence, experimenting with losing oneself in perfect unity with the cosmos: these quests are all characteristic of mysticism, the spiritual phenomenon that exists alongside all religions, in all continents. Why not, then, acknowledge its presence in Western Symbolist painting, which, at the close of the 19th century, precisely sought to elevate art to the medium of the ineffable, and the artist to the rank of initiate?"
The exhibition runs at the musée d'Orsay March 14 - June 25, 2017.

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