Mystical Symbolism: The Salon de la Rose+Croix

The Symbolist movement covers a wide range of creative output from the well known (Gauguin, Munch, Whistler, etc.) to the more obscure (Delville, Kupka, and others). Many artists who become known as early 20th-c abstractionists get their start here.

Many of these figures were well known at the time but are less known today. Here we can begin to see artists whose interests steer into the metaphysical, Neoplatonic philosophies, classical mythologies, and direct influences from the many esoteric societies of the day (Theosophical, Rosicrucian, etc. ) 

Jean Delville’s drawing of Parsifal was done around 1885 at the height of the Occult Revival in Europe. In this stylized image, he depicts the secret of the dog-headed clairaudience: the eustacian tubes, columns of air that work like antennae to mediate frequencies beyond the range of normal hearing.


He shows the columns shooting down from Parsifal’s ears, and around the head, the horns of clairvoyance, another set of antennae but receptive to light rather than sound, particularly the soft, lunar Organic Light. Delville wanted to depict Parsifal as the example of the trained initiate able to send and receive clairvoyantly and clairaudiently.


After being torn apart and decapitated by bacchanals (female followers of Bacchus), Orpheus’ head and lyre were thrown into the river where they eventually washed up on the shore of Lesbos. The head awoke and became an Oracle. The lyre was placed in the night sky as a constellation. For Delville this would be a perfect subject matter. After suffering in the material world, the initiate finally transcends to a state of otherworldly knowledge.

This is the first museum exhibition on this revelatory and significant yet frequently overlooked series of Salons which were held annually in Paris from 1892 to 1897. Images of femmes fragiles and fatales, androgynous creatures, chimeras, and nightmares were the norm, as were sinuous lines, attenuated figures, and anti-naturalistic forms. Featuring highlights from the Salons, this exhibition will include approximately forty works by a cross section of artists and invite a fresh look at and new scholarship on the legacies of late nineteenth-century Symbolist art.

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