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The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao assembled the "cream of painting" of the late 19th century

The curators of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao consider the art movements of the late 19th century at an unusual angle. An exhibition "Paris, Fin de Siècle" analyzes how political upheaval and cultural transformation of that time influenced the emergence of avant-garde painting. The leading exponents of Neo-impressionists, Symbolists and Nabis
The Nabis (Les Nabis), a group of French painters, are difficult to classify as fully belonging to a major artistic trend like Impressionism, Expressionism, or Art Nouveau. Though contemporaries of all these powerful movements, the Nabi artists directed their art along a narrow and winding course somewhere in between. Read more
movements are represented in the show by more than 100 paintings — Paul Signac, Maximilien Luce, Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Odilon Redon, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and others.


The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao assembled the "cream of painting" of the late 19th century
Exhibition curator Vivien Greene noted with undisguised pleasure that the museum managed to collect
"the most significant artists of fin-de-siècle Paris".
Fin-de-siècle Paris was a time of sustained economic crisis and social problems. It is spurred the r

Fin-de-siècle Paris was a time of sustained economic crisis and social problems. It is spurred the rise of radical left-wing groups and an attendant backlash of conservatism. Such events of the late 1890s exposed France’s polarization: bourgeois and bohemian, conservative and radical, Catholic and anticlerical, anti-republican and anarchist.

Mirroring the facets of an anxious, unsettled era, this period witnessed a spectrum of artistic movements, included Neo-Impressionists, Symbolists, and Nabis ("Prophets"). Their subject matter remained largely the same as that of their still-active Impressionist forebears: landscapes, the modern city, and leisure-time activities. However, these paintings were joined by introspective, fantastical visions, but the treatment of these familiar subjects shifted.

Left: Pierre Bonnard "The Little Laundry Girl" (La petite blanchisseuse), color lithograph (1896). Private collection


The ambition to spontaneously capture a fleeting moment of contemporary life gave way to the pursuit of carefully crafted works that were anti-naturalistic in form and execution and sought to elicit emotions, sensations, or psychic changes in the viewer. Despite their sometimes contradictory stances, the artists of all movements shared the goal of creating art with a universal resonance, and there was even overlap among members of the different groups.
The Neo-Impressionists debuted as an entity in a gallery of the Eighth (and last) Impressionist Exhibition in Paris in 1886, led by Georges Seurat. When Seurat died, Paul Signac took his place as the leader of the movement. Among his like-minded artists there were — Maximilien Luce, Henri-Edmond Cross, Belgian painter Théo van Rysselberghe. Most of the Neo-Impressionists shared left-wing politics. Evident, for example, in Pissarro's and Luce’s depictions of the working classes and in the utopian scenes that the Neo-Impressionists frequently represented in their works.
Most of the artists connected to Symbolism were averse to materialism and had lost faith in science,

Most of the artists connected to Symbolism were averse to materialism and had lost faith in science, which had failed to alleviate the ills of modern society. Symbolist art embraced mythic narratives, religious thematics, and the macabre world of nightmares. This movement sought to elicit abstracted sensations and, through the subjective imagery depicted, to convey universal experience.

Sometimes Neo-Impressionist or Nabis works were identified with Symbolism, such as those by the Nabi Maurice Denis. Indeed, artists associated with this art did not always define themselves as such, among them Odilon Redon.

Left: Odilon Redon "Pegasus" (Pégase) (1895 — 1900). Private collection

During the 1890s artists experimented with the possibilities of black-and-white and color lithography
Along with monotypy, lithography belongs to the group of flat printing techniques, but this is where their similarities seem to end. Lithography appeared in 1796 or 1798, thanks to Johann Alois Senefelder, a typographer from Munich. Initially, they took an imprint from a drawing on a stone slab, usually limestone, which gave the name for the method (ancient Greek λίθος “stone” + γράφω “I write, draw”). Nowadays, instead of lithographic stone, zinc or aluminum plates are used, which are easier to process. Read more
and woodcut
The oldest technique of woodcut became one “of the great forces which were to transform mediaeval into modern life,” as George E. Woodberry wrote in his 1883 book History of the Wood Engraving. Woodcuts revolutionized not only printmaking processes, but also people’s ability to access literature and art, which only kings and the rich could previously afford. Read more
. The Nabis
The Nabis (Les Nabis), a group of French painters, are difficult to classify as fully belonging to a major artistic trend like Impressionism, Expressionism, or Art Nouveau. Though contemporaries of all these powerful movements, the Nabi artists directed their art along a narrow and winding course somewhere in between. Read more
Pierre Bonnard, Félix Vallotton and Édouard Vuillard produced simplified, but at the same time sarcastic posters and prints, which depicted contemporary life of Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec also turned his energies to the art of the poster
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha... Their posters are world-famous. What factors led to the emergence of such a special genre? We talk about the origins, development, features of this art form and show the works by different artists. Read more
. Passers-by (potential consumers) were seduced by exciting caricature-like portrayals of bohemian venues—the café-concerts of Montmartre or the famed performers who headlined there.
  • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec "Jane Avril" (1899). Private collection
  • Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen "The Very Illustrious Company of the Chat Noir" (1896). Private collection
Recommended exhibitions and views
The exhibition "Paris, Fin-de-siècle" at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao will last until September 17.
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According to the official website of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Main illustration: Louis Anquentin
"Inside Bruant’s Mirliton" (1886−87), private collection