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Decadence (cultural movement)

In fin de siècle Europe, the Decadents were a group of artists who rejected the Modernist trend towards realism and continued the Romantic tradition of irrationalism. The term decadent was a term of abuse by French critics which the decadents adopted triumphantly. The Symbolist and Aesthetic movements were contemporary and similar. The classic novel from this group is Joris-Karl Huysmans' Against Nature, often seen as the first great Decadent work, though others attribute this honor to Baudelaire's works. In Britain the leading figure associated with the Decadent movement was Oscar Wilde. He paid a high price for his "decadence" by being sent to jail for allegations of homosexuality. By the first decade of the 20th century, this movement was over, some of its influences still lingering on in Art Nouveau. [Dec 2006]

"I love this word decadence, all shimmering in purple and gold. It suggests the subtle thoughts of ultimate civilization, a high literary culture, a soul capable of intense pleasures. It throws off bursts of fire and the sparkle of precious stones. It is redolent of the rouge of courtesans, the games of the circus, the panting of the gladiators, the spring of wild beasts, the consuming in flames of races exhausted by their capacity for sensation, as the tramp of an invading army sounds." -- Paul Verlaine quoted in William Gaunt, The Aesthetic Adventure.

Era: 1880s - 1890s

Artists of the decadent movement: Gabriele D'Annunzio - Charles Baudelaire - Félicien Rops - Gérard de Nerval - Arthur Rimbaud - Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly - J. K. Huysmans - Franz von Bayros - Aubrey Beardsley - Guy de Maupassant - Odilon Redon - Comte de Lautréamont - Franz von Stuck - Edvard Munch - Gustave Moreau - Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam - Rachilde - Georges Rodenbach - Octave Mirbeau - Algernon Swinburne - Oscar Wilde

Theorists: Symbolist Manifesto (1886) - Jean Moréas - Anatole Baju - Paul Bourget

Precursors: Charles Baudelaire - Théophile Gautier - Edgar Allan Poe - Romanticism - Gothic novel

Influential to: deviant modernism - Surrealism

Contemporary art movements: Aesthetic movement - Symbolist movement

Related: art for art's sake - dandyism - degeneration - Europe - fin de siècle - Modernism - cultural pessimism - Romanticism

Bibliography: The Romantic Agony (1930) - Mario Praz - Dreamers of Decadence (1969) - Philippe Jullian - Blood and Roses : Vampires in 19th Century Literature (1992) - Adele Olivia Gladwell - The Decadent Reader: Fiction, Fantasy, and Perversion from Fin-de-Siècle France (1998) - Asti Hustvedt

Frontispiece for 'Les Diaboliques' by Barbey d'Aurevilly painted by Félicien Rops in 1886


Decadence was the name given, first by hostile critics, and then triumphantly adopted by the writers themselves, to a number of late nineteenth century fin_de_siècle writers associated with Symbolism or the Aesthetic movement. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decadent

In literature, name loosely applied to those 19th-century, fin-de-siècle European authors who sought inspiration, both in their lives and in their writings, in aestheticism and in all the more or less morbid and macabre expressions of human emotion. In reaction to the naturalism of the European realists, the decadents espoused that art should exist for its own sake, independent of moral and social concerns. The epithet was first applied in the 1880s to a group of self-conscious and flamboyant French poets, who in 1886 published the journal Le Décadent. The decadents venerated Baudelaire and the French symbolists, the group with whom they are often mistakenly identified. --The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition Copyright ©1994, 1995 Columbia University Press

In England the decadent movement was represented in the 1890s by Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, Ernest Dowson, and Aubrey Beardsley and the writers of the Yellow Book. J. K. Huysmans's À rebours (1884) and Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) present vivid fictionalized portraits of the 19th-century decadent—his restlessness, his spiritual confusion, and his moral inversion. See A. E. Carter, The Idea of Decadence in French Literature (1958); Maurice Rheims, The Flowering of Art Nouveau (1966); Jean Pierrot, The Decadent Imagination, 1880-1900 (tr. 1981). --The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition Copyright ©1994, 1995 Columbia University Press.

The Decadent movement was a transitional stage between romanticism and modernism.

Criticisms by British social realists

In 1869 Matthew Arnold set a cultural agenda in his book Culture and Anarchy. His views represented one of two polar opposites which would be in struggle against each other for many years to come. The other side of the struggle would be represented by the Aesthetic, Symbolist or Decadent movement. The chief participants in the cultural opposition at this time included, on the so-called decadent side French poets like Jean Moréas, Paul Verlaine, Tristan Corbière, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Pierre Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé and, in Britain, the Irish writer Oscar Wilde.

On the other side were Matthew Arnold, John Ruskin and the tendency amongst the arts toward a utilitarian, constructive and educational ethic. The views of Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin inspired the Arts and Crafts movement and William Morris. This dispute (art for art's sake versus art for the common good) would continue throughout the remainder of the 19th century and much of the 20th. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_literature:_Modern_literature#The_late_19th_century [Jan 2005]

Bruges-La-Morte (1892) - Georges Rodenbach

Bruges-La-Morte (1892) - Georges Rodenbach [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
Hugues Viane is a widower who has turned to the melancholy, decaying city of Bruges as the ideal location in which to mourn his wife and as a backdrop for the narcissistic wanderings of his disturbed spirit. He becomess obsessed with a young dancer whom he believes is the double of his beloved wife. The consequent drama leads Hugues to psychological torment and humiliation, culminating in a deranged murder. This 1892 work is a poet’s novel, dense, visionary and haunting. Bruges, the ‘dead city’, becomes a metaphor for Hugues' dead wife as he follows its mournful labyrinth of streets and canals in a cyclical promenade of reflection and allusion -- the ultimate evocation of Rodenbach’s lifelong love affair with the enduring mystery and mortuary atmosphere of Bruges.

A short novel by the Belgian author Georges Rodenbach, first published in 1892. The title is difficult to translate but might be rendered as The Dead City of Bruges. It tells the story of Hugues Viane, a widower overcome with grief, who takes refuge in Bruges, where he becomes obsessed with an actress he sees at the opera who is the exact likeness of his dead wife. The book is notable for its poetic evocation of the decaying city and for its innovative form: Rodenbach interspersed his text with dozens of black-and-white photographs of Bruges. As such, the novel influenced many later writers, including W.G. Sebald. The plot of the book may also have had an indirect influence on Alfred Hitchcock's film Vertigo. In 1920, the composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold used the novel as the basis for his opera Die Tote Stadt. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruges_la_Morte [Jun 2006]

See also: 1892

Decadence -- A Chronology

E. Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; history.
French Revolution.
First usage of term "art for art's sake" (in France).
E. Delacroix, The Death of Sardanapalus; painting
Theophile Gautier, Mademoiselle de Maupin; novel.
Thomas Couture, The Romans of the Decadence; painting.
Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal; poetry.
C. Darwin, The Origin of Species; science.
Gustave Flaubert, Salammbo; novel.
Cesare Lombroso, The Man of Genius; psychology.
Edouard Manet, Olympia; painting.
D.G. Rossetti, Beata Beatrix; painting.
Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx; painting.
Stephane Mallarme begins "Herodiade;" and "L'Apres midi d'une faun;" poetry.
C. Baudelaire, Complete Works (including translations of Edgar Allan Poe).
Comte de Lautreamont (Isidore Ducasse), Chants de Maldoror; novel.
Franco-Prussian war.
Mallarme, "Herodiade" (fragment) published; poetry.
July; Paul Verlaine shoots Arthur Rimbaud in Brussels.
Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, Les Diaboliques; short stories. Later illustrated by F. Rops.

Gustave Moreau, Salome; painting.
S. Mallarme, "L'Apres midi d'un faun" published; also translation of Poe's "The Raven."
Emile Zola, Nana; novel.
George Beard introduces the concept of neuresthenia (nervous exhaustion) in American Nervousness.
Odilon Redon, "A E.A. Poe," series of lithographs.
Paul Bourget, Essais de Psychologie contemporaine; essay.
Joris-Karl Huysmans, A Rebours; novel.
Josephin Peladan, Le Vice Supreme; novel.
Jules Laforgue, Complaintes; poetry.
Odilon Redon, "Hommage a Goya;" lithographs.
Jean Moreas, "Symbolist Manifesto" published in Le Figaro.
Felicien Rops, illustrations to Barbey d'Aurevilly's Les Diaboliques published.
International labor strikes, riots.
Le Decadent litteraire et artistique founded in Paris; Anatole Baju, ed. (continued publication to 1889 as Le Decadent); journal.
Richard Krafft-Ebbing, Psychopathia sexualis; psychology.

Rachilde, Monsieur Venus; novel of androgyny.
Odilon Redon, Temptation of St. Anthony, illustrations to G. Flaubert, 2nd series (1st 1888, 3rd in 1896).
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray; novel.
J.K. Huysmans, La Bas; novel.
Paul Gauguin leaves for Tahiti.

Max Nordau, Degeneration; literary, artistic and social criticism.
Georges Rodenbach, Bruges-la-Morte; novel.
Arthur Symons, "The Decadent Movement in Literature," Harper`s New Monthly Magazine; expanded in 1899 as The Symbolist Movement in Literature; criticism.
Franz von Stuck, Sin; painting (1st of 18 versions).
Jean Delville, Orpheus; painting.

Salome, written by Oscar Wilde; illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley.
The Yellow Book founded in London; journal.
Oscar Wilde trial.
Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud, Studies on Hysteria; psychology.

Fernand Khnopff, The Caresses; painting.
Fernand Khnopff constructs his house in Brussels.
Gustav Klimt, Judith I; painting.
Klimt's murals rejected by the University of Vienna.

Gorgon and the Heroes (1897) - Giulio Aristide Sartorio

Gorgon and the Heroes (1897) - Giulio Aristide Sartorio
Image sourced here.

Giulio Aristide Sartorio, Italian painter, was born and died in Rome in 1860-1932. His most famous works are: Diana of Ephes and the slaves, and Gorgon and the Heroes (1895-99, Rome, Gall.Naz.d'Arte Mod.); an encaustic frieze in the Parliament Chamber (Palazzo di Montecitorio, Rome, 1908-1911). He also collaborated with Gabriele D'Annunzio in a magazine "The Banquet" (1895-98). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giulio Aristide Sartorio [Jan 2006]

See also: hero - Gorgon - 1897 - Gabriele D'Annunzio - decadence (art movement) - symbolism (art movement) - Italian art

Histoires de masques (1900) - Jean Lorrain

Mid 20th century cover of Jean Lorrain's Histoires de masques (1900)
Image sourced here.

Jean Lorrain (August 29, 1855 - June 30, 1906), born Paul Duval, was a French poet and novelist of the Symbolist school.

Lorrain was a dedicated disciple of dandyism, and (for the times) openly homosexual. Lorrain wrote a number of collections of verse, including La forêt bleue (1887) and L'ombre ardente, (1892). He is also remembered for his decadent novels and short stories, such as Monsieur de Phocas (1901) and Histoires des masques (1900), as well as for one of his best novels, Sonyeuse, which he links to portraits exhibited by Antonio de La Gandara in 1893. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean Lorrain [Feb 2006]

See also: 1900 - dandy - snob - homosexuality - fin de siècle - France - symbolism (art movement) - decadence (art movement)

The sense of decadence in nineteenth-century France (1964) - Koenraad W. Swart

The sense of decadence in nineteenth-century France (1964) - Koenraad W. Swart [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

See also: France - French literature - fin de siècle - France - symbolism (art movement) - decadence (art movement)

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