This book explores the responses of leading European avant-garde painters to the operas of Richard Wagner, the most influential composer of the late nineteenth century. The term avant-garde represents a twenty-first century evaluation of certain nineteenth-century artists working in a variety of advanced styles, rather than a phrase the artists applied to themselves.
Chapters are on individual artists or groups, rather than an attempt to survey all of nineteenth-century Wagnerian visual art. They deal with paintings and drawings inspired by Wagner and his operas, not with the composer’s larger cultural influence through his writings and personal example. Thus artists such as Vincent
Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, who knew of Wagner’s music and writings but did not depict scenes from his operas, are not discussed in detail.
The emphasis is on the diverse effects Wagner had on the works of leading avant-garde artists, varying according to their personalities and stylistic interests. The period beginning in the 1880s, often associated with post-Impressionism, was characterized by a movement away from realist subject matter to more personal or imaginary themes, a general intellectual trend of the fin-de-siècle. Wagner’s remote quasi-historical or mythological subjects fit well with this escapist tendency in the art and culture of the time, in part a return to the Romantic sensibility that was dominant in Wagner’s youth. Wagner’s influence peaked in the period between his death in 1883 and 1900, though a few long-lived artists continued their Wagnerian explorations from this era well into the early twentieth century. There is no “Wagner style” in art, yet Wagner’s pervasive influence is immediately evident in these works. Artists whose works are discussed include Eugène Delacroix, Henri Fantin-Latour, Odilon Redon, Max Klinger, James Ensor, Fernand Khnopff, John Singer Sargent and Aubrey Beardsley, among others.
The book features 60 art reproductions, half of them in color.
Donald A. Rosenthal is the author of Orientalism: The Near East in French Painting, 1800 - 1880 and British Watercolors from the West Foundation. His articles have appeared in the Art Bulletin,Burlington Magazine, and Gazette des Beaux-Arts.
List of Figures and Plates
Ch.1. Tannhäuser in Paris
Ch 2. An Allegorical Portrait of Richard Wagner with his Muse
Ch. 3. Brünnhilde and Parsifal as Seen by Odilon Redon
Ch. 4. “Wagnerian” Themes in English Pre-Raphaelite Painting
Ch. 5. Aubrey Beardsley's Drawings of Tristan und Isolde
Ch. 6. Art in the Wagner Memorial Album of 1884
Ch. 7. John Singer Sargent, Wagnerite
Ch. 8. Richard Wagner and the Artists of the Belgian Avant-Garde
Part 1 James Ensor
Ch. 9 Richard Wagner and the Artists of the Belgian Avant-Garde
Part 2 The Symbolists: Fernand Khnopff and Jean Delville
Ch. 10. Constantin Meunier’s Bronze Valkyrie
Ch. 11. Wagnerian Architecture: The Wagnerhof in Rotterdam
About the Author
In this insightful, carefully researched and abundantly illustrated book, art historian Donald Rosenthal shows the extraordinary influence of Richard Wagner’s operas on the visual arts, especially on the major avant-garde artists of the nineteenth century. No other music had such a strong attraction for some of the most the adventuresome artists of that century, who used their artistic skills to present, in their different personal styles, revelatory interpretations of the staging of Wagner’s operas. For lovers of opera, and especially those with a serious interest in Wagner’s works, Donald Rosenthal’s survey of the correspondences between the composer’s music and the visual arts will be richly rewarding.
Weaving a discussion of Wagner’s life, operas, reputation, and posthumous influence with an analysis of artistic responses by the most advanced artists from 1860 to 1910 to the composer’s work, Rosenthal has made a significant contribution to scholarship on modern art. The very readable style will delight the specialist and general reader alike.
This engaging and well-researched book explores the artistic reception and response to the German composer Richard Wagner in the later nineteenth century. Dr. Rosenthal’s cogent analysis combines a well-informed discussion of Wagner’s operas, musical scores, and writings with insightful consideration of works by artists from Belgium, England, France and elsewhere to offer a fresh perspective on art practice in the fin de siècle.