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Symbolist art takes centre stage at National

ART made for a time of economic and social turbulence is centre stage at a new exhibition in Edinburgh, which has already proved to be an artistic attraction of blockbuster proportions in Europe.

SOUND AND VISION: Works from new show on symbolist art at the Scottish National Gallery. Pictures: Gordon Terris
SOUND AND VISION: Works from new show on symbolist art at the Scottish National Gallery. Pictures: Gordon Terris

The sombre, beautiful and introspective art of the new show at the Scottish National Gallery, Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe, attracted 400,000 visitors when it was shown in Amsterdam and the National Galleries of Scotland hope the show will be similarly popular this summer.

Symbolist art, where artists "make paintings of an idea", dates from the turn of the 20th century, a time of great economic, social and scientific change, involving some of the best-known names of the last 100 years of visual art, including Van Gogh, Gauguin, Munch, Mondrian and Kandinsky.

The symbolist movement spread throughout Europe and was also reflected in literature and music.

The exhibition will run from July 14 to October 14, and will be the first at the NGS to feature interactive iPad-based technology. It also features interactive stations that include the music of Rachmaninov, Debussy, Sibelius and the Scottish composer Craig Armstrong, as well as the poet and novelist John Burnside.

Rodolphe Rapetti of the National d'Histoire de l'Art in Paris, who is one of the curators of the show, a collaboration between the NGS, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, Finland, said: "We started planning this show four years ago, so we cannot say we predicted the current economic climate and situation, but yes the Symbolists were very melancholy, and that is reflected in the poems too.

"Their art is all about thinking about a paradise, but a paradise that has been lost.

"I think it is particularly interesting to the young generations of today, from their teens to their 30s, because Impressionism, which everyone knows about, was really just French and in a French context, but Symbolism was an international movement, and said something very much about Europe. The Symbolists said of the Impressionists that they only saw with their eyes and not their heads: the Symbolists did not see things precisely, they were interested in the idea of vagueness, of haze, of a lack of precision."

The exhibition focuses on landscape painting and includes well-known paintings such as Gauguin's Vision of the Sermon and Van Gogh's Sower, as well as little known artists from across Europe including Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Jens Willumsen and Jacek Malczewski.

Michael Clarke, director of the Scottish National Gallery, said that although the Symbolist movement itself may not be as well known as others, the art in the show is instantly accessible.

"This exhibition is an outstanding opportunity for audiences to see what was going on across Europe at the turn of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.

"Symbolist imagery was inspired by the imagination, and led artists to respond to their surroundings freely, as shown in this remarkable collection."

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